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RIP, Ray Hill

We have lost an icon.

Ray Hill

Ray Hill was in the cross hairs, and if the Louisiana hitmen actually showed up in Houston to rub him out, he wanted the media to be wise to what had happened. Hill breathlessly related the menace, obviously delighted that he could be the target of such a delicious conspiracy. Every UPS deliveryman, every knock on the door might be a summons to eternity. He’d hunker down in his apartment until we talked again — if we talked again.

Hill exuded drama like some people sweat. Whether he was telling tales of his career as an East Texas teenage evangelist or his escapades as a jewel thief, Hill kept an eye peeled for the best presentation. And as one of the city’s most visible advocates for gay, lesbian and inmate causes, he rarely failed to sharpen his talent to entertain into a formidable weapon.

Hill, who late in life eschewed leadership roles in activist circles to hone a career as a monologuist — a dramatic undertaking that gained him appreciative audiences in New York, Pennsylvania and New England — died of heart failure in hospice care Saturday. He was 78.

A legend in his own right — and in his own mind — Hill’s business card described his profession as “citizen provocateur,” a proudly worn label he received from a Supreme Court justice after a long-ago legal battle with the cops.

“I was born to rub the cat hair the wrong direction,” he once said.

Excerpts don’t do the man justice, so go read the whole thing, then go read Lisa Gray’s pre-obituary of Hill that came out on Tuesday. I met Ray a couple of times but didn’t really know him, which makes me kind of an outlier since basically everyone knew Ray Hill. The late Carl Whitmarsh called Ray “Mother” in his emails, a tribute to Ray’s role as an originator of LGBT activism in Houston. You can’t tell the story of Houston without at least a chapter on Ray Hill. He may be gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in peace, Ray Hill.

KTRU’s last day will be Thursday

29-95:

Last week the FCC approved a license transfer from Rice University to the University of Houston which was the end of the road for Rice’s student-run KTRU/91.7 radio station. [Wednesday] came news of the shut off date. KTRU will no longer be broadcast from 91.7 starting at 6 a.m. on April 28.

KTRU plans to continue its programming on KPFT 90.1 HD2 and streaming online at ktru.org.

Save KTRU mentioned it as well. Mark your calendars.

FCC approves KTRU sale

It’s official now.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved the controversial sale of Rice University’s radio station, KTRU, to the University of Houston.

The decision comes after a group called the Friends of KTRU filed a petition and three radio listeners submitted objections hoping to scuttle the deal. They argued the sale violated FCC rules and state law because it was not in the public interest, but the FCC, in its order, said the sale was “consistent with the public interest, convenience and necessity.”

[…]

Rice student and KTRU station manager Joey Yang said he wasn’t happy with FCC decision.

“It’s disappointing in terms of the FCC preaching localism and local programming,” Yang said. “In the decision they said programming content was not their concern. It seems contradictory.”

In the petition, supporters argued that the change of format contradicted the commission’s policies promoting local programming. The FCC, however, found no grounds for the objections.

“Although the commission recognizes that the station’s program format has attracted a devoted listenership, it is well-settled policy that the commission does not scrutinize or regulate programming, nor does it take potential changes in programming formats into consideration in reviewing assignment applications,” the decision states.

You can read the FCC’s decision here. Not surprisingly, Save KTRU isn’t happy with it.

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.

KTRU has been broadcasting on KPFT’s HD radio channel and will continue to do so. It’s not been determined yet when new station KUHC will be up and running, but according to Rocks Off, Rice and UH have ten business days to transfer the money from the sale. One way or another, the era of KTRU on 91.7 is at the end.

More on the KTRU/KPFT deal

After I read about the KTRU/KPFT deal, in which KTRU will broadcast over one of KPFT’s HD radio channels, I wondered what the folks at Save KTRU thought of it. At the time I posted, there wasn’t anything on the website about the deal, but there is now:

Friends of KTRU, a group of students, alumni and community members devoted to stopping the assignment of KTRU’s non-commercial (NCE) FM license, as well as KTRU’s student management, reject any notion that the dispute over the future of KTRU’s FM license and transmitter has been resolved by the agreement, announced today, regarding the simulcasting of KTRU’s programming on KPFT’s HD2 channel.

“HD radio is better than no radio,” said KTRU Station Manager Joey Yang, “but is orders of magnitude less viable than our current FM broadcast.”

Potential and actual listenership of HD radio is a fraction of that of conventional FM radio, and reception of HD radio broadcasts requires the purchase of a specialized receiver, putting it out of the reach of those with limited financial means.

The FCC has not yet ruled on Friends of KTRU’s Petition to Deny the transfer of KTRU’s FM license. Both Friends of KTRU and KTRU’s student management remain committed in their opposition to any sale of KTRU’s assets.

That quote by station manager Joey Yang seemed to contrast with what he had said in the earlier Chron story:

“We’re excited,” said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager and a junior at Rice. “We think HD radio is going to be a viable option for us.”

I was curious about that, so I sent him an email and asked him to elaborate. This is what he said to me:

Yes, I’m happy with the deal. HD radio, as I’ve said before, is better than no radio. We realize the value of FM, though, and still seek to deny the transfer of the license. That’s still the main goal. HD radio is still an up-and-coming technology, hence my comments in the Friends of KTRU release, but it’s important to note that FM was an up-and-coming technology once upon a time. So, to clarify, FM is much more ubiquitously available than HD radio, but I, and the DJs at KTRU, are very excited about the possibilities that HD radio holds.

Fair enough. I also asked him what will happen to the KPFT deal if the FCC ultimately denies the sale of KTRU’s license, as SaveKTRU and others have advocated:

If the FCC denies the sale of KTRU, then I guess we’ll have both an HD stream with KPFT and an FM stream. Two is certainly better than zero.

So there you have it.

KTRU joins forces with KPFT

KTRU will broadcast over the air again, just from a different spot on the dial.

[Rice University] said Saturday that KTRU will broadcast over a digital channel assigned to radio station KPFT, beginning Feb. 14.

“We’re excited,” said Joey Yang, KTRU station manager and a junior at Rice. “We think HD radio is going to be a viable option for us.”

The deal was reached with the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFT, and appears to resolve one of the most contentious issues that arose after Rice agreed to sell the KTRU tower and license to the University of Houston for $9.5 million.

[…]

KTRU’s programming — featuring student and volunteer disc jockeys, playing an eclectic mix of music – will be available through KPFT’s HD2 channel, as well as over the Internet and, for now, its 91.7 FM frequency.

[Rice President David] Leebron said the overlap will give KTRU more time to promote the HD channel and Internet broadcast.

[…]

Yang said KTRU will expand its focus on local music, “music being made in and around Houston.”

KPFT General Manager Duane Bradley said that fits with Pacifica’s mission of “exposing unexposed artists.

“We look at a lot of what Rice does as an extension of our mission.”

KPFT will continue to broadcast at 90.1 FM and its HD1 channel. It currently has news and other programming on the HD2 channel but will move that to a third high-definition channel, Bradley said.

Here’s the press release from KPFT. All things considered, I think that’s about as good an outcome as one could hope for. KTRU and KPFT were the two most like-minded stations on the radio to begin with, so this kind of partnership should be a good fit. Plus, UH will provide some paid internships for Rice students for the first three year. It won’t satisfy everyone, as Leebron said, and the way Rice went about selling the station was still crappy, but it’s an acceptable ending. Kudos to all for getting it done.