Late to the Dance

College Broadcasters Inc. has announced on its website a minute of silence for those stations that have fallen to the non-com consolidators:

On April 28, 2011 at 6:00a, Rice University’s KTRU’s signal will transfer to the University of Houston. KTRU has a long history of providing alternative programming to the Houston metro. The new owner intends to program classical music and arts information on KTRU’s frequency.

United States college radio stations have been sold as fundraisers for their parent colleges and universities. Examples of stations include KTXT at Texas Tech, KAUR at Augustana College in South Dakota, and pending sales of KUSF at the University of San Francisco and WRVU at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt students would beg to differ, since the sale of WRVU is not yet a fait accompli, and they continue to rally the troops to oppose the move. Jennifer Waits, writing on Radio Survivor, notes that the organization is perhaps a tad late to the prom:

 I’d been wondering why CBI, Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), and Broadcast Education Association (BEA) hadn’t officially voiced their organizations’ displeasure about stations getting sold off.

Well, today was a very good Friday (couldn’t resist), as Candace Walton, the President of the Board of Directors of CBI sent word that CBI is organizing a national Minute of Silence in order to bring attention to the impact of college radio station sales. The Minute of Silence will take place this Thursday, April 28th at 12noon Central (10am Pacific/1pm Eastern) at college radio stations all over the United States.

April 28th was chosen for this protest, as it is the day that the license for Rice University’s college radio station KTRU is expected to transfer to University of Houston for use as a public radio station. According to Candace,

“The goal of the moment of silence is to bring awareness of the deep impact that the sale of a student radio station has on a college and its community. While it is too late to save KTRU (Rice), KTXT (Texas Tech), and KAUR (Augustana in Sioux Falls, SD), people who have benefited from college radio must step up and call on the Federal Communications Commission to reassess what it means by localism in content.”

As mentioned the battle in Music City at Vanderbilt continues, with WRVU stalwarts amassing an impressive amount of support from all quarters — including, as noted here, from the vice president of technology at Facebook. A better look at the wave of support can be found here, with the following note describing:

Below is a small sampling of the letters that students, community members, and alumni have sent on behalf of WRVU. These are letters that have been directed to the Vanderbilt Chancellor and to the VSC. It is staggering how many points of view can converge on one goal — SAVE WRVU! Everyone — and we mean everybody — understands the the immense value WRVU provides to the university, its student body, and to the larger Middle Tennessee community, except, alas, the super geniuses at the VSC — the self anointed arbiters of WRVU’s fate. Keep it up kind spirits!

As noted, this is just a small sampling, with more to come !

Rice Radio R.I.P.

This post on the Save KTRU site speaks to the anger those involved in Rice Radio hold for the FCC and its ruling selling the student station to the University of Houston:

FCC reneges on its commitment to localism
Decision to allow transfer of KTRU license contrary to the public interest

HOUSTON, April 17, 2011— Friends of KTRU, a group of students, alumni and community members devoted to stopping the sale of KTRU’s non-commercial (NCE) FM license, notes with disappointment the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the transfer of KTRU’s FM license from Rice University to the University of Houston System (UHS). The decision shows a lack of commitment on the part of the FCC to its own public statements regarding the importance of localism and diversity in American broadcast media.

If the segment of the FM radio dial reserved for noncommercial stations is now also subject to the unobstructed machinations of the free market, it is highly likely that local voices will increasingly disappear from American broadcast radio. Indeed, evidence of such a trend is already overwhelming, and it is quite clear that market forces are promoting uniformity at the expense of diversity. Only through protection by a government agency properly enforcing its mandate to regulate this resource on behalf of the public, and thus maintaining sources of relevant locally produced programming, will such stations continue to exist and enrich the public cultural discourse of their communities.

The degree to which a station serves its local community can be evaluated independently of its particular format. We propose that in the future, the FCC not hold itself hostage to outmoded precedents running contrary to its stated goals, but instead consider and base its regulations and actions on what is truly in the public interest, to spare other communities the fate of a media bereft of meaningful local voices.

