Johnny So dedicates the KTRU Studio as the “Ben Horne Memorial Studio”

Good afternoon, my name is Johnny So, and I was station manager at KTRU from 2000 to 2001.  I knew Ben primarily through our work at the radio station, where we worked together for three years, and Ben was my successor as station manager; in that context, Ben was not only a friend, but also a colleague.  Many people here today have made beautiful remarks about the positive impact Ben had on their lives, but I think it’s also important to focus on Ben’s legacy, and in particular, his legacy at KTRU.  But, to understand what Ben meant to KTRU, you must first understand KTRU itself. 

KTRU has long been known on the Rice campus as an extremely insular organization, one that has attracted some of the most socially awkward students at Rice (which for Rice, is saying a lot).  Traditionally it has been a haven for those of us who never really fit in to the “residential college” model of student life at Rice; instead, we engrossed ourselves in the world of music at KTRU and the student center became our “residential college.”  From that perspective, Ben immediately stood out—here was a guy that was not only extremely involved in student life at Rice, he was actually popular!  That alone was almost a disqualifier for working at KTRU.  But, Ben had that sort of magnetic personality that immediately drew people to him, and we couldn’t help but welcome him to the KTRU family.

Ben was one year behind me, but I distinctly remember the first time I saw him—he came in to the station wearing flips flops (a cardinal sin at KTRU), enormous baggy pants, and a “raver” style visor upside down on his head.  I couldn’t help but think, “Who is this guy and why is he working at KTRUThis is not the type of person I would expect to work here at all.”  But the more I talked to him the more I realized that he had a genuine openness to him, not only to all the “weird” music we had at KTRU, but an openness to new people and new ideas.  When working with him, this was actually a problem at times, as Ben and I disagreed on a lot of things.   One example is when he was DJ Director under me, he insisted that we hire someone I simply did not think would be a good fit for KTRU.  Ben and I discussed this candidate at length, and eventually I simply told him not to hire this person.  He did what I requested, but I could tell from his eyes that my decision deeply bothered him—he did not think it was fair for us to deny this person the opportunity to become part of the KTRU, a chance to expand his knowledge of music, simply because of some superficial reason.  And, Ben was right, it was a superficial reason—I thought that if this person didn’t even know what “Kill Rock Stars” was (a record label, by the way), then surely he wasn’t “cool enough” for KTRU.  And in retrospect, that just demonstrates how much of a better person and a better leader Ben was than me, as he had a sense of fairness about him that I probably couldn’t fathom at the time, or maybe even now.       

Which brings me back to his legacy at KTRU—it’s no exaggeration to say that Ben helped “save” KTRU in 2001.  That year, long-standing issues between the administration and station volunteers over programming came to a head when two DJs played protest music over a Rice womens’ basketball game; in response, the administration shut the station down.  I was station manager at the time, but because my relationship with the administration was already so strained, I was not in a position to negotiate on KTRU’s behalf.  In fact, about the only thing I could do was withdraw from the situation. 

That’s where Ben came in.  He—along with two other students, Sarah Pitre and Alexei Angelides—took over negotiating with the administration and eventually got KTRU back on the air.  But more importantly, once he became station manager, Ben helped bridge the cultural chasm that had developed between KTRU and not only the administration, but also the entire student body.  Up to that point, KTRU took pride in being the black sheep at Rice—immune, if not indifferent, to the needs of the Rice community.  But Ben recognized that that model was not sustainable for KTRU—to stay relevant to the university and the students, KTRU had to change and adapt.  And Ben almost single-handedly charted this course for KTRU—he brought immediate legitimacy to the idea that KTRU was not just a band of elitist music snobs, but actually one of the largest student organizations at the university.  In fact, Ben was the first station manager to be openly elected by the student body—before that, station management simply appointed the next station manager.   And he made KTRU open to new ideas, both in terms programming and in terms of what was going to be KTRUs role in the future—how the station could serve all of the Rice and Houston communities, and not just a small segment of those communities.  It was these ideas that have helped cement Ben’s legacy at KTRU as someone who lead a paradigm shift in the way the station viewed its purpose and identity, and in the process, made the station more meaningful for everyone.   

So, yes, it is no understatement to say that Ben helped save KTRU, and even though the university sold KTRU’s FM frequency this year, his contributions during that period of transition helped preserve and expand KTRU’s mission for those eleven years.  And his legacy to KTRU remains even today, as part of KTRU-HD.  It’s for that reason and so many more that the KTRU students and alums are so proud to dedicate the broadcast studio in his honor as the “Ben Horne Memorial Studio.”  Thank you.