Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rice University Angers KTRU with Plans to Sell off FM License

Yesterday was another sad day for college radio, with the news that Rice University plans to sell of the FM license and tower for their 50,000 watt radio station KTRU. The 40+ year old station will continue on, but will be downsized to an Internet-only station after being over the FM airwaves since the early 1970s. The suitor, University of Houston, has offered to pay 9.5 million dollars and is enthusiastic about the new opportunities that they will have to spread public radio programming over the 2 FM signals that they will now own. Currently operating KUHF, by adding KTRU's spot on the dial they will be able to segment their news, talk, NPR, and classical programming across the two stations.

Radio industry business-types seem to be in favor of this purchase; but for those who cherish locally-produced radio, this is a huge blow for the Houston airwaves. By losing its student radio station (even though it will continue on as an Internet-only station), Rice is giving up a valuable asset for both students and the community of Houston.

Supporters of KTRU are fighting back, having quickly set up the Save KTRU website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and online petition in order to gather support and inform the administration about the importance of FM for KTRU.

To understand a bit more of how this decision came about and to learn what other college radio advocates can do to help save KTRU, I spoke with KTRU's Student Manager Kelsey Yule (Rice '12) by email. In our conversation, she confirmed my belief that the announcement of the sale happened during summer vacation at Rice, which has made it even more difficult for students to organize and voice their discontent. This means that it is vital for all supporters of college radio to speak out and reflect on why it's an institution worth saving.

Spinning Indie: Could you tell me how you found out about the university's plans to sell the FM signal?

KTRU Student Manager Kelsey Yule: I found out a during an informal meeting about ten minutes before the Houston Chronicle's article outlining the deal was published online. Apparently, the station was put on the market over a year ago by the administration without student or community input or even notification. 

Spinning Indie: Does it seem like there's any chance they will change their mind?

Kelsey: This is a good deal for KUHF, assuming that they really need two FM signals (the last classical radio station in Houston, KRTS, failed).  In my opinion, Rice has not been supportive of KTRU over the last couple of decades.  The only real hope here is to make KUHF think the deal is bad PR or to make Rice fear a pain in their wallets. Please angry donors, let these two institutions know how you feel. 

Spinning Indie: Were you at KTRU in 2000 when the station was shut down? Just curious for some background on that and how that compares with the situation right now.

Kelsey: No, I wasn't.  I'm hearing a lot from people who were though.  Both instances were about the administration asserting power over students.  The big difference is that it feels as though the 2000 incident was about gaining some ground and making a point, and now it’s about 9.5 million dollars and shoving things under the rug.

Spinning Indie: Is Rice is session for the year yet?

Kelsey: No. Fittingly, the deal is being made public at the exact time when students are least able to react.  Most students aren't in Houston yet.  Others are ensconced in the responsibilities of Orientation Week. It makes student djs of KTRU look uninterested because we’ve had one day to react to all of this and get our thoughts together, while many of us are hundreds of miles away from the action and scrambling to get into town. Administrators on the other hand are sitting calmly in their offices reading over their cold and calculated statements.

Spinning Indie: When is the sale anticipated to go through and how will this affect the day-to-day operations of the station?

Kelsey: No one has been keen to talk to me about the details of the sale timeline. I suspect it's just some paperwork to be done.  Then, there will be a thirty day period for comments.  For now, we're trying to do business as usual, but better.  Once, all of our FCC rights and such change hands, we'll definitely be online and there are other options to explore.

Spinning Indie: Do you have any idea what percentage of listeners tune in over FM vs. the Internet?

Kelsey: These are really difficult questions.  I honestly know very little about our Internet listenership, except that it is difficult to gauge.  As far as over the FM, we haven't had a detailed Arbitron report in a number of years.  The most recent information that we have with confidence is that we had more than the minimum reporting standard of 24,000 listeners per week on average in 2009.  How much more is unknown.

Spinning Indie: What percentage of DJs are students, community members, etc.?

Kelsey: As of spring 2010, we have 112 active djs, 52 of those were community members.  The other 60 djs are students, alumni, faculty and staff.

Spinning Indie: I've read talk about the amount of automated programming that runs on KTRU. Can you set the record straight about how much of the weekly scheduled is automated programming vs. live DJs?

Kelsey: During the summer, automated programming makes up about half of what goes on air  (47% for 8/9-8/15).  When the students come back for the year, automated programming comprises easily less than 20% of the time.  This is another great reason for the administration to make its claims during the summer.

Spinning Indie: What can people do to help keep the station on FM?

Kelsey: You can find out what to do by visiting and our shiny one day old website,

Spinning Indie: Anything else you want to add?

Kelsey: To all those listeners out there who are devastated to hear that their morning commute or their work day won't have the same KTRU spirit, please support us in our efforts to convince these administrations that trading a cultural institution for a few million dollars isn’t something that Houston will take lightly.

Good luck to Kelsey and everyone at KTRU. And, I second her suggestion that fans of college and independent radio let their voices be heard before it's too late.

