KTSU 90.9, Houston’s first Black FM radio station and one of the nation’s foremost promoters, preservers and repositories of America’s original art form (jazz), is celebrating its 45th anniversary with upgrades for the station, its listeners, Texas Southern University students and the entire Houston community.
When KTSU hit the airwaves in January 1973 after receiving FCC approval in June 1972, the station’s meager 10 watts didn’t allow for many listeners outside of the Third Ward area.
Today, KTSU’s 18,500 watts sends its sounds across the city, and even the world (streaming live at www.ktsuradio.com). The station’s 200,000-plus listeners are treated to Houston’s most eclectic mix of sounds, including jazz, classic R&B, neo-soul, reggae, Latin jazz, hip-hop and gospel, the station’s biggest draw.
To thank its faithful supporters, the station is enjoying some long overdue enhancements that have already started paying dividends.
Massive changes for the station were initiated when Ernest Walker was brought in as the new general manager in February 2016, and staffers such as KTSU Program Director Donna Franklin are pleased with the results.
“In the nine years that I’ve been here the impact that has been made in such a short time with our new general manager has been nothing short of phenomenal,” Franklin said.
“Not taking away from previous general managers, but we are now moving in the direction we should be going. And this past year of explosive growth is just the tip of the iceberg,” Franklin said.”
Walker came to KTSU with more than 20 years of industry experience as a producer, director, musician and fundraiser. His resume includes work with the late Al Jarreau, Quincy Jones, Chante Moore, Radio One, TV-One and the Kennedy Center.
He has musically produced the inaugurations of the mayors of Houston for the past decade, and the city’s Freedom Over Texas Fourth of July celebration for the past six years, while also serving as president/CEO of Walker Entertainment Group.
Walker’s greatest attribute might be his personal KTSU roots.
“As a child I remember the very first station to play our family’s [the Walker Family] first record was KTSU,” recalls Walker, a Yates High School alumnus.
“KTSU still embraces young, up-and-coming artists. You can come in, and we will listen to your music, offer you constructive feedback, and then, if you go back and put in the work, we will give you an opportunity to play your music on the radio.”
Grammy Award-winners Yolanda Adams (gospel) and Kirk Whalum (jazz) have similar stories, and other successful artists with Houston roots are generous with 45th anniversary praise.
“KTSU was the first station that broke my records,” said jazz musician Kyle Turner. “It’s been invaluable to my career, and the place where I can hear today’s new artists and current affairs.”
“KTSU has been the number one gospel outlet for years, supporting us by playing our CDs and keeping us abreast of all things gospel both locally and nationally,” added gospel artist Kathy Taylor.
Walker has KTSU’s sites gazing forward, which is evident in the station’s willingness to break new ground, participating in events that had been inaccessible before Walker’s arrival. They include Houston Recovers, a local event with a decidedly country & western flavor designed to raise funds for the Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund and Freedom Over Texas.
“Participation in those events was huge for us,” Franklin said. “You usually don’t see community stations getting that kind of exposure, introducing KTSU for the first time to the broader community, and opening doors that have never been open,” Franklin shared.
As someone who grew up at KTSU, the station Operations Manager Rev. Charles Hudson is personally enjoying the new direction.
“As a graduate of TSU, it means a lot to me to see KTSU on the brink of greatness once again,” said Hudson, who has seen five different general managers and six different university presidents come and go over the course of his KTSU tenure.
“Each general manager took the steps necessary to move this institution forward,” Hudson said. To see it now become global, with former interns working at CNN, Warner Bros., and with the Tavis Smiley Group, and others who started their own media and consulting companies, it’s just amazing.”
One of the most impactful upgrades the station has experienced during its anniversary year has been replacing outdated software with state-of- the-art equipment, improving programming capabilities, listener engagement and student preparation capabilities.
“This is something the station has been trying to get done for 13 years,” Walker said. “When you look at the fact that KTSU was the first Black FM station in Houston, how we educate, inform, and empower our community is a huge part of the 45-year legacy. In order for that legacy to continue, this upgrade takes us into the future.”
KTSU replaced its obsolete, Microsoft 2000-compatible Scott System with Wide Orbit, considered the latest technology and automation system by industry professionals. All connecting computers were replaced and upgraded as well.
“These changes give us the capability to do remote programming, so if there were a weather emergency, we would still be able to perform programming changes, thus eliminating any dead air space,” Hudson said.
The new equipment also allows listeners the ability to see the name of the artist and song on their car radios, and access current and past playlists via the station’s website.
“The upgrade is not just about the equipment,” Walker said. “It’s about people and community. Most don’t know that almost 80 percent of KTSU staff are volunteers, on-air personalities and others, giving so many volunteer hours per week, 24 hours per day, to keep this station going. So, when we say ‘Your Community Station,’ it really is.”
The biggest impact of equipment and programming upgrades may be felt by TSU students.
“TSU School of Communication students will now be able to work on equipment comparable to what is being used in the real world today instead of working on [outdated] technology, allowing them to compete with the best,” Walker said.
“Second, KTSU will now be able to launch a student-run, streaming radio station. The station will be structured just like KTSU, with a general manager, programming director, etc. Each student will get hands-on experience running the station while being mentored by their KTSU counterpart,” Walker said.
1 Chef Tim Jazz
2 Chilly Bill Smith R&B
3 Deon Haywood Jazz, R&B
4 DJ Uncle Caribbean Vibes
5 James “Gentle Giant” Eaglin Friday Oldies
6 Jimmy Chop Star Jones Old School, Hip-Hop
7 Kirk Whalum Jazz Talk Show
8 Marilyn Bolden Grant Gospel
9 Melanie Ms. Melodic Murphy Jazz
10 Herman ‘Boom-Boom” Williams Blues/Zydeco
11 Mike Caviel Gospel
12 Noel Velasquez Latin
13 Tommy Jay R&B