GM Ernest Walker shares KTSU’s plans for next 50 years
KTSU's 'Impact Houston Live' hosts Rev. Chris Johnson (far left) and Marcus Session (middle) with guests from July 2, 2022 show. Photo by Aswad Walker.

The iconic Third Ward-based community radio station, KTSU, “The Choice” 90.9 FM, has just come off celebrating its 50th anniversary, shining the spotlight on the station’s many accomplishments, collaborations and local and national impact.

But don’t think the good people at KTSU are resting on their laurels. Far from it. Amid the celebration, planning has long since begun for what’s in store for “The Choice” as it moves into its next 50 years.

Ernest Walker

The Defender spoke with the station’s general manager, Ernest Walker, to get his projections for KTSU as it moves into its next 50 years.

DEFENDER: How did the 50th anniversary go?

ERNEST WALKER: The 50th anniversary was absolutely incredible. It was a wonderful turnout. We wanted to do something to bring the community together and invite them to our home. So, we invited them back to the campus of Texas Southern University, right behind KTSU. We had a lot of great entertainment, from some of our local performers and a lot of our local DJs that’s part of KTSU were there, as well. And the community just came out and really showed a lot of love, but it was us giving back to them.

DEFENDER: So, where does KTSU go from here?

WALKER: We will be unveiling the new, I would say renovated KTSU for its 50th. We are renovating the entire radio station and also our KTSU recording studio that is being done as we speak. It brings a whole new, refresh felling to the station. And also, from a technology perspective, the vision was how do we better serve our community as a whole? So, we know we play a lot of great music for our community, and that’s from jazz to blues to gospel to hip hop to R&B, neo-soul. We have a gumbo mix of music. And we also have a lot of great news and public affairs shows, as well. But part of the future is launching another station under KTSU that is more targeted to news and information to our community from the urban perspective; things that affect us, from health to finances. There are so many things that affect us in our community that we’re not talking about, that we need to continue to bring to the forefront of the conversation. At KTSU, we currently have three stations. One is The Choice. The second one is The Voice, which is our student-run station. And then we have The Vibe. The next one will be our fourth station. I can’t reveal that name yet, but it will be a 24-hour news and public affairs station that has a lot of different types of great programming that really hits on different areas of our community.

DEFENDER: Are there any other specific goals that you hope to see KTSU accomplish?

WALKER: We’re leading the effort across the country when it comes to HBCU stations across the country. There was an initiative that we launched during COVID. We led the effort to bring 14 other radio stations across the country together under one initiative. So, through that, we are continuing to be that leader in public radio, especially for Black public radio stations. That is part of our focus, to help strengthen those other stations around the country so our voices can continue to be heard.

DEFENDER: Beyond the HBCU efforts, are there other partnerships on the horizon or any old ones that you’re going to keep going?

WALKER: We’ve continued to partner with a lot of the community organizations in our community, as well. I think that is very necessary for us to support those in our community. Like, Juneteenth was a big celebration at Emancipation Park. We were the host and the only radio station for that, as well as the Miller Outdoor Theater Juneteenth celebration, as well as things we do with the NAACP and some of the other organizations in our community. And I know there are many other organizations that are doing great work, and I look forward to collaborating with those other organizations to amplify what they’re doing, the great work that they’re doing, as well. So, a lot of great partnerships coming down the pipeline.

DEFENDER: How were you all in two places at the same time, at two different Juneteenth celebrations?

WALKER: You know what, I am very grateful and thankful to all of our staff and all of our volunteers at KTSU. I could not do this without them. They are the shoulders I truly stand on. And when we say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing,” they’re excited about being a part of that. So, when you think about a station that is in multiple places at one time, we even did Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Juneteenth Parade at the same time. So, when you think about being at all these locations, it takes people. And those people are very dedicated volunteers and staff workers at KTSU and kudos them for all the work that they do..

DEFENDER: Of all the things that are in front of you for this next 50 years, what most excites you?

WALKER: The number one thing I would say is we have the opportunity to shape the future through our students at Texas Southern University. We have the opportunity to expose the next generation to things that they probably have not been exposed to through strategic partnerships, as well. To give you an example, through KTSU, we created a partnership with the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California, which is the oldest jazz festival in the U.S. or probably worldwide. Think about what kind of opportunity that offers for our students. So, now we have our jazz students who are now being able to go out there. We’ll have our choir this year, that’s going out there. We have our students in the School of Communication going as well. And what they actually get is hands on experience with the graces of a George Benson.

Rev. Chris Johnson and renowned radio personality Donna Franklin, who, along with Marcus Session (not pictured) host KTSU’s ‘Impact Houston Live.’

So, when they get those opportunities to talk to them, to meet with them, to perform with some of these great artists. And then our students in the school and communication who are capturing these stories, and telling the story as well, that just breeds so much life into them. And one of the students last year said, “Mr. Walker, I really appreciate it because I’ve never been outside of my community.” So, when you can make an impact in a young person’s life, to me, that’s the most rewarding thing that we can ever, ever do. So, we’re going to continue down that path for the next 50 years. And I know we will create many new journals, journalism students. You never know where they will go in this world. But we want to produce greatness from KTSU and Texas Southern University.

DEFENDER: How can the community support KTSU? What are the number one, two and three ways?

WALKER: Number one, I would say, continue to listen. But I would say to share with someone else about this jewel that we have in our city called KTSU. There are so many new people are moving into the city and we don’t have the big budgets to do the large marketing campaigns and things of that sort. But you know what, there’s nothing like word of mouth. There’s nothing like someone else telling someone else about this station that really makes an impact in the community. And we truly care about our community as a whole. It’s not just about saying, “KTSU, your community station.” To me, it’s about the actions that we do to show that we are your community station. So, from the community, I will ask that you continue to listen and share, and also support. Become a member. Or if you have a business, become an underwriter. Those resources help us continue to do the things we’re doing to build on what we call KTSU, the Choice, your favorite radio station. And I’m going to say public radio station. And when we say public radio, that means it is supported by the public.

DEFENDER: Is there anything else you would like to add that I didn’t ask about?

WALKER: Being able to reach that next generation, that’s very important to me as we continue to grow. And the way technology is always shifting, we have to embrace the younger generation. It might not be what we like to listen to all the time, but we have to bring in that other generation. Because we were once young and I say, we’re still young. But we have to embrace them. And I think as we embrace that next generation, we’re able to educate them on some things that they didn’t even know about. So, we get him in with the hip hop with The Vibe. But then they start listening to our other offerings and then they say, “Man, I like that jazz. I didn’t know. Oh man, I like Robert Glasser.” They didn’t know how he bridges hip hop and jazz together. It creates a different vibe for them. But I think that’s part of the education that we do as a station. So, I’m all about reaching that next generation, as well as taking care of the generation that we have today.



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