Before there was ktru . . .

there was KOWL. Student radio at Rice seems to have begun in 1967 with a two-watt station, KHCR, broadcasting from the basement of Hanszen College. In 1968 it moved into the RMC and changed it’s name to KOWL. It was short lived–by the end of 1969 Rice had an fm station with the familiar call letters KTRU.

KOWL radio unknown origin


KOWL’s greatest moment probably came during the campus crisis that surrounded the appointment of William Masterson as Rice’s president in February of 1969. They did their best to cover the rapidly changing situation and stayed on the air throughout most of those tense five days. Reporters for the Houston news outlets, hungry for information about the dramatic events, were forced to sit in their cars in the Rice parking lot, the only place they could reliably pick up the station’s weak am signal.

The station was not well known even on campus so they stuck up flyers all over advertising their coverage of the crisis. Here’s one:

Masterson KOWL

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15 Responses to Before there was ktru . . .

  1. C Kelly says:

    That’s wild – I don’t remember KOWL at all. My memory is that KTRU was up and running then.

  2. Melissa Kean says:

    Memory is an extremely tricky thing.

  3. grungy1973 says:

    They shouldn’t have been able to pick up KOWL at all from their cars.
    As I understand it, KOWL was AM-over-carrier-current – the radio had to be plugged in to an outlet that was connected to whatever KOWL used to place signal on the lines.
    Those wires, and some boxes whose purpose had been lost to time, were still in the tunnels when we were making sure that KTRU’s lines to various campus sites were still working.

    • Philip Walters says:

      Carrier current did not require the radio be plugged in. It just meant the building wireing was the (inefficient) antenna. We were still operating 580am when I started at Kerry and I usde a battery operated AM radio to look for problems with the system.

  4. Melissa Kean says:

    Interesting. There are multiple reports of listening in the parking lot so I assumed they were listening on car radios. Perhaps they rigged up something else altogether.

  5. Bill Peebles '70 says:

    As I recall, KOWL had to change the call letters because there already was a KOWL.

  6. Melissa Kean says:

    Yes, that’s right. I think it was in California.

  7. Pat Campbell says:

    I believe (but haven’t done the research to confirm it) that they traded the KOWL call letters to a station on the west coast for a transmitter.

    • John Sorte says:

      I was station manager in 1969-70, and that was not the case. When we started the process of applying for an FM license, we discovered that KOWL was taken and had to come up with unused call letters. KWMR was also available but we all liked the sound and symbolism of KTRU, especially in light of our role in the prior year’s Masterson crisis. Also, most of our used equipment came from KILT and other Houston stations.

      • Steve Harf says:

        Stefan Bertram and I had a blues show on the station. When Lightin’ Hopkins performed upstairs in the RMC, we coaxed him down to the basement to do an interview. It was recorded, but I think the tape has been lost.Too bad!

  8. almadenmike says:

    Another interesting tidbit: A page 5 story in the April 15, 1971, Thresher (“FCC further delays KTRU-FM”) ( says “Station manager Buddy Trotter was surprised to learn (after submitting the application ) that the call sign KTRU was reserved on FCC records in 1939 by the UCLA campus radio station. The UCLA station is currently operating with the sign KLA, and has not used KTRU for more than ten years.”

    However a search for articles about KTRU in California during those early decades finds it at USC, not UCLA. For example, the Feb 14, 1950, issue of the Daily Trojan ( has a small front-page story (“Man With Mike Will Interview Wheel Wheels”) saying that the KTRU manager wanted to make the station “a real ‘ voice of the campus’.” It also gave the address of the “KTRU Building” as 638 W. 36th St., which Google Maps translates now to Childs Way near S. Figueroa St. on the SE edge of the USC campus (

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