KBLT-LP, usually referred to by its former callsign and still-current branding KTRU (stylized as ktru), is a college radio station broadcasting a freeform-eclectic music format on 96.1 FM. The station is owned by Rice University, and is managed by its students. KTRU's original radio tower, FM frequency and broadcast license were sold by Rice University to the University of Houston System, and the station ceased broadcasting on the 91.7 FM frequency on April 28, 2011. It returned to the FM band when it acquired an LPFM construction permit for the 96.1 frequency, which signed on in October 2015. The low-powered 96.1 facility (which received the random call letters KBLT-LP as KTRU was already taken) only covers southwest Houston. As a result, KTRU relies solely on online streaming to reach listeners outside of its limited broadcast range.
KTRU's programming includes variety of music genres including modern classical, reggae, indie rock, screwed and chopped, spoken word and local experimental noise bands. During evening hours, the station broadcasts shows geared to particular musical genres and themes.
The station has promoted and sponsored independent and local music through sponsoring shows at local venues and on its university campus. The station organizes a Rice battle of the bands every year as well as an annual outdoor show featuring local and touring bands.
In addition to the main station, KTRU's programming was relayed by a broadcast translator to improve reception in the area surrounding the Rice campus. Although it could have been used to continue the student programming by using KPFT's digital subchannel as its source, the translator was included in the sale to the University of Houston System, apparently to prevent the station from having any over-the-air broadcast at all.
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The roots of KTRU began in February 1967 in a residential college at Rice, Hanszen College, where several students broadcast music in the Old Section part of the dorm using an unlicensed 2 watt AM station, using the call sign KHCR (Hanszen College radio) and the wiring of a buzzer system. The next fall, the station transformed into an AM carrier current station with wires running through the steam tunnel system connecting the dormitories to a studio located in the basement of the Rice Memorial Center using the call sign KOWL, a nod to the Rice University mascot.
The station moved to FM after a license was granted by the FCC to the Rice University Board of Governors. Since KOWL was already in use at the time, KTRU was chosen as a substitute. KTRU began operations in 1971 with a transmitter located in Sid Richardson College. Initially broadcasting at 10 watts, the students engineered an increase to 340 watts in April 1974 and 650 watts in October 1980. The broadcast day also increased from the initial evening-only hours to 10 to 12 hours a day on weekdays and most of the weekend. In 1981, KTRU expanded its broadcast hours to 24 hours per day. In 1987, a major expansion of the student center was completed and KTRU's studios were relocated to the 2nd floor of the Ley Student Center.
In 1991, KTRU's transmitter was moved to the north of Houston, increased in power to 50,000 watts and was presented with an operating endowment by Mike Stude, the owner of Houston-area radio station KRTS (now KROI) and an heir of the founders of Brown & Root. This move enabled KRTS to increase from 3,000 watts to 50,000 watts without interfering with KTRU's signal on the second adjacent channel.
In 1997, a university committee released a report recommending expanding coverage of university programs to 12 hours of the broadcast day, the hiring of professional staff, and increasing marketing of the station, in addition to studio expansion and technology upgrades. At the recommendation of the committee, a professional General Manager was hired in 1998 with the Station Manager still staffed by a student volunteer.
In 2000, university administrators threatened to withhold financing and other resources KTRU received through student fees unless the station increased the broadcast air time devoted to specifically to Rice University sports. As a result, KTRU more than doubled the number of sports games it broadcast per week.
On November 30, 2000, student volunteers entered the station to host their weekly punk show and found that their slot had been preempted by a sports game without prior notice and they were expected to operate the board during the broadcast. The DJs protested by playing punk rock music concurrently with the game during its last hour. A university administrator called the station manager and demanded that he discipline the DJs. When the station manager refused, the university administration responded by physically locking students out of the station and replacing its programming with a satellite feed from the World Radio Network. The administration cited the station's by-laws which gives the university president ultimate authority over the station. Students protested the shut-down, including a silent protest outside the University Board of Governors meeting. The station shutdown and protests received coverage in the press and students submitted a petition in support of the student-run station with over 700 signatures. The lockout lasted 8 days before the station was returned to student control with joint oversight from the university administration.
On August 17, 2010, Rice University announced that it had been in negotiations to sell KTRU's broadcast tower, FM frequency and license to the University of Houston System in order for 91.7 to become a full-time classical music and fine arts programming station, relieving KUHF from all music programming and allowing it to become a full-time news station. The new station at 91.7, KUHA (since resold, 91.7 is now KXNG), would be operated as a not-for-profit outlet with listener support funding the new Classical music home. The FCC approved the sale and granted the transfer of license to the University of Houston System on April 15, 2011.
KTRU ceased broadcasting on 91.7 FM at 6 a.m. on April 28, 2011, and resumed over the air broadcasting as KBLT-LP on 96.1 FM on October 2, 2015. The HD-2 signal of KPFT, which aired KTRU programming in a digital only capacity during the time KTRU was off of Houston's analog airwaves, dropped the programming once KBLT-LP signed on and replaced it with the programming that had been heard on KPFT's HD-3 signal, which has since then been dropped itself.