Room-Share Opportunity During CMJ Music Marathon

CMJ College Radio Awards Ceremony 2009

The first time that I attended the CMJ Music Marathon I traveled by train from Philadelphia to New York City with several of my friends and college radio cohorts. We all crammed into a hotel room at the Roosevelt Hotel where the conference was being held, with several unlucky folks having to sleep on the floor or on cots in order to save money. The next year I went solo, as nobody from my station was interested in going. With no money to spend on an expensive hotel room for myself, I ended up asking a high school friend's sister if I could crash on the floor in her shared apartment in Soho.

I'm sure that many people are in the same situation and have dreams of attending CMJ, but are scared off by the high prices of hotel rooms in New York City (where $300 a night is a "special" deal).

So, as a public service to some college radio folks who are itching to go the CMJ Music Marathon, here's a room-share opportunity for those of you who are interested in minimizing your travel costs. Even if this deal doesn't work out for you, feel free to post your own offers to share accomodations in the comments section of this post:

CMJ Room Share Opportunity:

Osprey Radio, the University of North Florida student run radio station is trying to attend the CMJ Music Marathon in NYC this October. We need your help! If anyone is interested in potentially sharing a hotel room to help us cut down on costs, please contact us at if you are interested. Feel free to check us out at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Radio Station Field Trip 24 - Radio Valencia in San Francisco

Entrance to Chez Poulet, home of Radio Valencia in San Francisco

Yesterday, brand new community radio station Radio Valencia began broadcasting online from their studio in San Francisco. I've been following their behind-the-scenes story for a few months now and checked out their digs back in June before things were up and running. On Tuesday I made a return trip to Radio Valencia to see the progress that they'd made and was excited to be on the premises when they had their first successful test of their webstream. Several of us ran back and forth between the studio and an adjacent kitchen (where a laptop tuned to the station's webstream URL was located) so that we could see if the music and voices from the studio were being transmitted to the web. We were all jubilant when voice and music finally came through and in that moment the inherent magic of radio could not be disputed.

TradeMark Gunderson and John Hell 
First live webcast of Radio Valencia on August 10, 2010

After Tuesday's successful testing of the webstream, live DJs began swarming into the studio yesterday afternoon.  The inaugural live broadcast started at 5pm with DJ Dirty Needles. Ronnie James Coltrane followed at 8pm (with a mix of jazz and metal) and the night of live DJs ended with DJ Fiasco and Karen Carpenter from 10pm to midnight. Tonight there will be live shows starting at 8pm and tomorrow live programming begins at noon and continues mostly uninterrupted until midnight.

The first component of an community arts project dreamed up by San Francisco artist/performer/activist and former mayoral candidate Chicken John, Radio Valencia is located in Chicken John's Mission District warehouse (dubbed Chez Poulet). It's ultimately expected to be a broader-scale community resource and there are hopes that it will become a full-fledged non-profit arts entity.

Radio Valencia Studio

Chicken John approached some of his friends from the underground arts scene in San Francisco to see if they'd be interested in creating a new community radio station in his warehouse space. The crew that ultimately got Radio Valencia up and running all cut their teeth in creative DIY movements like Burning Man and have also graced the airwaves at college radio stations, pirate operations, and at various LPFM stations operated during the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

One of the lead co-conspirators (and my tour guide) is John Hell, who was initially approached by Chicken John with the idea of building a station. John Hell, who was also instrumental in getting FCCFREE Radio off the ground last year, jumped at the idea and Radio Valencia was on its way. I debriefed a bit with John Hell today as he was basking in the glow of the station's successful launch less than 24 hours ago. John Hell said,

"I'm pretty frickin' excited. It was getting to the point a few days ago, after taking over three months putting this together, that I felt like a chef that enjoys making the meals, but isn't so hungry when the meal is ready; excited his meal would be enjoyed by the dinner guests. But when I was there in the studio, yesterday, I felt really excited. Beyond words. It's got to be how Dr. Frankenstein felt. Really. I just hope this monster only crushes corporate competition."

In the coming weeks Radio Valencia will be adding more shows (24 weekly shows are scheduled so far), making tweaks to their set-up (a turntable is already out for repairs), and is planning an official launch party in the style of a baby shower (after Burning Man, of course).

Nakamichi Cassette Deck (with pitch control!) at Radio Valencia

I was impressed (as were a few DJs who stopped by) that the small studio is already outfitted with turntables, CD players, a cassette deck, studio monitors, a computer, and a modest library of donated CDs, LPs and cassettes. Of course DJs will also be able to hook up laptops and other devices to the board, but it was awesome to see that Radio Valencia is encouraging DJs to use physical music as well. John Hell said that he's hoping that the library will grow with donations from DJs, record labels and bands. He acknowledged, "Most shows will have to bring their own music," but is hoping that many DJs will utilize non-digital music. According to John, "There was no way I was  going to have a radio station without turntables and cassettes. I love vinyl! Everyone is totally in agreement with that, I'm hoping. I'm guessing. I'm assuming. What's a radio station without record players? What? I can't believe anyone would even consider such a sin."

