George Wilson Thomas, who served as general manager of KTSU 90.9 FM for 18 years, died April 13 at age 80. A viewing will be held Wednesday, April 24, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 3015 N. MacGregor Way. A viewing will also be held Thursday, April 25, at 10 a.m. at Good Hope, and the funeral service is at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Under Thomas’ leadership, the radio station based on the Texas Southern University campus experienced a major increase in funding and programming, and grew to have the largest African-American audience of any U.S. public radio station.
Thomas was instrumental in establishing the African-American Public Radio Consortium, a group comprised of Black general managers. He was a musician and jazz enthusiast who performed locally for 40 years with his group, George Thomas & Friends. He was also an avid tennis player who helped spearhead the KTSU Tennis Tournament for 17 years.
KTSU Music Director Shelton T. Nunn said in a tribute that Thomas was a man who led by example.
“No task was too difficult because of his visionary spirit,” Nunn wrote. “Always the optimist, George found ways to make things happen due to the many relationships he developed throughout his life from all walks of life. His ideas bore fruit and his passing leaves a void in the lives of all who either met or knew George Thomas personally or socially…”
Current KTSU GM Ernest Walker said he first met Thomas as a musician.
“He was a trumpet player and I was a drummer, and sometimes we would play together,” Walker said.
“For many years, George deposited so many great things in the next generation – the up and coming musicians, the up and coming broadcasters, the up and coming young people who had a passion for tennis. He made a great contribution to our community as a whole and we will remember him for that,” Walker said.
Defender CEO and Publisher Sonny Messiah-Jiles said, “I worked with George over the years, and he was creative and fun. He was a classy man, who dressed well and was known for his love of music, tennis, KTSU, his church and the community. Rest in peace, my brother.”
Thomas, who previously worked as a KTSU account executive, became general manager in 1995. At the time, the station had limited resources. One of his first duties as GM was to connect KTSU with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a government entity responsible for providing funding for public radio stations.
With increased funding from CPB and implementation of two-annual fund-raising events that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for KTSU, the station’s audience grew.
Jazz was the primary focus at KTSU, and Thomas wanted to maintain it as an original American art form. Music greats Joe Sample and Hubert Laws were among Thomas’ closest friends.
Two of Thomas’ most notable accomplishments were the construction of a state-of-the-art 18,000-square foot digital broadcast facility and a recording studio in 2005. Following his departure from the station, his vision of a student-run streaming radio station became a reality with the launch of KTSU2 – “The Voice.”