Tag Archives: FCC

I contacted the FCC and my representative about the KTRU sale. Did you?

Today I finally sent an e-mail to the FCC commissioners encouraging them to block the license transfer and KTRU sale. Friends of KTRU provides a good form letter that you definitely should copy and send if you live within the KTRU broadcast area:

Dear Commissioners:

I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS).  (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).  This proposal is very definitely not in the public interest.

UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR).  Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format.  Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local voices.

KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves.  It adheres to an educational programming philosophy, and accomplishes its mission by showcasing underexposed music: artists and genres that other radio stations neglect to broadcast, either due to commercial concerns, rigid programming formats, or ignorance of the very existence of such music.  Thus, since by definition KTRU’s programming cannot be found elsewhere on Houston radio, its exit from the FM dial would leave a gaping hole in the cultural landscape of the fourth largest city in the United States.

KTRU features a number of genre-specific specialty shows that shine a light on a wide assortment of classical, jazz, rock, indie-rock, folk, electronic, experimental, reggae, hip-hop, blues, African, Indian, and other world musics.  KTRU provides the only radio outlet for the music of many of Houston’s ethnic minorities.  The balance of KTRU’s programming is comprised of its unique eclectic free-form shifts, which in the space of an hour can feature music from all these mentioned genres and more, inevitably causing listeners to adopt a more open-minded approach to musical appreciation.  In all cases, the local volunteer DJ is in charge of what gets played on air, subject to minimally constrictive playlist requirements in the case of free-form shifts.  Were KTRU to disappear from the dial, it would be a major blow to diversity on the radio, as well as to radio listeners in general.

The proposed transfer would allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community.  Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.

KTRU, on the other hand, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming.  It provides local artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the local community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.  KTRU plays an important and irreplaceable role by increasing awareness of, as well as directly participating in, the Houston music and arts scene through organizing concerts, producing and distributing compilations of live recordings, providing DJ talent for arts events, and curating stages at major local music festivals.  As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level through the college radio community.

Rice and UHS formulated and implemented this proposal in secret, with no input allowed from or notice given to the students, faculty, or alumni of either university, or community members, or the station itself.  UHS seems mostly interested in the prestige of owning two radio stations, as part of its quest to attain “Tier One” university status in Texas.  Rice apparently sees the proposal only in financial terms, wanting to dump a “declining asset” before it becomes worthless.  I don’t agree that a FM radio license is a “declining asset.”  I believe FM radio still plays a vital role in our culture, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

KTRU is truly a unique gem and an important part of the local community, and it would be to Houston’s great detriment to lose its voice.  The public interest would be best served by KTRU’s continued existence on Houston’s FM dial.  I humbly request that you stop the proposed license transfer.  Thank you for your consideration.

However, I wrote my own letter. Admittedly, I took a bit from the KTRU form letter and added my own bits. Specifically, I tried to emphasize that if there ever were a circumstance that could be treated as unique under the law, this is it.

Dear Commissioners:
My name is Evan Mintz. I am a regular Houston radio listener and I am writing in protest of the proposed license transfer of 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM (and its 91.5 FM translator) from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS). (Files Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY). This proposal is not in my interest, the interest of Houston, or in the public interest.
UHS already owns and operates a 100,000 watt radio station in the Houston area, KUHF 88.7 FM, which broadcasts both classical music and news programs, mostly from National Public Radio (NPR). Under the proposal, KUHF would become a 24-hour NPR station, and KTRU’s programming on 91.7 FM would be replaced by another UHS station, KUHC, with a 24-hour classical music format. On the other hand, KTRU provides an outlet for unique and local content that cannot be found anywhere else on public airwaves. Should this proposal be allowed to go forward, it would be an unfortunate example of increasing media consolidation, as well as of the squelching of local and unique voices.
While the court stated in Citizens Committee to Keep Progressive Rock v. FCC 156 App DC 16, that a majority of format changes do not diminish the diversity available, this license transfer is one of the rare circumstances where the commission should intervene. From the children’s show to MK Ultra, electronica, jazz and genetic memory, KTRU plays music that simply is not available otherwise on the public airwaves. While the commission certainly cannot guarantee that every broadcast need or interest be perfectly met on a fixed frequency 24 hours per day, as the court stated in Lakewood Broadcasting Service v FCC, 156 App DC 9, KTRU is often the only source not just for specific songs, but entire genres of music. In the fourth largest city in the United States, it is important that the commission preserve this unique source on the airwaves.
If the proposed transfer were actually to go through, it would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
If there can be any circumstance where a station is truly unique, this is it. The commission should stand up for the preservation of public interest in local and unique music. If KTRU falls, it will be the end of local and unique music on the Houston public airwaves.

