Tag Archives: Save KTRU

ABC News talks about KTRU

A few days ago, ABC News had a short piece in its “Campus Chatter” section talking about how schools are selling their radio stations. Titled, “College Radio Stations Beloved but Struggling,” the piece does a quick overview of various sales and the circumstances behind them. Admittedly, the reference to KTRU itself was short:

Rice University sold its station, but to another university. The University of Houston bought Rice’s broadcast tower, FM frequency and license for $9.5 million.

However, this description is misleading. KTRU isn’t going to become a station for another university, but rather a classical music station under the tag KUHC.

There are also a few other problems with the article. It claims that:

Schools have a hard time keeping up with Top 40 networks because they just don’t have the money to do it.

Keeping up with Top 40 networks is rarely the underlying purpose of these stations, many of which operate not for profit and with an educational license.

The article also claims that part of the problem is financial.

Without necessary funding, schools nationwide have to sell their airspace to commercial stations, and use the extra cash for other expenses.

As Rice demonstrated, many universities have the ability to raise funds for artistic endeavors, even ones that don’t actively engage students or give them leadership and broadcasting experience. Schools don’t have to sell their stations any more than they have to sell their other assets that don’t create regular cash flow.

Indeed, in many of these circumstances, schools are not willing to even let radio supporters try to raise the money to support the station. As KUSF supporter Irwin Swirnoff put it:

“No one is questioning U.S.F.’s right to liquidate an asset,” Mr. Swirnoff said. “All we want is to have the opportunity to buy that transmitter.”

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A paper I wrote for law school about KTRU and Internet Radio

For my Entertainment and Media Law class at Cardozo, I wrote a paper about the legal ramifications of Rice University selling the KTRU license and transmitter. I think it was an A- paper, which I suppose is pretty good. (The professors never responded with a direct grade for the paper, only for the overall class.) Anyways, here in the paper, in which I quote myself (pdf: Mintz KTRU legal) :

I. Introduction and History

A. Selling College Radio Stations

On December 5, 2010, the New York Times ran an article titled “Waning Support for College Radio Sets Off a Debate.”1 The article brought to national attention the problem of universities selling their college radio stations, notably addressing the recent controversies surrounding the sale of Rice University’s KTRU and Vanderbilt University’s WRVU. Since the article was published, Vanderbilt has not solidified any sale of its station. However, Rice University has continued with a sale marred by secrecy and controversy, and is currently waiting for the FCC to approve the license transfer that would allow the University of Houston to take over the frequency, turning KTRU into a classical music KUHC and the University of Houston’s current station KUHF into a 24-hour NPR station.2

Opponents of the sale have provided many reasons for their anger about and opposition to the sale. On the student and alumni side, Rice University has not provided any formal study justifying the sale and sold the station without discussion with the students and alumni who created and managed the station.3 The resulting sale will eliminate a source of media and broadcast education for students and will destroy a link with the surrounding city, local art establishment, and minority community, all contrary to the university’s previously stated goals.4

From the perspective of non-student or alumni opponents to the sale, removing KTRU from the airwaves would eliminate a unique, and award winning, source of music that cannot be found elsewhere in the local radio market.5 Furthermore, the secrecy of the deal was in potential violation of Texas’ Open Meetings Act.6

B. How Has the FCC Looked At Selling Radio Stations?

While monetary concerns, misleading university administrators, and musical aesthetics may make for good protest rhetoric, they do not make a cohesive legal argument against the sale of the KTRU frequency. In fact, in its Opposition to the Petition to Deny, Rice University specifically latched onto this framing of arguments against the transfer as programming-related arguments.7 From this perspective the Commission’s precedent is established: “the Commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in review assignment application.” 8

In the past the courts have scrutinized programming out of concern of preserving unique content on the airwaves. In Citizens Committee to Keep Progressive Rock v. F.C.C., the D.C. Circuit stated that it was “in the public interest, as that was conceived of by a Congress representative of all the people, for all major aspects of contemporary culture to be accommodated by the commonly-owned public resources whenever that is ethnically and economically feasible.” 9 While the court refused to distinguish between types of music — “one man’s Bread is the next man’s Bach” — it held that it was “in the public’s best interest to have all segments represented.”10 However, since 1977 the FCC has established that it would allow market forces to determine the broadcast station’s format.11 Furthermore, deregulation of the airwaves at the end of the Carter Administration and beginning of the Reagan Administration eliminated the 1971 Ascertainment Primer and the Renewal Primer that the court relied upon in Citizens Committee, creating less stringent requirements for license applications and renewals.12

