KTRU's Plight Draws National Media Attention (UPDATED)

Updated at 1 p.m. with comments from KTRU station manager Joey Yang.

As time grows short for supporters of KTRU (91.7 FM) to halt the sale of Rice University's largely student-run station to the University of Houston system, KTRU is cited in today's The New York Times as an example of universities' declining support for their radio stations as well as declining terrestrial-radio listenership among their student populations.

"That trend was felt this summer at Rice and Vanderbilt, among the most prominent of Southern universities, stirring debate about the viability of broadcast radio, the reach of online broadcasting and the value of student broadcast programming," writes John Vorwald in an article in Monday's Times business section.

When the station's proposed sale to U of H was announced in August, Rice officials said KTRU's over-the-air audience was too small to even register in the Arbitron ratings. Rice president David LeeBron called KTRU, which will continue broadcasting on the Internet if the sale is approved, an "underutilized resource."

In Nashville, Vanderbilt University is also considering converting student station WRVU to Internet-only. Vanderbilt Student Communications director of student media Chris Carroll told the Times that according to on-campus studies the group had conducted among the student body, students tune in via smartphones and laptops.

"What we've found is that these students aren't listening to radio at all. It's not just WRVU," he said.

Still, KTRU's supporters and staff believe there is enough value in the FM frequency and over-the-air broadcasting to continue fighting for the station's current format in the face of increasingly long odds. Rice filed its paperwork with the FCC on Nov. 3, and Friday was the final day of the 30-day "public comment" period generally viewed by KTRU's supporters as their last chance to prevent the station's changing hands.

Or almost. Also Friday, the Friends of KTRU group, via the law firm of Paul Hastings, filed a petition with the FCC to deny the reassignment of KTRU's frequency to U of H, which plans to convert 91.7 to classical music and fine-arts programming under the call letters KUHC.

Among other things, the 41-page petition says, "The proposed assignment would be contrary to the educational purpose of the non-commercial FM license," and "Internet transmission of KTRU would be a poor substitute for FM broadcast."

"We have not received any formal response from the FCC, but we know that they are aware of our petition to deny, so that's encouraging," KTRU station manager Joey Yang told Rocks Off via email Monday.

Although the public-comment period is over, it could still be several months before KTRU changes hands - if at all. Now that Friends of KTRU's petition to deny has been filed, explained Yang, U of H and Rice have ten days to respond, after which Friends of KTRU will have seven days to offer a rebuttal. For those keeping score at home, that means on the outside, the two universities have until December 13, and Friends of KTRU until December 20.

After all that, the FCC's formal review process starts, something Yang says could take between two and six months. "We're committed for the long haul," he adds.

As for the Times article, Yang says, "We're pleased that KTRU's situation is getting some national attention. It's a real shame, though, that Rice's administration still can't even be bothered to justify their decision on the record.

"This article does a great job of showcasing the difference between Vanderbilt's situation and ours, and how Vanderbilt specifically set out to avoid the mess that Rice made," he added.

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