Regardless of FCC sanction, the short-sighted and unnecessary sale by Rice of a culturally important student-created asset without the assent of its students or alumni would be a terrible betrayal, while the purchase by UHS of an additional radio station for $9.5 million would be fiscally irresponsible for a state institution at a time when the state’s budget is in a state of crisis.

“We are extremely grateful for the thousands of supporters who stood by KTRU when we filed our Petition to Deny,” said KTRU Station Manager Kevin Bush. “Although we are disappointed with the FCC’s decision, we continue to hope that either Rice or UH will withdraw from the deal. KTRU will continue broadcasting on 91.7 FM until further notice, and we will provide updates as soon as they become available.”

The depth of sorrow expressed by students and alumni who built up the station with their sweat equity is best expressed in the following comment on the website. It describes what may be the ultimate slap in the face to students: that the administration, behind the backs of students, would turn around and cash in on the hard work done over the years in building up the station:

A very sad day in my life.

I volunteered at KTRU between 250 and 50k watts, and now all I can think is the university stole all that time and effort. I didn’t volunteer to benefit the school — I did it for fun and the folks I worked with.

If I ever needed closure after moving on — this will do it.

Good luck to the current and future KTRU folk. May you have fun and grow with the times.
Whatever you do — think about re-writing the KTRU charter so the university has no ownership rights to whatever you create.

Passing Tributes

One year ago today we started this site with the hope of shining a light on what we saw happening to public radio stations across the country. Whether it was the sudden canceling of popular shows, the fallacy of HD radio, or the creeping influence of national groups such as NPR, we wanted to point out the disservice being done to the supporters of their respective public radio stations. And, for myself anyway, one of the worst aspects of it all was the homogenization of the programming at local stations. Since many stations were dumping local programming for the cheaper national feed, some of the first casualties were the local DJs who added so much local flavor and personal knowledge to their stations. The difference can be remarkable, and there have been two such examples of this in the past few weeks alone. Though both are tinged with sadness. . . .

On Monday, March 21st, it was announced that legendary pianist Pinetop Perkins had died at his home in Austin at age 97. Pinetop was one of the last of the old Delta blues artists, a veteran of Muddy Waters’ band and several others. That night Larry Monroe did a tribute to Pinetop on his recently revived Blue Monday show on community-funded KDRP in Dripping Springs, TX (see the set list and a downloadable recording of it here). A look at that set list will quickly show that not only did Larry play extensively from Pinetop’s personal catalogue; there are also songs from his many peers and collaborators. This type of in-depth tribute requires vast personal knowledge of the subject, as doing Google searches or playing cuts from “Greatest Hits” CDs just won’t cut it.

As remarkable as that tribute was, though, one could possibly say that such tributes are commonplace — they take place all over the country whenever a legendary figure dies. Some tributes may be noticeably better than others, but a blues show doing a tribute to a blues legend is hardly noteworthy. With that in mind I’d like to point to the latest tribute, this time on Larry’s Phil Music Program for April 7th, and this time the subject was Calvin Russell, who died on April 3rd.

Calvin WHO did you say? That is probably the most common response anywhere outside of the Austin music scene or in Europe, where Calvin was extremely popular . I really can’t do justice to describing Calvin or his music; best bet is to go to his website and get treated to something totally unique. But in short, Calvin was a grizzled old guy in a trademark battered hat with a voice that sounded like years of hard living, but also tinged with what could pass for hope. He had some great videos in the ’90s and he had a national hit in France for his song “Crack in Time.” But one thing Calvin definitely was not was any kind of a legend here in the States. He was widely respected by his fellow Austin musicians, both for his songwriting skills and his performances. But even here he only played small clubs. But another peek at that set list and downloadable archive for April 7th ( http://www.larrymonroe.com/archive/ ) will show how Larry dedicated the same effort to showcasing a lesser-known artist such as Calvin as he did to the national treasure Pinetop Perkins. The same cuts from the personal catalogue mixed in with tracks from other artists to highlight the passing of someone great. The greatness of an artist isn’t measured in how well they are known, or in how many records they might have sold. It’s more in their ability to affect the people that they touch, both with other artists and with the fans lucky enough to discover them.