While the FCC no longer concerns itself with the content of broadcasts, there is still the question of whether the specter of localism should influence the FCC’s approval of the KTRU sale. In this paper, I will address the concerns of localism as they apply in FCC regulations, and specifically look at Rice University’s recommendation in its Opposition to Petition to Deny that Internet radio over cellular phones serve as an adequate substitute for FM radio.13

II. Localism on the Radio

A. How Does Localism Apply?

1. Localism and KTRU

The Commission has in the past recognized localism as an important part of its charge. In its recent Report on Localism, the FCC has called the concept of localism “a cornerstone of broadcast regulation.” 14 As Friends of KTRU pointed out in its Petition to Deny, this localism mandate extends not just to the availability of a radio signal in a local community, but rather to the ability of that community to transmit issues of local importance over the airwaves and provide “their own media for local expression.”15 Indeed, the Commission has held that “broadcasters are obligated to operate their stations to serve the public interest — specifically, to air programming responsive to the needs and issues of the people in their communities of license.16 From the perspective of FCC rhetoric, KTRU supporters are in a proper position to argue that transferring the license would result in an important loss of local music and media. KTRU programs such as the Local Show, MK Ultra, Vinyl Frontier, Genetic Memory, and the Revelry Report showcase local artists and discuss issues specific to the Houston music community that cannot be found elsewhere on the local airwaves.17 Furthermore, KTRU also provides minority-oriented programing, such as Navrang, which focuses on music from the Indian subcontinent, and Africana, which focuses on music from the African diaspora. In a city where the Nigerian ex-patriot population totals more than 80,000 and more than 4 percent of the entire city population was born in Asia, these shows provide for the local community in ways that other FM stations do not.18 As the Commission instructs, “[t]he principle of localism requires broadcasters to take into account all significant groups within their communities when developing balanced, community-responsive programming, including those groups with specialized needs and interests.”19 These niche shows, with their local DJs, certainly are community-responsive. On the other hand, not one single program will be added to the station after the sale that will be specific to the local Houston community, only adding syndicated and national shows like BBC World News, the Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air With Terry Gross, BBC World Have Your Say, Talk of the Nation, The World, Beutche Welle Newslink Plus, Tell Me More, and The Story.20 Given the comparison between the station offerings before and after the sale, it seems like the transfer could be denied on localism grounds. However, the Commission has not always applied its ideals of localism in a strict manner.

2. Localism as applied by the FCC and Media Bureau

While rhetoric and written policy by the Commission has emphasized the importance of localism in broadcasting, this importance has not always transferred into enforceable rules. For example, in the case of the assignment of a license of a noncommercial educational station WQEX(TV), a coalition of public-interest groups petitioned to deny the application on the ground that proposed assignee’s broadcasts “would consist almost entirely of sales presentations, with little or no noncommercial local content.” 21 However, the Commission refused to consider the argument, explaining that “the courts and Commission have repeatedly rejected arguments that would require intrusion into the format choices of broadcast licensees.”22 While WQEX concerned application of television license, the FCC Media Bureau has applied similar rationale to FM radio licenses. In the case of C-SPAN’s application for assignment of an FM radio license, some listeners objected to assigning the license because it would change “WDCU(FM)’s current jazz format to a format dedicated primarily to public affairs and news programming.” 23 Other objectors argued that the grant of application was not in the public interest “because C-SPAN’s proposed national programming does not the problems, needs and interests of the [local community].24 However, the Media Bureau letter rebutted these arguments, stating that the Commission “‘has had the appropriately limited role of facilitating the development of the public broadcasting system rather than determining the content of its programming,’” and that under well-established precedent, rather than having to actually demonstrate how it responds to the community needs, “an applicant is required to provide only a brief narrative description of its proposed community issue-responsive service.”25 In the end, the Commission approved the license. Indeed, in a this case concerning sacrificing a music station for news, with similar arguments about localism and public interest, the FCC has made its position clear, leaving KTRU supporters with little legal recourse. However, comparing application in cases with FCC rhetoric still provides a mixed message.

