KTSB Doesn't Belong to You -- But it Can

By Robert Ovetz
February 1991; pages 5, 14, 15; Volume 2, No. 4
Polemicist

by Robert Ovetz with the assistance of Kerthy Hearn, Rob Jacob, Rob Forman, and Jenny Wong. This article, here published only in part, was originally distributed as a pamphlet to the KTSB staff in December. It is available in its full form from Robert Ovetz at KTSB.

 

Almost everyone at KTSB has come up against problems that have caused a lot of tension; problems with new record promotion, perpetual equipment failures, and recording tape and storage shelf shortages. In addition, lack of control over KTSB money and the station's advertising policy ("adult professionals" tell students what to do) and restrictions on students' right to speak, report the news and play music have caused many talented students to quit the station in disgust. These problems, large and small, are the consequences of KTSB's subordination to the Texas Student Publication Board of Operating Trustees (TSP), an institution that does not serve students and has not for the last 50 years. Yet, like the Texan has done for many decades, KTSB fights to defend its autonomy from TSP.

TSP: a model in institutional control, a case study of the Texan

On the surface, it appears that students actually run KTSB. Students write the news, play the records, organize fundraisers. But the activities that make up the day to day nuts and bolts of the station operate within very well defined parameters of procedure and rules. Except for the current Broadcast Supervisor (BS), Andrea Morrow, no one from TSP stands at our side dictating what we can and cannot do. Yet, a series of committees and TSP appointed representatives make important decisions that affect all student staff.

Former UT-Austin president Peter Flawn in his book A Primer for University Presidents: Managing the University makes explicit the means for establishing institutional controls while appearing to have a hands off approach. "Without running the risk of being accused to heavy-handed censorship," he writes, "you can probably set up a board of responsible faculty and students to exercise oversight for operations and programming."

Michael Goodwin, in a 1988 article for Images, described the history of this process of institutional control. In 1916, TSP was student controlled, with a voting student majority and editors of each publication making policy. By 1956, the Board of Regents had succeeded in subordinating TSP to Regent control, requiring any action to have prior approval, imposed a censor on the Texan, eliminated the editor as a voting member of the board, and created faculty-dominated executive committee that removed the editor's authority over the managing editor. In 1963, Chancellor Ransom even succeeded in making the editor position appointed until student opposition a year later forced a return to an elected officer. The students of the SA and TSP Board were made powerless over the institutions they had created.

A vital turning point came in 1971, as TSP was transformed from an ally of the Texan into an institution under the dictate of the Regents. Proclaiming that "we do not fund anything we do not control," Regent chairman Frank Erwin used the expiration of the TSP charter to make the final crushing blow to the Texan's independence. The regents took control of TSP's assets and restructured the board so that only two of its eleven members were elected students. It was also with these fateful actions that the Texan editor's authority was stripped down to control over page four, the editorial page, while relinquishing overall authority to the board-appointed managing editor.

Godwin summed up the demise of the autonomous student power once integral in the UT student press: "Over the course of its 87-year history, the Texan has been altered again and again by forces inimical to student interests. What was once a student-run, independent newspaper has become a University-owned "auxiliary enterprise" whose board is unrepresentative of the community it serves."

KTSB Joins TSP

Beginning in the Spring semester of 1986, the Student Radio Task Force evolved out of the SA and worked to promote support for its project, eventually holding fundraisers and carving out a space in the old Varsity Cafeteria. However, moves by Sara Beechner and Kevin Tuerff steered KTSB on a course right into the TSP/Regent/UT Administration hierarchy of control.

Through "informal conversations" and negotiations with TSP officials and President Cunningham's office Beechner and Tuerff integrated KTSB as part of TSP on September 17, 1987. Along with their "success" came a TSP-appointed station manager, a non-student Broadcast Supervisor with broad TSP authority to censor and control programming, and a seven-member Broadcast Advisory Committee. The TSP board has the power "to determine the character and policy" of the station, and the Board of Regents would own the desired FM license.