Once upon a time, one of the main tenets of public broadcasting was that they were to serve the under-served. And to make the listeners in their local communities aware of the treasures around them. When those same stations turned their backs on their local scenes in favor of cheap national feed and the Almighty Dollar, this was one of the predictable results. I imagine that somewhere out there in NPR land there was mention of Pinetop Perkin’s passing, maybe even a sample played from his last CD. But if there was a national tribute to Calvin Russell’s passing then I’ll eat my leather hat. As for the local level, during Larry’s tribute I checked the set list over at his former station, KUT-FM — not a single song by Calvin. Instead there was the usual AAA rotation that the station managers imposed some years ago  (see “Not a Playlist,” here).

Sometimes it’s the little things that really point out the big problems. And for me this is certainly one of those moments. Every day, all around us, in communities across the country we are losing artists such as these. And who is going to mark their passing in any kind of meaningful way? Does your public station devote time to the lesser-known artists in your area, both while still performing and after their passing? If not, then there is a total breakdown of their duties to the community. While I enjoy such programs as All Things Considered and Morning Edition, I would gladly throw away all of the NPR programs for just one hour focusing on the wonders around me. Here at this site we will keep fighting to get that message out. We hope you will continue to support us in that mission.

—Rev Jim

Low Power FM: The Power for the Future?

On July 2nd, 2009, the faithful fans of KUT-FM’s long-time DJ Larry Monroe tuned in to hear his world-renowned free-form music program The Phil Music Show (Phil Music being a fictitious DJ who never showed up, leaving Larry to “stand in”). But instead of Larry there was a new DJ and a new program, filled with faceless middle of the road AOR programming. KUT management issued a lot of excuses for the change, and the fans went thru a lot of protests trying to get Larry’s shows back on the air (he also had an award-winning blues show, Blue Monday, axed at the same time), and a Facebook support group was started to those ends. The shows were never reinstated and the Facebook support page eventually gave birth to this site and our accompanying Facebook group, both dedicated to shining a light on these same types of issues nationwide.

But now, hallelujah, Larry and both his shows are back on the air! Did KUT’s managers come to their collective senses? Did the loyal fans storm the communications building with pitchforks & torches? Actually, nothing quite so drastic nor as archaic. Instead it looks more & more like it might be the future dawning for the well-thought-out local programming once solidly in the domain of public radio.

At the end of February 2011 Larry made the announcement that he would be returning to the airwaves on KDRP (http://www.kdrplive.org/ ) a nonprofit low power FM community station out of Dripping Springs, TX, a suburb of Austin.  He has his old time slots back on Monday & Thursdays and complete artistic control of his programming, something that was missing the last few years at KUT. But the question does hang in the air: Is such a move a step down for such a legendary figure as Larry Monroe? To really come to grips with that I think a closer look at low power FM (LPFM) as well as community radio is in order.

According to the FCC, LPFM is defined as stations authorized for non-commercial educational broadcasting only (no commercial operations) operating with an effective radiated power of 100 watts or less, with maximum facilities of 100 watts ERP at 30 meters antennae height (http://www.fcc.gov/mb/audio/lpfm/index.html). For those of us technologically challenged, that translates as “you can’t hear it from here.” KDRP lists several small Texas Hill Country communities as being in their signal area as well as “South Austin,” but I would say that individual results will definitely vary. I live in what is considered central Austin and I can’t hear a peep thru my better-than-average home system, have the same results in my car. But I haven’t missed a moment of Larry’s return to the airwaves. The reason for that, of course, is live streaming on the internet. Or, for the ever-growing number of people attached at the waist to their smartphones, there is, as they say, an app for that. So while Larry may be sitting in the control booth down in Dripping Springs, you can listen to his shows here in Central Austin, down in Central America, over in Central France, anywhere that the internet streams lively. Basically, everywhere with a spark of electricity. But since internet radio has been around for a while, a person could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing new to look at here, so let’s take a side step for a moment to look at the community radio aspect of things.