 

However, I also wrote a letter to the U.S. Representative for Rice’s district: Rep. John Culberson (TX-07). Admittedly, my letter was not completely academically honest. In an attempt to appeal to Culberson’s vote to block Federal funding to NPR after the Juan Williams firing, I argued that while his vote there failed, he could succeed by blocking the transfer at hand.
This past October, National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams after he made a controversial statement about Muslims on Fox News’s “the O’Reilly Factor.” In the resulting scandal and hubbub, many Republican representatives, including your Texas colleague Sen. John Cornyn, questioned NPR’s public funding. As Senator Cornyn tweeted: “Why should taxpayers subsidize NPR?” By November, Republican members of Congress attempted to roll back federal funding to NPR. However, this plan was defeated, despite your vote, in a 239-171 vote.
This should not be the end for your efforts. Currently, the University of Houston is attempting to purchase the license for the 50,000 watt Houston radio station KTRU 91.7 FM. This transfer would allow the current KUHF 88.7 FM station to become a 24-hour NPR station. Such a transfer would grant a louder bullhorn to national, syndicated NPR content and silence those who live in your district.
The proposed transfer would merely allow KUHF to increase the number of nationally and internationally syndicated programs it broadcasts from NPR, the BBC, and other networks with limited connection to the Houston community. Syndicated shows comprise the vast majority of its programming, and increasing the number of these would obviously not provide any increased voice for local Houstonians.
On the other hand, KTRU was created by the students of Rice University, and has been staffed and programmed entirely by student and community volunteers for the duration of its four decades on Houston’s airwaves. It is, is 100% non-syndicated locally produced programming. It provides local, Texas artists unprecedented exposure through frequent live in-studio performances and entire programs dedicated to musicians and performers within the Houston community who otherwise would have little or no access to mass media.
As many of KTRU’s volunteer DJs are positioned within facets of Houston’s cultural community, KTRU is uniquely positioned to both respond and contribute to the vibrancy of the city on a local level, and to promote Houston and its cultural output on a national level.
With this proposed transfer, NPR seeks to silence Houstonians.
I ask that you take up the fight against NPR for your Houston constituents and act to help block this license transfer (File Nos. BALED-20101029ACX and BALFT-20101029ACY).
Thank you very much.
However, KTRU also provides its own form letter to send to various representatives and officials.
KTRU’s letter is much more of an informational communication, encouraging politicos to simply get involved, ask questions, and bring attention to the matter.
Anyways, I am anticipating the legal decision and hopefully the appeal that will result from the FCC decision.
But even if the sale goes through, I would hope that the legal process would be burdensome enough to encourage Rice to simply bribe KTRU supporters by providing $1-2 million from the sale proceeds as seed money to establish a proper and high quality KTRU online and real world presence.

 

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Growing opposition to the KTRU sale OR Know Your FCC Commissioners

 

Rachelle Chong: The Newest Face of the Save KTRU Movement?

Over the past week, there has been a spike in attention to the KTRU sale. This newfound spirit in opposition to the sale corresponds with Texas Watchdog’s release of their Open Records Request info. (KTRU has its own Open Records Request, which I wrote the first draft of.)

The info that Texas Watchdog was able to get from the University of Houston has revealed many interesting tidbits, such as the fact that it was a KTRU staffer who leaked the story, that Rice considered lying to KTRU to get info about the station, that UH and Rice actively kept KTRU references out of public meeting minutes, that there was outspoken questioning of the sale on the UH finance and administration committee that was not covered by any media outlet, that Rice had been planning a sale since about 2 years ago, and so forth.

I hope to comment on some of this later in the week.

However, one of the more interesting developments in the KTRU saga has been a newfound voice of support for keeping KTRU on the airwaves: Rachelle Chong

A former FCC commissioner cares!

Now, what makes her Tweet more important than, say, me, Evan tweeting? Well, you see Ms. Chong has some experience with the FCC — in that she was an FCC commissioner.

President Bill Clinton appointed Chong to the Federal Communications Commission, where she was the first Asian American to serve as an FCC commissioner. She is currently a Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities in California, including telecommunications.