DJs at Radio Valencia will have the option of doing their shows live from the station or from a remote location. The hope is that they will also be able to air shows and live events from the adjacent warehouse space as well.

Cassette and Vinyl Library at Radio Valencia

When there is no live DJ, automated programming kicks in. TradeMark Gunderson of the band Evolution Control Committee hand-selected all of the music and customized the automation system. As he worked in the studio on Tuesday, dusting playa dust from Burning Man's past off of cables, he told me that he has 24,000 pieces of music, 4 promos, and 1 station ID loaded into automation. He organized the music by genre, including (but not limited to) electronica, dub, weird/outsider, and soundtracks. The system is set up to play 2 pieces in a row of the same genre, making for a more natural-sounding music mix for listeners.

View of the Street from Radio Valencia Studio

As a big "consumer" and "manipulator" of music, TradeMark said that the material he included in the station's automation gives a sense of the type of material that he collects for his craft. It's truly a fascinating mixture of music. While tuning in to Radio Valencia I heard Japanese psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple, rock from Billy Childish, edgy electronic sounds, international music, a strange promo for the movie Dr. Jeckle & Sister Hyde, and a really weird song hyping the merits of Ernst and Young. TradeMark G will be doing his own show on Radio Valencia on Tuesday nights from 8 to 10pm and will be broadcasting it remotely from his home studio so that he can have access to his massive library of physical music as well.

Congratulations to Radio Valencia on the launch of their station. Now if I only had time to spare, I might be tempted to join in the fun. If you have the urge to help out at the station, drop a note to to find out about how to become a DJ.

Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:

Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland
Radio Station Field Trip 19 - RXP 101.9 FM in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 20- WGBK at Glenbrook South High School
Radio Station Field Trip 21 - KPDO in Pescadero, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 22 - KZYX in Philo, California 
Radio Station Field Trip 23 - San Francisco's Pirate Cat Radio
Radio Station Field Trip 10.5 - KSCU's New Digs at Santa Clara University (2010)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Princeton Review's 2011 List of "Most Popular" College Radio Stations

I'm always getting asked for lists of the best college radio stations, my favorite college radio stations, and radio stations that excel in specific areas like musical diversity, risk-taking or public affairs. Unfortunately most of the college radio rankings that are out there are based on questionable methodologies. For the past few years I've been documenting one such college radio survey from the Princeton Review. Released this week, their listing of "Most Popular College Radio Stations" (registration required) is based on responses on surveys of college students who are asked "How Popular Is the Radio Station" on campus.

So...when you see stations celebrating the fact that they have the "best" radio station according to Princeton Review, just remember that this listing has more to do with the awareness of the existence of radio stations on the campuses that are included in Princeton Review. In fact, it doesn't even ask about specific radio stations, so schools with multiple radio stations will have to battle it out to decide which station is "most popular." Additionally, this 2011 survey only covers 373 colleges, surveying approximately 122,000 students, so stations located at schools not surveyed by Princeton Review will never be in the rankings.

Over the past few years, the list of "Most Popular College Radio Stations" has remained fairly consistent, with many of the same stations simply moving up or down the list. This year two schools dropped off the list (Bates College and Skidmore College), making room for two new stations at Siena College and Sacred Heart University. Neither of the these schools has been on the list for at least the past 3 years. To see how this year's list compares, here are the listings from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

Princeton Review's
Most Popular College Radio Stations-2011 Edition

(note: I've added station names as the Princeton Review only lists school names)

1. DePauw University (WGRE 91.5 FM, Greencastle, Indiana)
2. Ithaca College (WICB 91.7 FM and VIC Radio, Ithaca, New York)
3. Emerson College (WERS 88.9FM and WECB, Boston, Massachusetts)
4. St. Bonaventure University (WSBU-88.3 FM, St. Bonaventure, New York)
5. Brown University (BSR 88.1 FM and WBRU 95.5 FM, Providence, RI)
6. Stanford University (KZSU 90.1 FM, Stanford, CA)
7. Knox College (WVKC 90.7 FM, Galesburg, Illinois)
8. Howard University (WHUR 96.3 FM & WHBC 830 AM, Washington D.C.)
9. University of Puget Sound (KUPS 90.1 FM Tacoma, Washington)
10. Carleton College (KRLX 88.1 FM, Northfield, Minnesota)
11. Guilford College (WQFS 90.9 FM, Greensboro, North Carolina)
12. Alfred University (WALF 89.7 FM, Alfred, New York)
13. Siena College (WVCR 88.3 FM, Loudonville, NY) (New to list this year)
14. Swarthmore College (WSRN 91.5 FM, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania)
15. Reed College (KRRC 97.9 FM, Portland, Oregon)
16. Seton Hall University (WSOU 89.5 FM, South Orange, New Jersey)
17. Whitman College (KWCW 90.5 FM, Walla Walla, Washington)
18. Sacred Heart University (WHRT and public radio station WSHU-FM, Fairfield, Connecticut) (New to list this year)
19. Westminster College (WWNW 88.9 FM, New Wilmington, PA)
20. Manhattanville College (WMVL 88.1 FM, Purchase, New York)