Thirty-one years ago, Texas Southern University launched KTSU 90.9 FM, a 10-watt 24-hour radio station capable of a broadcast radius of 10 miles. Housed in a converted building on the campus of the university, the station was the first black-oriented FM station in Houston, Texas. KTSU also had the distinction of being the first radio outlet located at a predominantly black institution of higher learning in Texas. Since those humble beginnings in 1974, KTSU-FM affectionately known as "The Choice" has evolved into a $4.5 million dollar state-of-the-art facility known as the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies. With an endowment of $1 million dollars to Texas Southern University from Mr. Smiley and a further commitment to help raise 10 million dollars over the next ten years, Tavis' gift endows a faculty chair, student scholarships and will be matched by the State of Texas. The goal of the new center is to provide more minority students with an opportunity to enter the field of communications. Another component of the endowment will provide students with internships at Tavis' Los Angeles-based company, The Smiley Group, Inc. Beginning this year, he is slated to be the inaugural speaker in a series of lectures.
On February 24, 2005, the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies officially opened its doors to the community-at-large. Attended by Tavis and a host of local, national, public dignitaries and the Texas Southern Board of Regents, the grand opening celebrated KTSU's 31 years of excellence as dominant force in public radio. The event also highlighted the new 17,400 square foot facility, which features 3 production rooms, a talk studio, news rooms and a cybernet cafe studio. In addition, another building is available that houses a number of recording studios. University President Priscilla Slade states: "Not only is the national treasure KTSU receiving a new home, we are privy to witnessing the founding of what promises to be a magnet for the media industry's best and brightest." During the ground breaking ceremonies for the new radio station in 2004, no one could have imagined that Tavis Smiley's name would be synonymous with Texas Southern and KTSU. As a result of some behind the scenes maneuvering and the delivery of a model of the new station to Tavis with his name on it, the dynamic forces of change went into action. Tavis' deep-seated commitment to education and black empowerment led him to become actively involved in the project. Plus he wanted to establish a lasting legacy to mirror his devotion to the empowerment of black people. The rest of the events leading to the establishment of the Smiley media center is progress in motion.
Since its inception in 1974, KTSU "The Choice" 90.9 FM now holds the distinction of having the largest Black American audience of any public radio station in the United States. The station has been housed in three different locations, the last being the TSU Bell building, which was once a converted kitchen turned radio station. The old building can be seen from the Tavis Smiley facility, which could actually fit inside the new complex. George Thomas, KTSU's General Manager has stated: " This is an exciting time in the life of KTSU Radio. The fact that we are celebrating our 31st year in broadcasting is a tremendous milestone in itself. Over the years, our community has been supportive, receptive and encouraging. And now, we embark on a new era in our station's history with the construction of the Tavis Smiley Center for Professional Media Studies. We recognize that our future will be far greater than our past as we continue to train a new generation of students for the broadcast industry, while developing new programming for our growing listening audience. A message of thanks to our valued members and listeners." It was during Georges' tenure as general manager that he watched "a vision become a reality."
As a predominantly jazz oriented radio station, KTSU 90.9 FM has also kept the legacy of black music alive with its programming. Its motto: "Jazz in all its flavors" has been a beacon in the community throughout the years. Everyday during a 24-hour period, the station plays some of the best R&B, blues, reggae, gospel and jazz music of any station in Texas and the United States. It has been lauded by the media as one of the City of Houston's most beloved treasures. In addition, KTSU also has some of the finest community affairs programming in the country. It has consistently been a voice for black people and the public-at-large during the history of the station. Overall, when examining the legacy of Texas Southern and KTSU 90.9 FM, the past, the present and the future looms as bright and promising as the lone star in the State of Texas.