The station manager of the "student-run and operated" radio station is appointed by the TSP board, a board of eleven people of which six are students elected by a campus-wide election with three of them from the College of Communications. This has created a problem of representation. The station manager ostensibly represents students, although he/she is not elected by them. As a staff member personally explained to current KTSB station manager John Curvan when he time and time again bowed to TSP authority, if he's appointed by TSP he "does TSP's bidding rather than ours," and as a result he shouldn't be involved in representing student desires as a staff.

On the day that the TSP board met to appoint Curvan last spring, more than 40 staff members met, organized, and signed a petition protesting their exclusion from the station manager selection process. They wanted to scrap the current process, which had resulted in a recommendation of Curvan (who was handpicked by Chuck Ashley, the outgoing, autocratic station manager), and start over to ease tension between factions that had developed within the station. The Board completely ignored their concerns. Staff members in attendance spoke up against the sham only to be told that "it is too late to take your concerns into consideration. But we can discuss it next year."

After predictably confirming the nomination, Board Chairwoman Ellen Williams suggested creating an "ad hoc committee" at the next meeting, in the summer, to "study the matter." Perhaps she had read the manuscript chapter of Flawn's book where he discusses the role of committees. "The ad hoc committee is, of course, the device by which the president buys time to deal with a potentially nasty situation [or] defuses a fast-breaking and potentially explosive situation." If the issue is a "hot one," he tells us, "it is best to resolve the matter as best you can in the summer when the faculty is largely absent and the student body is reduced in number." Or perhaps she just knew this herself. This ad hoc committee, by the way, did not start meeting until the beginning of this year, and are fielding staff concerns on a "don't call us, we'll call you" basis.

Enter KOOP

The real flow of authority at KTSB is illustrated by the recent internal fight over the negotiations with KOOP for 91.7 FM, the last non-commercial frequency in Austin. Since the start of the application process more than two years ago, negotiations between the FCC and KOOP have been entirely the responsibility of the TSP bureaucracy and UT's lawyers in Austin and Washington D.C. The staff has never been asked to participate in, let alone direct, the negotiations over student radio.

Staff members chastised Curvan numerous times in the fall semester for ignoring considerable interest among some staff in having direct roles in negotiating with KOOP radio. Even after listening to a half hour discussion on whether or not to negotiate with KOOP, during the TSP board meeting the following week, Curvan allowed the TSP board to grant full negotiation authority to TSP General Manager Dick Lytle without so much as a peep. Before the motion was passed, KTSB staff member, Jenny Wong, suggested that a student representative, namely the station manager, should participate directly in this decision-making process - since, after all, this is supposedly a student-run station.

In a shallow attempt to appease Wong, board members amended the resolution to read: "that the general manager, in concert with the station manager, Broadcast Supervisor, Broadcast Advisory Committee Chairperson, Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Legal Council, evaluate the situation to determine if there is a basis for negotiating..." The addition to the motion included only one student actually involved with the station, and was worded so that the general manager had no obligation to listen to any of the outside input. The board passed this resolution with little discussion, once again cutting the staff out of the circuit of decision-making.

Giving proof to the argument that he serves the will of TSP, Curvan rebuffed almost 30 staff members at an independently organized meeting the following week by claiming that he was "looking out for our interests" after numerous staffers berated him for selling us out. As he explained, "the negotiated deal with KOOP will start with Dick [Lytle] and then come to us." Curvan missed the point. Staff members both for and against negotiating were infuriated that the abdicated student input in the negotiations process.

Curvan's pleading that he was looking out for students that evening would prove two weeks later to be two-faced. At the first Broadcast Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting of the semester six staff members, three of whom were directors, presented their concerns that they had been short-circuited out of the decision-making process. The Broadcast Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the TSP board, repeatedly shot down a proposal to organize a committee composed of staff members to contact KOOP about the possibility of negotiating. Opposition came not only from the committee's non-student members, but even from newly appointed staff member Mark Shelby who somehow thought the idea of frequency sharing was "selfish and hasty." Curvan, when he finally had the nerve to speak out for something, came down on the side of the administrators. In his opinion, a committee composed of students would be "unprofessional."