The fact that someone with direct experience serving as an FCC commissioner shows that KTRU has a chance. Someone whose job it was to regulate license transfers expressly opposes the KTRU sale. She can be outspoken on the matter because she no longer sits on the commission. However, there is no reason to believe that current members, with similar legal training and background, do not have the same view as her towards the KTRU sale — they probably just know better than to comment on a pending matter.

In fact, the biographies of current members give reason to hope.

Julius Genchowski has the sort of background that may be sympathetic to the KTRU sale

Current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski, for example, was an Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. This sort of personal involvement in student media hints that he has the background to appreciate the unique broadcasting ability that KTRU has to offer, and may encourage him to take a second look at the transfer.

Copps has explicitly questioned consolidation at the expense of localism. This is good for KTRU.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t have student media experience — at least not listed on his Wikipedia entry. However, he does have a strong opposition to media consolidation. In fact, he has explicitly raised the spectre of “public interest” when it comes to media transfer and consolidation.

“What public interest, what new competition, is enabled by encouraging the newspaper monopoly and the broadcasting oligopoly to combine? This decision further allows the already massive television networks to buy up even more local TV stations, so that they control up to an unbelievable 80 or 90 percent of the national television audience.

Where are the blessings of localism, diversity and competition here? I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition.”

Phrases like “public interest” and “blessings of localism” are the sort of key words that will be the spearhead of a pro-KTRU legal argument. With a well-written motion to deny, Copps may see the KTRU sale as a line in the sand, a place where he could stop a purely local and unique station from becoming one of syndicated news reports and rehashed classical that gets played anyways. Maybe you should write a few letters of support for KTRU to demonstrate to Mr. Copps just how important this is. And you can do that by clicking this link right here that these words are part of.

Robert McDowell is a Republican with a soft spot for the arts.

Robert McDowell may not seem like the sort of FCC commissioner who would be sympathetic to KTRU. After all, he has spent time scaring up the ghosts of a return of the Fairness Doctrine, and that sort of paranoid attitude towards media regulation does not make him seem like the sort of guy who would stop a license transfer.

However, McDowell’s testimony in his nomination hearing before Senate painted a picture of a much more balanced thinker.

But the most interesting part of McDowell’s personal history is his former position as Chariman of the Board of the McLean Project for the Arts. The MPA has the self-proclaimed mission of:

“exhibit[ing] the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; [promoting] public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and [offering] instruction and education in the visual arts.”

Compare this to the KTRU Mission:

“The mission of KTRU as a student organization and a 50,000 watt radio station is to educate the station membership, the greater Houston community, and the students of Rice University through its progressive and eclectic programming in the spirit of the station’s non-commercial, educational license. Musically, KTRU programming will endeavor to solely feature genres and/or artists who are unexposed, or unavailable on, the Houston commercial radio dial.”

Both organizations share a dedication to public education about the arts, and bring attention to emerging and established local artists. McDowell’s experience with the MPA may give him the background and understanding necessary to sympathize with KTRU’s legal appeals and encourage him to recognize that at times, the FCC does need to operate a stronger hand on license transfers. Indeed, it is not a Democratic or Republican position, but a position of promoting local arts for the public interest.

Mignon Clyburn has experience on a family-founded newspaper, the sort of experience that creates a gut reaction against media consolidation.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is used to regulating utilities. She previously served as the chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Washington Action Committee and is also a former chair of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. However, most importantly, she spent 14 years as the publisher and general manager of The Coastal Times.

The Coastal Times had a circulation of only about 5,500 (smaller than the Rice Thresher), but her experience on the paper has given her a great respect for the First Amendment, and an attitude that is much more willing than past “prudish” FCC members to stand up for speech.

Meredith Baker (daughter-in-law of James Baker III) attended the University of Houston for law school and opposes regulation even when the goal is fostering competition. She will likely be the greatest opponent to saving KTRU.

Meredith Baker went to UH Law and opposes Net Neutrality, a sign that she is deeply opposed to any sort of FCC interference. Screw that.

 

So there are your FCC commissioners. Things may seem tough and the KTRU sale may appear inevitable. However, a quick look at your actual FCC commissioners demonstrates that the situation is not as bleak as one may think. Several members have backgrounds in local media, and some have even explicitly questioned the trend of media consolidation at the expense of local programming and uniqueness. You can help them remember the importance of local media programming and the true meaning of public interest by writing the FCC and signing onto the KTRU letter. Your voice is especially important if you live within the KTRU broadcast zone. So speak up. All you have to do to save KTRU (or at least force Rice to appeal to the D.C. Circuit) is count to three.

One

Two

Three commissioners.

And KTRU is saved.