As we reported earlier this month, paperwork has been submitted to the FCC in reference to the sale of Rice University radio station KTRU to University of Houston. Fans of the student radio station have expressed concern and outrage ever since rumors of the sale first came to light and have mounted an impressive effort to block the deal to turn their college radio station into another University of Houston public radio outpost.
Groups like Save KTRU and Friends of KTRU have helped to galvanize students, alumni, and listeners to the cause and are encouraging people to write letters to Congress and the FCC during the 30-day comment window provided by the FCC. The deadline for submitting comments is December 2 and the Save KTRU website has specific details on how to contact the FCC and Congress, as well as suggested content for those letters. They are encouraging people in the Houston area in the listening range of KTRU to contact the FCC directly regarding concerns about the sale. Supporters outside of KTRU’s FM listening area should send letters to Friends.of.KTRU@gmail.com by November 29th. Friends of KTRU will then collect and forward those letters to the FCC.
As if this sale wasn’t controversial enough already, in the past few weeks the plot has thickened, as both Keeping Radio Public and Texas Watchdog have revealed details about how the administration of Rice pursued the sale of the station while keeping these dealings hidden from KTRU staff members. This week the Texas Watchdog shared the contents of various communications that took place during the period when Rice was courting University of Houston. According to Texas Watchdog:
“On May 3, with the public still unaware of the pending sale, [the director of acquisitions at Public Radio Capital, Erik] Langner suggested officials lie to KTRU staff about the reason for a visit and assessment of assets from a consulting engineer, which the University of Houston and its consultant needed to develop a business plan. Fearful of tipping off KTRU staff as to a pending sale, Langner e-mailed a strategy to Greg Guy at Patrick Communications, a Maryland brokerage which represented Rice in the deal:
‘We recognize that Rice is going to have a hard time generating a complete list of assets without some of the station personnel’s input, and we agree that tipping off some of those individuals may not be advisable. … We request that Rice provide a cover story for an independent 3rd party engineering consultant, to be chosen by UH, to perform an inspection of the transmitter building, transmitter equipment, transmission line, tower and antennae. Rice should actually hire the consultant we specify, so there will be no question as to the source of the inspection, which of course will have to be coordinated with the station engineer somehow. Rice can use any reason it chooses, some of which can include change of insurance, inventory needs, or any other plausible explanation. UH will reimburse Rice for the cost of the inspection.’
The communication records suggest a pattern of secrecy and bolster previous suspicions that the university circumvented public records laws in its effort to get the deal passed, said Joe Larsen, a Houston lawyer and a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. ‘These add to the speculation that they tried to mislead,’ Larsen said. When news of the sale broke in August, Larsen said the UH may have violated the open meetings act because it did not name KTRU as the station in question in Board of Regents agendas to consider the sale.”
The article also outlines some of the ways that the identity of the station that University of Houston was hoping to purchase was kept out of various documents in order to keep the negotiations under wraps. It quotes Public Radio Capital’s Erik Langner as saying:
”’When a city is going to go into a neighborhood and buy some homes that are in disrepair and fix them, it doesn’t announce that ahead of buying the homes,’ Langner said. ‘Otherwise, the price of the homes go too high and nothing gets fixed.’”
Ouch. I’m sure the folks at KTRU were not pleased to see that their long-time independent college radio station was compared to dilapidated homes being taken over by a city government. It’s an interesting spin on the sale, as I’m sure University of Houston wants the FCC to believe that they are operating in the public interest.
So, if you are a fan of preserving independent college radio at Rice University; here are some of the steps that you can take (specific details on each can be found here).
1) Write an email directly to the FCC if you live in the broadcast range of KTRU
2) Email a letter of support to Friends of KTRU if you are outside KTRU’s broadcast range
3) Sign KTRU’s online letter of support (which will also be sent to the FCC)
4) Contact your representatives in Congress
5) Tell your friends. If you support independent radio and college radio, it’s just good form to take a few minutes to share the plight of KTRU with like-minded folks.