Morrow: Queen without the Crown

Curvan has not only consistently side with TSP in our direct relations with the board, but he has been the lone defender of the TSP-appointed Broadcast Supervisor (BS), Andrea Morrow. Granted broad power within the station by the General Manager, Morrow has taken on the role of a "supervisor," creating and implementing policies that have stifled staff creativity, disrupted directors' authority, and narrowed the available material available for airplay by censoring music.



"If formally the position carries the responsibilities of an advisor, in practice it has become the most powerful position at KTSB."



Chapter 6 of the TSP Handbook of Operating Procedures (September, 1989) created the position stipulating that "the Broadcast Supervisor provides staff with on-going advice and counsel as well as recommendation on all aspects of broadcast operations, including broadcast standards, FCC rules and regulations, programming production, engineering, editorial policy, broadcast reporting, writing and editing techniques, mass communications law, journalism ethics, and management techniques." Morrow has taken to heart that she is "hired by and reporting to the General Manager" and not the students, telling two separate directors over the last few months that "I do not care what the staff thinks ... I don't answer to students. I answer to Dick Lytle."

If formally the position carries the responsibilities of an advisor, in practice it has become the most powerful position at KTSB, much like the managing director at the Texan. Morrow has frequently activated the Broadcast Supervisor's authority to "withhold pre-recorded programming" that violates FCC obscenity rules - even when KTSB, narrowcast on cable rather than FM, is currently legally exempt from such laws. Since taking the position she has raised the ire of several staff members. She has literally picked out certain DJ's to monitor for content she defines as "indecent," stretching the term to include "sexually explicit" words and words dealing with "bodily functions," calling them up on the request line while they're on the air or entering the booth to force them to interrupt the offending song while in progress and proceed with another. She began to remove entire records, such as Boogie Down Productions - which was in new bin rotation at the time - and Nirvana from the library because of one offending song. When confronted about Morrow's new form of censoring music, Curvan said, "I see no problem with it."

Problems with Morrow continue, including "writing up" DJs for violations, as happened to one director, and threatening to have volunteers who violate station policy "fired." Morrow has also intervened in the direct selection of music programming as well. In May, she persistently shot down a proposal to establish a "political music" show. She has interrupted a DJ playing part of a speech by William S. Burroughs that was in the new bin to question his selection of this cut, complained to Curvan about another DJ playing muppets songs during his show, interrupted and argued with a DJ in the control room for playing part of an interview preceding a live taped performance and even criticized the blues show DJ for playing Zydeco and Reggae.

Most destructive has been Morrow's requirement that all DJs and assistant DJs pass the FCC's Third Class Operators technically difficult test before going on the air to prove our "professionalism" to the FCC. Yet, according to the FCC's own study guide for the test, DJs are not required to even have a license. This may explain why the test has nothing to do with being a DJ. Ironically, she has failed to admit that one does not need to even take the test to get a license. All that is needed to get one is to send the FCC $30.00. But those who pass the test never do get a license, since the station does not pay the fee. Instead, the test has become a mechanism to weed out DJs that Morrow does not like. This happened on various occasion until fall DJ Director Rob Jacob stopped her.

Maybe the confusion surrounding the Operator's exam is the result of Morrow's lack of experience in non-commercial and student radio, although she frames censorship of DJs and material as an issue of discipline and "professionalism." Her experience in "professional" radio it turns out is limited to monitoring and censoring callers for indecent language at KLBJ-AM. She has also worked for a Christian station. But it is not her inadequate experience with student radio that is the main difficulty. Morrow is doing her job correctly as TSP sees it.