Community radio is generally defined as stations that are owned, operated, and driven by the communities they serve. They are also nonprofit and, perhaps most importantly, they do not accept taxpayer funding from the government. They depend totally on donations from the public and are almost always small low-powered stations such as KDRP. I say “most importantly” due mainly to the current tempest blowing through the country concerning taxpayer funding of NPR, the provider of an ever-increasing amount of programming to the once “public” stations such as KUT, WGBH, or any number of other stations across the country. And to some, one of the biggest destroyers of local programming in existence. But that existence may be on life support right now. The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seems to have made the funding of public broadcasting their cause célèbre lately — just last week the U.S. House voted to defund NPR even tho the Senate had already indicated they would not even take up the issue. But with conservatives feeling the wind at their backs, you can bet this is just the opening salvo. The results of the 2012 elections may well determine the survival of NPR, and any station beholden to them may well find themselves in big trouble. But the little guys, the community-supported LPFM stations, won’t even notice it. Or, in fact, it may well boost their donations as people decide to leave the drab remnants of their old public stations.

So what we have now is a widely renowned DJ, with a worldwide following, broadcasting on a locally funded station with a broadcast range of only a few miles. Except of course for that internet connection, which takes his work to the four corners of the globe. How is  a life-long radio fan to digest such a strange blend of little & big? I can only speak for myself, of course, and I have to admit that at first I had my doubts about such arrangements. Part of that goes back to my original issues with the public stations: I felt that I had been investing in public radio for years only to have the new breed of station managers slam the door in my face. To let up on them for even a second seems too much like admitting defeat. And part of it is my personal belief that only over-the-air broadcasting is true radio; satellite and internet radio seem like odd mutations. But after much thought I’ve decided that maybe this is the future of radio, the perfect alloy of the new and the old. Though KDRP’s actual signal strength is small, Larry Monroe is now capable of reaching a larger audience than Wolfman Jack could only dream of on the old “border radio” mega-stations. And at the same time, anyone spinning the dial down in that Hill Country sweet spot can find him coming out of the speakers with no special equipment and no monthly service charges.

And for me that is the true magic of radio, the idea of new worlds suddenly coming thru that little box. I grew up on the plains of West Texas and remember vividly sitting up late at night twisting the dial of an old radio my mother had given me and hearing things I had never heard before. It made me aware of the larger world around me and nurtured my love of music in all its many forms. Hopefully some night, 10-year-olds in Dripping Springs may be doing the same and hear Larry going from Howlin’ Wolf to Robert Cray to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and those same doors will open for them.

But I am an old man now, and a radio purist at heart. Which if nothing else means I could well be totally wrong. So I am posting this, hoping for some input from our readers. Is community-funded LPFM the dawning of a new future? Or is it a low-rent compromise that we are embracing rather than holding our ground on public radio? All of us here at this site are long-term supporters of public radio; it’s in our name. . . . And I am sure we will want to continue to take the fight to the powers-that-be in the public radio forum. After all, when the dust settles on the current government funding flap, the money grubbers may well hightail it out of town and we’ll get our public stations back to restore to their former glory. But personally I like more and more the idea of starting over — smaller, yet larger.

So let us hear from you. Are there similar stories out there? Is community-supported LPFM a red herring for the fans of public radio? You can be certain that this site will continue our pursuit of those who would twist the true mission of public radio stations to their own desires, but it is my belief that LPFM is going to be filling the gap for quality niche programming more and more going into the future.

Before closing I feel that I should also give a shout out to the good folks over at the Prometheus Radio Project (website: http://www.prometheusradio.org/, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Prometheus-Radio-Project/12921391882). They have really been carrying the water on LPFM as well as bringing affordable radio technology to communities all over the world. They are well worth checking out and supporting, a true grassroots organization. It was their hard work and dedication that brought about the passing of the Local Community Radio Act that President Obama signed in January of this year. Many kudos and our hats off to them!

