Student radio stations unite against buyouts

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UT’s student radio station, KVRX, simultaneously broadcasted an Internet feed of a California freeform community radio station Friday afternoon to draw attention to the disappearance of student and community radio stations.

Fifteen college and community stations throughout the country broadcasted the feed to show solidarity with KUSF, a San Francisco community radio station that was sold to the media corporation Public Radio Capital without its DJs and listeners knowledge.

Because of the acquisition, the community radio station was converted to an online-only platform and will have to cut paid staff positions.

“I do not think that it’s going to happen at UT, but it’s a really bad trend, and I would hate to see student radio in America become a memory,” said Jim Ellinger, longtime Austin community media activist.

Ellinger began his relationship with Austin student and community radio when he formed the Student Radio Task Force in 1986. The task force led to creation of 91.7 FM, the station shared by both KOOP Austin community radio and KVRX UT student radio.

Ellinger said Public Radio Capital is the single biggest threat to campus radio because the corporation bought KUSF and, among others, KTRU, Rice University’s student radio station. Rice sold the station in August 2010 to the University of Houston system to operate as a nonprofit classical station.

“They don’t value the stations,” he said. “They don’t even tell the students. The president and regents of Rice University sell their campus station for $10 million, and they don’t have the decency to even let the students know.”
For Jessica Allen, art history sophomore and program director of KVRX, the consequences are more pressing.

“We’re banding together in solidarity because we want to stay alive,” Allen said.

Allen said the station suffered budget cuts last year and faces mounting problems with funding. Other than University funding, KVRX relies on donations from listeners to stay on the air. Allen said despite having to meet higher goals, the station’s pledge drive is more successful than in years previous because of a dedicated staff.

“KVRX is not taking our position for granted. Since we saw KTRU go down, we’ve all been afraid about the future of community and student radio,” Allen said.

Joe Mathlete, sophomore at Rice University, is a DJ for KTRU, which now operates as an online-only stream.
“I love the station,” Mathlete said. “It’s the only place to find interesting and outsider music on the radio in Houston. When I heard the news that it was going down and turning into an NPR station basically, it hit me hard. The format is very eclectic and exposes people to music that surprises them.”

Mathlete said the display of solidarity is important at this point in time in radio homogenization.

“KTRU makes you open up your ears. If KTRU leaves the airwaves, there’s nothing left,” Mathlete said.