Rice University president explains why KTRU-FM was sold


News of the deal in which Rice University is selling KTRU-FM to the University of Houston for $9.5M, pairing it with UH’s KUHF-FM, has predictably been ill-received by students there. RU’s President David Leebron met with the staff of the school newspaper to explain the decision.

Students gathered to protest the decision on campus and have been mounting an effort to bring the sale to a halt.

Leebron noted that the general student body was in part responsible for the decision to sell. The station had asked that a “blanket tax” increase from $5.50 to $7.50 to help support the station failed to get student body approval, which indicated to university decision-makers that the existence of the station wasn’t a high student priority. On top of that, there was the thought that the value of the station was likely to decrease, so it was better to sell now and maximize the return value to the school.

Leebron told Rice’s newspaper The Thresher, “There’s a widespread consensus that the value of broadcasting licenses and the engagement of people with FM as a way to access their music is declining, and we certainly see that in our own student body. It is not fulfilling our responsibility to wait until the asset has no value suddenly – or very little value – and to decide to sell.”

He said that financial duress was not involved in the decision, but the idea that the money earned from the sale could be well spent was part of it.

A major student concern has been the secrecy around the discussions with UH, but Leebron noted that like Rice’s real estate dealings, that is simply the way such transactions get done.

Crosstown noncom operator Pacifica has offered to continue KTRU broadcasts on an HD side channel. That offer was made back in mid-August.

As for UH, it plans to take the Classical/News-Talk-Info hybrid programming on KUHF and split it in two, giving full time treatment to both formats. KTRU is expected to morph into Classical KUFC, while KTRU focuses on the spoken word programming.

RBR-TVBR observation: We hope that students are able to find a way to keep their format going, whether on the web or on the HD side channel being offered for its disposal by Pacifica. If the latter occurs, perhaps they’ll be reaching interested listeners on cell phones sometime in the next few years. Stay tuned.