Hope to be hearing from you soon!

— Rev Jim

Behind Enemy Lines

The folks fighting for station WRVU at Vanderbilt have kept up the pressure, sending out this release yesterday:

Fellow college radio stations KTRU and KUSF are in more advanced stages of a fight for survival — both found themselves in the predicament of having no warning before having their transmitter silenced and locks to their studios changed. In both instances, student, political, and public pressure is being put on the responsible parties to undo these wrongs.

This recent article in PopMatters highlights some interesting points, particularly that radio conglomerates are on the prowl — “radio conglomerates actively shopping for non-commercial radio licenses.” Which means these transmitter licenses have value and based on this new interest to back-end of the FM dial, will continue to hold value, particularly as this area is further consolidated. Unfortunately, it also seems that the FCC are green-lighting this consolidation, but appeals are in the works for both cases. Only time will tell how these very unpopular decisions will affect FCC rulings. FCC, one would hope, would take pause of community station consolidation after the national disgrace that is the current state of commercial radio.

These points and others make up a cautionary tale to WRVU and to others.

Side Note: Even though KUSF is garnering most of the attention in regard to college radio consolidation issues, keep in mind that is a relative 34-year-old baby compared to the nearly 60 year-old institution that is WRVU.

The aforementioned article on PopMatters, by radio activist Jennifer Waits (of Radio Survivor and Spinning Indie) added the following:

It’s easy to demonize University of San Francisco for making a greedy decision and for not providing KUSF’s volunteer DJs with an opportunity to buy the station. It’s also easy to cast aspersions at University of Southern California for funding the deal that may kill KUSF. As paperwork is scrutinized and dots are connected, many are also pointing fingers at Public Radio Capital and the radio brokers who go out and arrange these deals. And there’s frustration that the FCC will most likely approve this sale, as their post—Telecommunications Act of 1996 policies have facilitated rampant consolidation in the radio industry (which until recently wasn’t as prevalent on the non-commercial side of the dial).

So, the situation at KUSF is not just a story about fighting the loss of an independent media outlet; it’s also a cautionary tale for every college radio station. To that end, WFMU General Manager Ken Freedman came out to San Francisco to meet with Save KUSF volunteers in order to offer advice about fighting a station sale and also to share how he was able to successfully transition WFMU from a college radio station to an independent community radio station. To help raise awareness about recent station sales, he’s also moderating the panel How to Save College Radio” at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 19.

Representatives from both KUSF and KTRU will take part in the panel discussion in the hopes that they can spread the word about the accelerating pace of college radio station sales and help prevent the sell-off of even more stations. In the meantime, KUSF volunteers are tirelessly fighting their own station sale and are looking forward to a future when they can be back on the air again.

The irony there, as pointed out by Jim Radio of Austin Airwaves, is that one of the presenters in the March 19 SXSW panel “How to Save College Radio” is Susan Harmon, managing director of Public Radio Capital, joining Joey Yang, station manager of KTRU (Rice Radio), and Kenya Lewis, an organizer in the Save KUSF movement. Watch your back, guys.

Burnt Rice

Reading this post, “The Road Goes on Forever” — about how galled classical-music fans in Tampa were over the botched switch of their main-squeeze station to talk-talk (with their music supposedly “repurposed” elsewhere) — got Jim Radio to thinking about the similarities to the situation in Houston, where UH desperately needed another public-radio station and surreptitiously absconded with KTRU, the student station at Rice University.

Read the post about how screwed over and cheesed off Tampa Bay, FL, classical music fans are at WUSF-FM’s botching of the move of their beloved sounds to WSMR. Substitute “KUHC-FM, formerly Rice Student Radio station KTRU-FM” for “WUSF.” Substitute “Tampa Bay” for “Houston.” While not a perfect match, it is pretty damn close. Houston classical music fans, aka “Old Houston Money,” currently listen to the high-brow stuff on KUHF-FM, 88.7 FM, at a nifty 100,000 watts. (A handful, reportedly, might even listen to one of three HD channels, broadcasting at 6,000 watts.)