3. FCC Report and Rhetoric on Localism

The FCC’s 2008 Report On Broadcast Localism And Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking spends several dozen pages lamenting the problem of a lack of localism in the broadcast spectrum. Specifically, it identified the problem of broadcasters failing to serve the interests of local communities in developing and promoting local artists and in fostering musical genres.26 The report also addressed the issue of licensees grossly overstating the amount of locally oriented news programming that they offer by including commercials, weather, sports, entertainment, video news releases, and redundancy, with locally produced public affairs programming almost entirely absent.27 Furthermore, the report found that significant groups within communities were not being taken into account by broadcasters when attempting to apply the principle of localism.28

FCC Commissioners have personally expressed concern about trends against localism in the broadcast marketplace. In an address to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps lamented the “homogenization and monotonous nationalized music at the expense of local and regional talent,” and proposed a system where a certain percent of programming is locally or independently produced.29 Former FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong even used her Twitter feed to state support for KTRU and concern about the sale.30 So while past cases may not give much hope to KTRU supporters, FCC reports and statements from past and current commissioners may put enough pressure on the Media Bureau to take a hard look at localism concerns in the license transfer. However, in its Opposition to Petition to Deny, Rice University offered an alternative to assuage concerns about losing a unique and local source on the radio: Internet radio.

B. Is Internet Radio An Adequate Replacement for FM Radio?

In its Petition to Deny, KTRU stated that Web radio is not an adequate alternative to FM broadcast because it is not available in the car. Rice contends that this “ignores the increasing available of Web radio via cell phone.” 31 However, there are technological, monetary, and legal concerns as to whether Web radio over cell phones can replace FM radio for listeners.

1. Technological and Monetary Concerns

As of a Nov. 2010 report by Canalys, the most popular smartphone in the United States is the Apple iPhone, which has a 26.2 percent share of the U.S. market.32 The iPhone is currently available only on the AT&T network.33 AT&T’s high use, DataPro plan provides 2GB of data for $25 per month, and $10 for every additional 1GB.34 The average radio stream is 128 kilobits per second, equaling 16 kilobytes per second, equaling 57.6 megabytes per hour. By this math, it would take approximately 34.7 hours of listening to the radio per month to exceed the set data allotment by AT&T and incur additional charges. Merely a bit more than one hour of radio via an iPhone per day would use more data than what AT&T foresees in its highest use plan. In a city where the average commute is around 28 minutes, it is not difficult to imagine someone spending more than 34.7 hours listening to the radio in the car over the period of a month.35 Therefore, in addition to the one-time cost of purchasing an iPhone 4 for $199, or iPhone 3GS for $99, a regular KTRU listener would spend $25 per month to listen in the car, and an avid listener would spend $35 or more per month, meaning $300 or $420 per year. At the high end, this would require the average American to spend 15 percent more on entertainment than the current average annual expenditure of $2,698.36 This additional spending may be cost restrictive for many listeners. On the other hand, one can buy an FM radio for the one-time cost of $9.99.37 While Rice University may have an optimistic view about the ability of Web radio over cell phones to replace FM radio, crunching the numbers reveals that the hardware investment and price of use may make access overly cost restrictive for former KTRU fans. Unless the university is willing to help pay for listeners’ new cell phone bills, it may have an ill-informed perspective on current Internet costs and availability.

2. Legal Concerns

Even if there were not a monetary restriction on the ability of Web radio to replace FM radio, there is still a concern as to whether the FCC could justify eliminating a local source in the FM spectrum because it is otherwise available in the Internet. The Federal Communications Law Journal argues that inherent scarcity of the electromagnetic spectrum mandates that public interest obligations still remain enforced, stating that “despite the motley of other media outlets available-Internet radio, satellite radio, cable and digital television, and the like-the reason underlying such obligations in the first place is still present: electromagnetic spectrum is still scarce.”38 However, unlike various other media sources, radio’s pervasiveness in combination with its scarcity necessitates regulation. Furthermore, a strictly enforced market-based approach will only lead to, and arguably has led to, the creation of technology haves and have nots.39 Indeed, the cost restrictiveness of Web radio emphasizes the public interest charge of the FCC.

