One of the most chilling college radio stories of 2008 was the sudden shut-down of student radio station KTXT at Texas Tech University. A post on the station’s website in December, 2008 included a quote from Susan Peterson, the director for Student Media in which she stated, “The overwhelming financial demands of operating an FM radio station, coupled with the radical changes in the radio broadcast industry, made it clear that we need to rethink our definition of broadcast media and refocus our commitment to bolstering student learning.” By June, 2009, KTXT was back on the air with jazz music and BBC news, but operated mostly on automation and without student DJs. At the time, Derrick Ginter, who was General Manager of Texas Tech’s public radio station KOHM (now known as KTTZ), was asked to oversee the KTXT frequency along with KOHM.
In the time since the shut-down, I’d just assumed that nothing had changed at KTXT. However, it turns out that students started to return to the station in fall 2011. By summer 2012, the KTXT format changed from jazz/BBC to modern rock and alternative. Beginning in September, 2012, BBC was added back to the schedule, which also includes music shows hosted by student DJs. The station has new studios and is gearing up for a belated 50th anniversary celebration this spring.
In order to get the scoop on how KTXT managed to return once again as a student radio station, I spoke with KTXT’s General Manager Derrick Ginter. Ginter explained what happened to the station after the December, 2008 shut-down, telling me:
“…After the shut-down, the administration gave me charge concerning KTXT’s future. I had no studio for it, no budget for it, no staff for it and the students had made-off with the music from its prior Alternative Format. My interest was in preserving the station until such time as resources could be developed to do something with the signal. My goal was to keep KTXT legal, keep the university from selling it, and keep it from becoming a red spot on our balance sheet.
So, due to our limited resources, in April of 2009, KTXT was automated with BBC programming during the day, and Jazz music programming during the night. The station was run by some dirt-cheap software installed on an old Dell PC, and the programming was via satellite. It was run that way for 3 years….In the minds of the students, KTXT was dead, but the university staff and faculty, and well as many in the community, really liked the BBC and Jazz we had on air. It was always funny to me that every semester, the student paper would do a story on KTXT and ask me when it was coming back on air. ‘It was on air!’ I’d tell them, but since it offered very little that interested the students, KTXT was essentially dead in their minds. Our biggest challenge now is convincing the students that we are back.”
Ginter told me that in 2010 the Dean of the Mass Communications College expressed interest in getting students back on the air at KTXT and invited the radio group to rejoin the college where they had all gotten their start. By Spring, 2011 the radio stations were positioned within Mass Communications, however this changed in the summer of 2011 when higher ups at the university moved the radio group again and placed them under the control of the school’s public television station. Amid all of these changes, KTXT-FM was left with Mass Communications and Ginter said, “the desire to return KTXT as a student station continued with renewed effort.”
Students returned to KTXT in fall 2011 and broadcast out of a temporary studio. Although BBC and jazz were still staples of the station, students began contributing morning newscasts and sports play-by-play. Around this time Ginter left his job overseeing the public radio stations and was hired to be the GM of KTXT-FM. In August 2012 KTXT moved into a new facility in the Media and Communication building and the station is now equipped with brand new on-air and production studios. Following some programming shifts in 2012, KTXT now airs student programming as well as syndicated public radio content from BBC and other sources. Ginter described the new format, saying,
“Our current format is a strange hybrid- we are a student FM that also happens to belong to the APM [American Public Media] network, so we air BBC during the morning drive, run 3 hours of UnderCurrents during the late morning, catch another hour of BBC over the noon hour, then run student music from 1pm through the overnights.”
Considering all of the changes at KTXT over the years, I was curious as to why it had shifted between departments so many times. Ginter told me that in September, 2001 control of KTXT-FM transferred from the School of Mass Communications to the Student Media Department. Along with running KTXT-FM from 2001-2008, that department also oversaw the student newspaper and yearbook. Ginter said, “They decided to shut the station down in 2008 citing budgetary reasons, but aside from that I really have no idea why they closed it. It didn’t make much sense to me.”
By 2010, Dr. Jerry Hudson, the Dean of the Mass Communications College, approached Ginter about bringing students back to KTXT “because there were not enough opportunities for students to gain experience before graduation.” Ginter explained that the goals of the college and the station are now more intertwined. He told me,
“What was the School of Mass Comm is now the College of Media and Communication, and utilizing the radio station is part of its mission in training students. In its prior life, KTXT’s student focus was mainly on DJs. In its reincarnation, KTXT’s focus includes many things, not just music. We’re training students on how to write and report the news, how to do play-by-play and color of sporting events, and teaching them how to use station automation to voice-track the music hours. We’re also training them to be well-versed in social media and other online efforts including video and photography. There are still many jobs to be had in radio and in related fields in the broadcast and entertainment industries too, and KTXT gives our students a broad and valuable experience that they can readily apply after graduation.”
Currently KTXT is working hard to get the word out about the revitalized station and is also hoping to get more students involved. Ginter said that a big priority is to get an audio stream running by this spring. He’d also like to make KTXT available on mobile devices. Reflecting on the station’s 50-year-plus history, Ginter said, “Because of the administrative complications in 2011, we missed our 50th anniversary, so this…Spring we will be celebrating our ’50 + 2′ anniversary, where we invite all of the station alumni to see the new facilities and what our current students are doing. Reel-tape, vinyl records, razor blades, cart-decks and typewriters have given way to digital audio workstations, computer automation and MP3 player/recorders.”
Ginter also said that he was thankful that KTXT has managed to come back as a student station. In light of what’s happened at other schools he acknowledged,
“…it has been a great deal of hard work, but a ton of fun to get KTXT back up and going. Unlike so many other student FMs that have been shut-down and sold-off, KTXT has beaten the odds and risen from the ashes like a Phoenix. There’s been some complaints from the old-guard, but the majority of feedback on the new KTXT has been very positive. My vision for KTXT hasn’t been to restore it to what it once was, but rather bring it forward to how radio is now done in the 21st Century. Some things are done the same way, but many things about the business have changed, and that’s what we’re trying to teach our students. To work with these young folks who are just as excited about radio now as I was in my younger days, gives me great hope for an industry that is supposedly ‘dead and gone’. I’m having way more fun than I probably should be, but I’m very much enjoying passing on some of what I have learned about radio to these young people!”
Thanks so much to Derrick Ginter for filling me in on the return of KTXT. I’m pleased to see that students once again have an opportunity to do radio at Texas Tech.