If they’ve located themselves correctly, they will soon be listening to to their northern European dead-white-guy music on the newly christened KUHC-FM — at a reduced 50,000 watts from a tower in far north Houston. As documented in dozens of letters to the University of Houston and Rice U, reviewed under an Open Records Request filed by Austin Airwaves, many listeners and longtime supporters will, however, be out of luck and out of range. The Rice Radio signal doesn’t reach the southern-most parts of what is arguably the nation’s sprawlingist city.

Austin Airwaves, like scores of other folks who filed comments with the FCC commish, received a boilerplate response so vague it had people calling and emailing us, “Is this a response from my letter about saving Rice Radio?”

Fudging the Numbers
This, of course, was one of the points made in the Austin Airwaves’ FCC filing (as well as in many others’): UH’s claim to provide better and more complete blanketing of the Houston area with classical music is bogus, not even backed up by their own coverage maps.

Many of us from outside the leafy world of Rice U have been very impressed by the volume of noise raised by the students, Rice Radio fans, to the extent of flying a plane with a big banner trailing saying, “Keep Rice on 91.7 FM” over the Rice Homecoming Game.

The last dust-up will come from not wildly enthusiastic fans of pre-WWII Russian jazz segueing into Lao traditional harvest chants, segueing into . . . um, noise . . . but the refined fans of classical music.

Austin Airwaves Prediction Update/Correction:
We previously predicted that the administration of Rice/UH would flip the switch, just a panel in a closet, and make the programming change in September, then predicted they would shut the station down over the Christmas holiday break (in keeping with the Scrooge-like stylings of Rice President David Leebron). Neither of these predictions came true, thank goodness. How much longer will Rice Radio be available over FM in Houston before being shunted off to HD purgatory?

Rice and Beans

An interesting post from a former DJ at Rice University’s KTRU on the Vibes d’Afrique discussion board, delineating, among other things, the extent of the attrition among college and community radio stations. The Owl students are far from finished:

I host “The Africana Show” on Rice University Radio, KTRU- 91.7 FM Houston, Saturdays 1-3. Tuesday morning we discovered the Rice University is selling our license and frequency to KUHF-FM, the local NPR station for $9.5 million. Rice didn’t consult the students, the station, or faculty; instead, they negotiated the sale in secret. The University considered our beloved station as “an under utilized asset.”

Why should you care? NPR affiliate stations have been gobbling up college and community stations throughout the USA. (Rice, Texas Tech, St. Olaf, Duquesne, Long Island U, John Hopkins, Portland Public Schools, Clover Park Tech-Tacoma, Augustana College-Sioux Falls, the list goes on, additionally, most state university stations are NPR affiliates, not student run). College students and community members get pushed out by the sound alike public radio. My African show’s spot will be replaced by yet another rendition of Water Music by Sir Neville Mariner and the Orchestra of St. Martin’s in the Field. I love classical music, but the loss of KTRU is part of the homogenization of America. NPR’s expansion and domination of community radio mirrors Clear Channel’s rise. I now see NPR as a corporate raider. Will your station be next?

Many of those who post here either are broadcasters on community radio or started in college radio. My love of African music was fostered by my time on college radio. There is no other show in Houston devoted to solely to African music. We will all lose by the death of college radio.

KTRUvians are upset and we are fighting back; I am asking for your support and emails to president@rice.edu . Visit www.savektru.org I thank you for your support.

Thanks

Chris Spadone

PS: My show Saturday will be my 3rd annual “Old School, Back to School, War Horse Orgy—Africa’s Greatest Hits!” Tune into www.ktru.org for 2 hours of classic hits.

Sources: http://www.radiosurvivor.com/2009/12/24/….-college-radio/

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10018/1029037-67.stm

https://keeppublicradiopublic.com/

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