However, the FCC has addressed new technology supplanting old broadcasting in the realm of television. Currently, cable systems must carry the signals of local commercial and noncommercial broadcast stations in their local markets, while satellite carriage of local broadcasts is only required in Alaska and Hawaii.40 The FCC has expressed concern that in a small group of cases, the system used to define local broadcast stations results in the required carriage of the broadcast signal of an out-of-state station rather than an in-state station, potentially weakening localism.41 This concern demonstrates that the underpinnings of the must- carry requirements is the protection of localism. If Web radio, or satellite radio, were to serve as an adequate alternative to FM radio, the FCC should first create similar must-carry regulations for telecom providers and satellite radio companies to ensure that localism is not weakened. However, these regulations do not yet exist. Without guarantees of a must-carry provision, the same sort that were imposed on the cable industry as it replaced broadcast television, alternate radio sources cannot serve as a proper guarantors of localism.

III. Conclusion

The rise of Internet music and the perceived declining importance of radio, combined with an economic downturn, has led many universities to sell their college radio stations. The plight of Rice University’s KTRU has risen to prominence as fans and staff of the student-created and student-run, award-winning station have moved from usual campus protests to legal appeals in an attempt to stop the sale of the station. While FCC publications and commissioners’ rhetoric have emphasized the importance of localism, legal precedent does not give KTRU supporters much in the way of support. However, Rice University’s recommendation that the Internet serve as a proper alternative does not stand up to scrutiny. Monetary restrictions and lacking must- carry requirements prevent the Web from serving as a proper replacement for FM radio.

1 John Vorwald, Waning Support for College Radio Sets Off a Debate, THE NEW YORK TIMES, Dec. 5, 2010, available at http://www.nytimes.coml2010/12/06Ibusiness/medial06stations.html.

2 Chris Gray, KTRU Sale Now Totally In FCC’s Hands, HOUSTON PRESS, Dec. 20, 2010, available at http://blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks/2010/12/ktru_sale_now_totally_in_fccs.php.

Save KTRU made it to the New York Times, BURN DOWN BLOG, Dec. 5, 2010, available at https://burndownblog.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/save-ktru-made-it-to-the-new-york-times/

BURN DOWN RICE!: Selling KTRU violates V2C, BURN DOWN BLOG, Aug. 17, 2010, available at https://burndownblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/burn-down-rice-selling-ktru- violates-the-v2c/

Ibid.

6 Steve Miller, KTRU radio station not named in generic Regents meeting agenda; descriptions must be specific under Open Meetings Act, TEXAS WATCHDOG, Aug. 19, 2010, available at http:// http://www.texaswatchdog.org/2010/08/-generic-agenda-item-for-regents-meeting-did-not-name-ktru/ 1282261406.column

7 Rice Opposition at 2.

Application for Assignment of License of WQXR-FM, Letter, 24 FCC Rcd 11761, 11762 (2009).

Citizens Committee to Keep Progressive Rock v. F.C.C., 478 F.2d 926, 929 (D.C. Cir., 1973).

10 Ibid. at 929.

11 Changes in Entertainment Formats of Broadcast Stations, Memorandum Opinion and Order, Docket No. 20682, 60 FCC 2d 858, 863 (1976).

12 In the Matter of Deregulation of Radio, Report and Order, Docket No. 79-219, 84 F.C.C.2d 968, 971 (1981).

13 Rice Opposition at 7.

14 Report on Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 FCC Rcd 1234 ¶ 5 (2008).

15 Petition, citing Utica Observer-Dispatch, Inc., 11 F.C.C. 383, 391-92 (1946).

16 Report on Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 FCC Rcd 1234 ¶ 6

17 Petition at 10.

18 Ibid. at 11; Reply to Oppositions at 10.

19 Report on Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 FCC Rcd 1234 ¶ 69.

20 Petition at 12-13.

21 Application of WQED Pittsburgh (Assignor) and Cornerstone Television, Inc. (Assignee) for Consent to the Assignment of LIcense of Noncommercial Educational Station WQEX(TV), Memorandum Opinion and Order, 15 FCC Rcd 202, 231 ¶57 (1999), vacated in part on other grounds by 15 FCC Rcd 2534 (2000).