A group of student staff has organized several alternative "gripe sessions" to discuss restraining Morrow, or if matters worsen, to demand she be removed from her position. At an August meeting about twenty staff members, Curvan promised to meet with Morrow, accompanied by Evert, to express massive staff dissatisfaction with her and to warn that if she did not improve by the end of August he would support having her removed from the job. When the day came to meet with her, Curvan never showed up, according to Evert, and in his discussion with her about the problems, Evert neglected to express the severity of staff dissatisfaction and her trial period for improvement.

Another option discussed was to have the position cut to a part time position and to reopen the position for rehiring with the staff making the final decision. Morrow presented a job description that she thought justified the BS remaining a full time position. When she was asked by a director to present details about what work she did when not present at the station which made the job full-time she refused to say, claiming that it was "none of the staff's business."

An additional effort was made to revise Lytle's job description of the BS so that the BS is subordinated to the needs of the staff for advice as needed and supervision as requested. Even though almost 100 staff members signed a petition supporting these changes, Lytle, Curvan, Evert, Morrow, and Business Manager Kelly Donaldson, met in private on the matter before being presented with the altered job description by the staffer who had originated the idea. Of the five staff members who drafted and circulated the petition, only Rob Jacob was informed of the meeting - less than a day in advance. Whoever called the meeting assumed negotiating powers over a petition not of their making. Thus it's no surprise that, according to Jacob, Dick Lytle essentially dismissed it.

Following the Money Trail

TSP's authority is even greater when one considers KTSB finances. The 1989-90 budget shows our total estimated income at $61,100. But this would be a misleading figure if we did not consider that the BS received a salary of $20,496, benefits worth $5908 and insurance contributions valued at $1,560. Included with that, §13,777 is contributed to General Overhead for building rental, contribution for TSP administrative salaries and utilities and $9,432 for KTSB staff salaries. Of the total, $50,000 comes from student services fee and $11,100 must be raise by the staff.

Out of the $61,100, $27,964 goes to pay for a TSP appointed censor position. And of that total, only $840.00 is available to buy records the station has not received from record labels, which is a considerable number since almost none of our music is dated earlier than 1987. In all, $41,741 goes entirely to the UT system bureaucracy. Of the $50,000 TSP gets from student fees, we only see $19,459. And after staff salaries totaling $9,432 are deducted, we only see $10,027 - $1,073 less than the $11,100 we are required to raise ourselves!

While student radio has "all this money" the station still has problems. For example, for almost a month this summer both the mics in the control room remained broken and were rigged through the tape deck making it nearly impossible to play music recorded to tape. Even in late November, the right mic remains broken. During an equally lengthy period over the summer the mic switch, which had broken off at its stem, remained unfixed. In the production room tape piles up on the table lacking a storage shelf. Last Spring, the staff was accused of "destroying the headphones" even though the "damage" was only the result of daily wear and tear. Students were then told to bring their own and then required to pay a dollar for a new pair. After two years the station still lacks access to a bathroom after the microcenter closes, making it difficult to work for long periods of time.

Because of inadequate microphones and equipment it is impossible to organize live performances, as a few live sessions over the summer showed. Because a mic amplifier is not functioning, DJs cannot self-monitor on the air. Some DJs have even resorted to doing their airbreaks in the news room. Mechanical failures and inadequacies that develop are left unresolved, allowing even more technical problems develop. Only $600.00 of the KTSB budget goes towards maintenance and improvements.

Even the limited funds available for the station's daily work is not available to students. KTSB is forbidden to hold any petty cash and students are required to turn in all the receipts raised at benefits on the very next day. This has caused the staff some embarrassment at fundraisers, and has also disrupted station promotions. After working out an agreement with the West Campus Cafe to trade food for a station fundraiser in exchange for ads, the business director at the time, who was later to resign, was told by Morrow to break the contract since in-kind exchanges violated TSP policy.

TSP control has disempowered KTSB staffers already; do you want KTSB to control Austin's last public access radio frequency?