KTRU, Where Are You?

So Rice sold the parts of KTRU that make it a “radio station” (transmitter, tower) to UH so that, ostensibly, UH can have two public radio outlets: One for full-time classical music, and one for full-time NPR news programming — all for the low, low price of $9.5 million.

I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I didn’t go to either school, and I’ve never been a real fan of KTRU beyond just sort of appreciating it existed — there’s just so much amateur, narrow-cast radio I have time for in my life. Plus, my own radio time has pretty much been “in the car only” for twenty years; at home, there are just way better options than radio.

All that said, the shitsplosion around this development seems to miss some points, and I am of course just egotistical enough to think I have something to add by enumerating them.

Protesting to UH is irrelevant
They’re just buying what Rice had on sale. Rice is the organization to be pissed at if you’re upset about this, but the way Rice’s administrators have gone about this probably means not even a focused and widespread alumni protest could stop it.
Rice doesn’t care
See above. Unless you went there and give them (lots of) money, my bet is they don’t give a rat’s ass what you think. KTRU only had 50,000 watts because of a goofy event 20 years ago; in many ways, that may have doomed them, since a more traditionally-powered college station probably wouldn’t have been as interesting to UH.
Shitting on classical music is a nonstarter
Some KTRU partisans are upset that their baby is getting smothered to make way for stuffy old classical music. This is not an argument that will make you any friends. There *is* a legitimate argument to be made that Houston needs better classical programming (KUHF rarely plays anything interesting), and also a legitimate argument to be made that a national format for yet another station stifles local voices.
Shitting on NPR as “mainstream?” Really?
KTRU fans upset that they’re losing local space on the dial have a point, but insisting that NPR is somehow just another part of the broken mainstream news landscape is pretty silly. It’s the only national news outlet with anything like both journalistic standards and a progressive point of view, and Houston’s been poorer because of how little of this content KUHF airs.
That said, a call-in current-events show will suck no matter what the audience
NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” is only marginally less cringeworthy than any right-wing show. Exchange crystal-gazing moonbats for cryptofascists and you’re most of the way there. There’s a reason those people on the phone aren’t on the radio already.
On the plus side, afternoon naps seem more likely
Seriously, which is more soporific: Ambien or Diane Rehm?
I have very little hope that anything programmed at UH won’t suck
I’m sick to death of their local “news” breaks during NPR programs, wherein some trainee reads a “local story” that is *obviously* a barely-edited press release. I’ve groused for years that I’d pay money to get a pure national NPR feed with NO local voices at all because of how awful the KUHF local content is; it was a tremendous shock to me when I moved here from **Tuscaloosa, Alabama** and discovered that big-city Houston’s NPR affiliate was worse than Alabama’s in every measurable way. If we’re losing KTRU, I’m all for getting a full-time NPR station, but I’m nearly certain local voices at UH will insist on interrupting the professional programming with local blather there, too.
That goes for the classical station, too
Wait. You’re telling me people still give a shit about terrestrial radio?
This is the elephant in the room. Radio is an almost total wasteland. I never listen to anything but NPR or, sometimes (depending on programming) KPFT, and that’s only ever in the car. In my office, my own music or podcasts or Internet radio brings me vastly more choice than any local station could. If I spent more time in my car, I’d pony up for Sirius for the same reason. All the KTRU love is great, but I think it’s mostly nostalgia and not grounded in a real worry about scarcity of, say, easily accessible outlets for weird jazz or Greek music or whatever.

Draft 1: This is one of those times I’m sure I’m going to edit this later.

3 thoughts on “KTRU, Where Are You?

  1. I whole heartedly agree. I get NPR on my iPad now and it has increased my enjoyment exponentially ( no local horseshit). XM radio has replaced my radio and Pandora has for days at a time replaced my radio thanks to the wonders of bluetooth. So in short, fuck radio. If anything UofH has a chance now to capture imaginations. Let us see what they can do with it.

  2. Aside from pointing out that I like “The Front Row,” the locally produced arts magazine by KUHF at noon, I agree with every one of these points.

  3. If not for this post, it might have been years before I would have become aware that this deal went down. I’ve always kept KTRU on my FM presets, but it always seemed like every time I gave them a shot, I found myself listening to something that sounded like a broken dishwasher or “avant garde” layered noise stuff. Had I gone to Rice instead of UST, I can guarantee that I would have LIVED in that studio.

    Setting all that aside, it is sad to see it go, and yet such a distinctively Houstonian thing to do- to vaporize a long-standing element of our anemic cultural identity without flinching. I suppose, in a way, that is our identity, our practice of relentlessly bulldozing our history, our landmarks, all that which once defined our city. Having lived here since 1979, it has always seemed to me that our edificial inventory exists in one of two extreme states: either new-money-tacky-brand-spanking-new or squalorous ruins.