22 Ibid. at 232 ¶ 57.

23 Application for Assignment of License of WDCU(FM), Letter, 12 FCC Rcd 15242, 15244 (1997).

24 Ibid. at 15244.

25 Ibid. at 15244-15245, citing Revision of Programming Policies and Reporting Requirements Related to Public Broadcasting Licensees, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 87 FCC 2d 716, 732 (1981); Report and Order, 98 FCC 2d 746 (1984); Request for Declaratory Ruling Concerning Programming Information in Broadcast Applications for Construction Permits, Transfers and Assignments, 3 FCC Rcd 5467, 5467-5468 (1988).

26 Report on Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 FCC Rcd 1234 ¶ 35.

27 Ibid. at ¶ 37.

28 Ibid. at ¶ 69.

29 FCC’s Copps Proposes Public Value Test for License Renewal, RADIO, Dec. 3, 2010, available at http://www.radiomagonline.com/fcc/fcc-copps-public-value-test-license-renewal-1203/ index.html.

30 Growing opposition to the KTRU sale OR Know Your FCC Commissioners,BURN DOWN BLOG, Nov. 15, 2010, available at https://burndownblog.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/growing- opposition-to-the-ktru-sale/.

31 Rice opposition at 7.

32 Tim Stevens, Canalys: iPhone becomes most popular smartphone in the US, Android continues as most popular OS, ENGADGET, Nov. 1, 2010, available at http://www.engadget.com/ 2010/11/01/canalys-iphone-becomes-most-popular-smartphone-in-the-us-andro/.

33 http://www.att.com/wireless/iphone/ (iPhone is configured to work only with the wireless services provided by AT&T.)

34 http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/plans/data-plans.jsp.

35 Stephen Ohlemacher, Believe it or not, average communting time drops, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, Aug. 30, 2006, available at http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/ 4152068.html.

36 How The Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck, VISUAL ECONOMICS, available at http://www.visualeconomics.com/how-the-average-us-consumer-spends-their-paycheck.

37 http://www.amazon.com/Sony-ICF-S10MK2-Pocket-Radio-Silver/dp/B00020S7XK

38 Deliberative Democracy on the Air: Reinvigorate Localism – Resuscitate Radio’s Subversive Past, 63 Fed. Comm. L.J. 141, 188.

39 Ibid. at 190. 40 Report on Localism and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 23 FCC Rcd 1234 ¶ 47, 48. 41 Ibid. at ¶ 49.

 

A David Brooks column about the Rice KTRU Sale

Yesterday, the New York Times contained an article about universities selling their radio stations, notably Rice University and KTRU. Of course, I wrote a blog thing about it, including hypotheticals about what various New York Times columnists would write about the matter. However, one very important columnist was missing.

 

Bohemian bourgeois find truth on Facebook.

 

David Brooks has a special place in this whole thing. Not only is he one of the utterly worst New York Times columnists, but he is the commencement speaker at Rice University this year. So it is only appropriate that he write a full column about the KTRU sale.

Here it is, a fake David Brooks column about the Rice University KTRU sale:

Sometimes you make stuff up.

Yesterday evening I was interviewing Rice University President David Leebron in preparation of my commencement speech there, and we were talking about the university selling the student radio station KTRU. His voice was nasal and fatigued, and he was taking those little sighs that people take when they’re frustrated with being criticized even though the criticisms don’t have any actual effect on the result.

Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”

Leebron’s tone changed. “What does that have to do with anything?”

I continued to list random names and philosophical concepts, hoping he would react to one and I could write a column about it: “C.S. Lewis, Gestalt Theory, Steven Quartz, Ewan Moontz, Friedrich Schleiermacher, bobo chic, Rick Warren…”

I went on for a bit and he stopped me at Milton Friedman.

“I generally don’t agree with his views,” President Leebron said. “For example, there is certainly such a thing as a free lunch, Rice got one by secretly selling KTRU. We get the proceeds while KTRU did all the work.”

As part of my contract with the New York Times, I’ll take this point to state a thesis that disagrees with a notable conservative icon but agrees with someone in power in a way that gets the result I wanted anyways.

Unlike 90 percent of America, I am cheering for the sale. This is widely cast as a students v. administration conflict — the powerful Board of Trustees against the ragtag KTRU community. If this were a movie, KTRU’s arguments before the FCC about localism and education would be successful, and KTRUvians would be weeping with joy.

