It was announced yesterday that Rice University is selling KTRU and it's going to become a news/classical station. This is horrifying news for serious music listeners in Houston. For your casual listeners, the other big stations might be fine. For people that just want to put on Sunny 99.1 at work and veg out while doing reports or something, it works for them. But for those of us that are into more eclectic music, local music, or just want to hear something different, there's only one radio station and that's KTRU. There's a petition to save it, but this seems to be a done deal. With KTRU gone, there will be no outlet in Houston for "weird" music and that's a sad, sad thing for a city with the music scene and the history that Houston has. So with the apparent passing of KTRU, I would like to share some of my fondest memories of it.
For me, it really has been the only station worth listening to for a long time. I remember years ago putting it on early in the morning. I'm not an early bird, so I was tired and in a bad mood. The first song that came on, which was just ending, was the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds classic "The Mercy Seat," one of my favorite songs of all time. As it ended, I heard something revelatory. The opening drums and acoustic guitar strums of a strange vaguely 80's but still modern sounding pop song. A deep, sighing voice quickly came in, singing lyrics that resonated with me more than most songs ever had before. "Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home, because I haven't got one anymore..." coupled with the upbeat refrain of, "If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die. And if a ten ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure, the privilege is mine." That song, of course, was "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" by the Smiths. I had somehow spent my life up to that point never having heard their music. It struck deep. Soon after, I was an obsessive Smiths and Morrissey fan, living and dying by that man's poetry. It was a life changing moment hearing that song for the first time.
Years later, I was going through a rough patch in my life. My dad was in the hospital very ill with a fifty-fifty chance of survival. He pulled through thankfully, but at the time we weren't sure. I was working sixty hours a week, trying to make money, not knowing what was going to happen in my life. I was driving to visit my dad and there was a song on playing on KTRU. It was bizarre, a sort of electronic, hip-hop, indie rock mish-mash, something I had never really heard anything like before. Afterwards, the DJ came on and said that it was a song by Ghost Mountain off their then-new album Siamese Sailboats. Despite being obviously upset at the time, there was something that hit me about that song. It was so happy and uplifting, strangely catchy and appealing. I loved it. In short order, I became a big fan of Ghost Mountain, then I wanted to see them perform. I made my first trek to Mango's on Westheimer, which would lead me down a path of gradually discovering Houston's amazing music scene and eventually writing for this very website, another life changing moment thanks to KTRU.
There were others, of course, other great bands I discovered, other great moments soundtracked by the station, but those are the two biggest that stand out in my mind. KTRU has been on in all sorts of strange, wonderful, depressing, exciting, and bizarre moments in my life. Its presence has been so greatly appreciated and yet taken for granted up until now. Now losing it is like losing an old friend. Apparently it will still broadcast online, but there's nothing else like it to play in the car which was where most of my listening took place, so it's a bit of a disappointing consolation prize. I only wish there was something that could be done to change the minds of those behind the sale, but it looks like this is the death of worthwhile radio in Houston.