But this is why life is not a movie. The Board is not always wrong. They do not always exploit student efforts without any discussion. The Rice administration — to the extent that they are paragons of power, which I dispute — won through hard work.

For the first time in university history, the rich and powerful work harder for student interests than the students. KTRU supporters would have gotten what they wanted if only they had worked harder, even if the university was keeping the sale secret. And even though I have never had a job besides working for various upper crust publications, I have no problem lecturing about hard work.

This lack of labor by university students explains why non-profit radio licenses are now essentially dominated by Christian religious stations and NPR.

Notice the dichotomy between the two remaining systems. Blue State NPR asks its listeners for money, while Red State Christian stations only ask their listeners to pray and be better people. Even though I was born in Toronto and have worked almost exclusively in Washington D.C. and New York City, I am an expert on the differences between Red States and Blue States. And what’s the deal with airline food?

You can look back on the history of the KTRU sale many ways. It was callous, at least, to call students lucky in any context of this secret sale. The Rice Board and President Leebron could have done something wonderful if they had engaged students and the KTRU community at the beginning. They didn’t. And it is obviously true that this secrecy played a role in the opposition to the KTRU sale.

But Neibaour wouldn’t listen to KTRU. How do I know? Because I’m on the New York Times opinion page, so I must be right. Sure, I generalize and make stuff up in a way that may sound good if you already support my positions but is utterly lacking in hard facts.

And the same could be said about Rice’s justifications for the KTRU sale. Therefore, it was only appropriate that Rice University invite me, David Brooks, to be the 2011 Commencement Speaker.

 

Secret Intern Hero of the KTRU-KUHF sale, and lucky students

As the battle to block the KTRU sale continues (or at least make it so miserable for Rice that the university gives KTRU $3 million to set up a proper online station and ground music presence just to get everyone to shut up), there will inevitably be unsung heroes.

As in all battles, some brave soul will recognize the higher cause and throw herself upon the sword of justice, sacrificing for the greater good and the RZA.

KTRU ain't nuthin' ta fuck wit

In this new batch of e-mails from the KTRU open records request, we learn the tale of the The Bravest Intern. (pdf: KTRU KUHF intern hero)

“she withdrew (we hope only temporarily) in part because of her loyalty to the opposition to the sale.”

Those are some good words to see. The sale masterminds think that KTRU supporters and Rice students will just roll over and capitulate. They think KTRU will not put up a fight. But we are fighting on the blogs, and we are fighting in the courts, and we are even fighting on their own turf. This one student laughed at KUHF and the Rice administration, and demonstrated that loyalty cannot be bought. There is no price high enough for student dignity.

Rice Vice President for Public Affairs Linda Thrane seems to think, again in that Dolores Umbridge tone, that Rice “constituencies” are merely ignorant about the matters at hand and need to be reminded that some “lucky students” will “really benefit” from the sale, because it will result in a few internships.

Perhaps Rice needs to be reminded that with KTRU, students are not the interns, they are the managers. KTRU was made by Rice students and run by Rice students. KTRU and its student leadership competes on the FM band with every other station, and often wins. But now, these students are being fired or demoted to internships.

KTRU offered leadership opportunities, radio experience, and personal expression for dozens of Rice students. Now there will be six Rice interns fetching coffee for the University of Houston.

Lucky them.

Lucky, to have a student-run station sold without notice or discussion. Lucky, to have unique and local music replaced by nationally syndicated wire. Lucky, to have students’ own shows replaced by internships for a few.

This isn’t lucky. This is shit. And it is about time Rice recognized it.

If Rice needs to sell KTRU, fine. KTRU supporters will stand in opposition and do whatever it takes to block the sale — that is a given. But at least Rice could see that this is not lucky for them. It is an awful, heart-wrenching experience in which the alma mater we knew and loved has stabbed us in the back. And the least that Rice can do is say, “Yes, we know it sucks, but we had to.” But they haven’t

Rice has not recognized that this sale is an attack on its own students. Instead, they think we should feel “lucky.” Lucky that dozens may suffer, and tens of thousands of radios go silent, so that half a dozen can get internships. Lucky.

And they haven’t even explained why. Does Rice really need the money? Was KTRU below some objective standard of student popularity or Arbitron rating? Did the board not like that many DJs were not students? Did the university fear on-air FCC violations?

Where is the financial study justifying this sale? Where is the hard evidence? There is none. The Board decided that KTRU wasn’t worth it, and so they threw out the students with the transmitter.

And the “constituencies” are supposed to feel lucky.

I feel lucky that I attended a university with people brave enough to withdraw from an internship in solidarity with KTRU.

So keep writing letters. With every records request, we see that University of Houston and Rice administrations receive and read letters in opposition. Show them that this one brave student is not the only one willing to stand up for KTRU.

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.

 

Rice and UH were using Facebook to research KTRU’s station manager

“Who is Nick Schlossman?”

This one question is a nice little microcosm of the problems surrounding the KTRU sale. Schlossman filed the KTRU Open Record Request (disclosure: which I first drafted) with the University of Houston. UH forwarded this info to Rice University VP of Public Affairs Linda Thrane, to let her know that soon the UH-Rice communications concerning the KTRU sale would be opened to the public.

Her response: Who is Nicholas Schlossman?

UH Director of Media Relations provided what little info he could garnish from an unfriended Facebook page.

Perhaps if the Rice administrators had any connections with their students and campus, they would know who Schlossman was. They would know that he was a student at Jones College. They would know that he was a Rice Thresher copy editor. And most importantly, they would know that he was the KTRU Station Manager for two consecutive years. From Spring 2007 until Spring 2009, Schlossman was THE station manager for 91.7 FM KTRU Rice Radio.

Judging by Texas Watchdog and my own work, Rice initiated selling KTRU before Spring 2009. It is a testament to Rice’s failure of due diligence that it contemplated selling the station without even knowing who the station manager was. (pdf: Rice didnt know ktru station manager)

Rice VP of Public Relations did not know who the KTRU station manager was.

Certainly if Rice had spent some serious amount of time studying KTRU, they would have known who the station manager was. If Rice had actually determined whether the sale of the station would result in the positive outweighing the negative, then it would have at some point learned who Schlossman was.

After all, the station manager dictated how the station operated, what the station played, and overall station policy. If Rice thought that KTRU could be better used, then certainly it should have considered meeting with the station manager, if not talk to him directly. But instead, in the wake of the public outrage surrounding the KTRU sale, the man actually in control of the station was a complete mystery to Rice’s Vice President of Public Relations.

Maybe Rice simply didn’t care about station manger because it is a student position. Maybe Rice thought the station manager was irrelevant because the administrators honestly didn’t care about KTRU’s content. But in the end, Rice should have at least known the station manager as part of due diligence.

Until now, I assumed that Rice had files and communications explaining its justification of and rationality behind the KTRU sale. Unfortunately, I thought, these files would be hidden to records requests because Rice is a private university. However, this little revelation, this ignorance, this “Who is Nick Schlossman,” makes one doubt whether Rice properly researched and justified the KTRU sale.

If Rice is going to sell one of its most public and most well-known assets, it should know every little thing about it. But instead, Rice seems like one of those poor schmucks who sells an autographed baseball, thinking that Babe Ruth is a girl.

I assumed that Rice had some sort of plan that it didn’t want to release because it would reveal financial information, or demonstrate that Rice wanted to sell KTRU long before the public date, or show utter disregard for students. But in the end, maybe Rice just never did its research.

Rice University should hold itself to the same strict academic standards required of its students. If it cannot justify this sale, then the sale should not go through. And right now, Rice does not even know the base KTRU facts, so it resorts to the University of Houston doing Facebook research.

Rice didn't know its basic facts in the KTRU sale

When did Rice first try to sell KTRU?

The blanket tax vote helped cause the sale?

After the Houston Press first reported the KTRU sale (via a leak from a KUHF staffer), President David Leebron offered a litany of arguments explaining why the sale was necessary. One of his arguments, in very diplomatic terms, was that the two votes rejecting an increase in the KTRU blanket tax demonstrated that students did not care about the station, and thus helping initiate the sale. As the President stated in his e-mail explanation to the Rice community:

It is not irrelevant in this context that the students have voted down KTRU blanket tax increases.  These votes have indeed indicated the need to expand our resources for student opportunities in other areas.

One can offer the rebuttal that the blanket tax votes did not reflect an opinion that KTRU should be sold, but rather that it merely did not need any more money. This could even be interpreted as showing that students believed KTRU was already doing a magnificent job, and did not require a funding bump to be a an impressive station.

Furthermore, the second of the two votes garnered 55 percent of student vote, demonstrating a majority of student support. However, blanket tax increases require a supermajority.

But those arguments aside, Rice did state that the votes indicated a need to “expand resources,” meaning sell KTRU. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

But I use a logical fallacy for a reason. Did the votes actually cause the sale?

The blanket tax vote only encouraged an ongoing sale?

After he sent out that first KTRU sale e-mail, President Leebron changed his language. In a Thresher interview, he stated that the votes did not cause or influence the sale, but merely reaffirmed an already ongoing sale process:

“Leebron said that rather than informing the decision to sell the station, however, this merely confirmed the impressions of the individuals dealing with the sale.”

In an e-mail to the public, Rice blames the students’ votes as one of the originating causes of the sale. In an interview with the students, Rice states that the sale was already ongoing when the votes were happening.

So which is it? Did the votes confirm previous suspicions or did they inform new ones? Why the change in rhetoric?

With the release of the Open Records Requests by Texas Watchdog and KTRU, one would think that sale opponents (and other interested parties) would be able to pinpoint when Rice first contemplated selling KTRU. But it is more difficult than you would think.

Rice initiated the sale before both votes?

According to Texas Watchdog, Rice contemplated selling KTRU in 2008, before the first vote:

“E-mails show the purchase of KTRU and its transmitter had been considered at least since early 2009. Rice had wanted to put the radio station up for sale in 2008, but it was delayed, according to the missives.”

By Texas Watchdog’s reporting, Rice’s first attempts to sell the radio station came before the KTRU votes. This would mean that one of Rice’s first justifications for selling KTRU, in the form of President Leebron’s mass e-mail, was inherently misleading. The votes did not influence the sale. The sale was already happening and most likely would continue. Would Rice have changed course if the votes had passed?

One could argue that if Rice had been straightforward about its KTRU schemes, then students would have recognized the importance of the vote. With these hypothetical circumstances, Rice could point to the votes as a true referendum on KTRU. But, under this timeline, Rice kept the sale plans secret from students.

Rice initiated the sale after the first vote?

However, the earliest e-mail that I can find in either the KTRU or Texas Watchdog files only dates to May 29, 2009.

PRC, which was paid by Rice to facilitate the sale, confirming the confidentiality agreement

This date still places the sale between the 2009 KTRU vote and the 2010 KTRU vote. If this records the first serious attempt of Rice selling KTRU, then Rice’s first explanation is perhaps justifiable. The failed first vote encouraged the sale.

However, given the amount of time it takes to arrange the sale of a radio station, how university bureaucracy works, Texas Watchdog’s own conclusions, and President Leebron’s explanation in the Thresher interview, one can fairly assume that Rice began the sale process before both blanket tax votes.

Rice is not subject to Open Record Requests

Then why did Rice blame the votes in that first e-mail? Was it attempting to blame the students? Was Rice just throwing out every argument it could think of to justify the sale? Why the change in rhetoric?

Rice knows when it first contemplated selling KTRU, but you most likely will not. The open record requests from KTRU and Texas Watchdog can only reach records held by the University of Houston, because it is a public university. Rice is a private university, and its own records and communications can be kept private. Plans to sell KTRU may have been going on for years.

Throughout KTRU Outdoor Shows and Battles of the Bands, awards and celebrations and concerts, the offices of the Allen Center may have already been riddled with schemes to sell KTRU in complete secrecy.

And among those records and e-mails are probably the real reasons why Rice is selling KTRU. At least I hope so. It would be very sad if Rice were selling KTRU without a proper vetting and cost-benefit analysis. But so far, none has been made available to the public.

Rice should take the higher ground and release all of its information about the KTRU sale. If the sale is truly justified, then the facts should speak for themselves. Let Rice justify this sale, just as Rice students must justify their arguments in classes. If the university cannot do that, then this course of events will be tainted through Rice’s history as one of its lowest hours, unable to even meet the same standards it holds for its students.