For more than 60 years, George Thomas has played the trumpet and loved jazz music. He has played with highly acclaimed artists such as Kirk Whalum, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Joe Sample.
In 1995, Thomas became general manager at KTSU radio station, which broadcasts from Texas Southern University. He helped influence Houston’s perspective on jazz and transformed the radio station into a nationally known and respected company.
In 2005, under Thomas’ leadership, KTSU opened an 18,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. It now houses multiple production rooms, an announcer’s room, newsroom, multi-purpose center, internet studio and administrative suite.
Thomas has retired from KTSU and was recently honored during a celebration at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Here he reflects on music and radio.
Defender: How did your career in the radio industry begin?
Thomas: I started in radio as an account executive at KYOK. It was one of the first Black radio stations in Houston.
Defender: How has KTSU provided exposure for up and coming musical artists?
Thomas: KTSU did not have the same restrictions as commercial radio stations. Public radio stations have a freer range to play different music. In public radio we get to play the music people don’t hear all the time whereas in commercial radio you may hear the same music repeated. That’s the difference between public radio and commercial radio. One is driven by money and the other is driven by audience support.
Defender: What are your hopes for the future of KTSU and other Black-operated radio stations?
Thomas: The paradigm of radio is changing so rapidly. You don’t pay for the services you normally get on a radio station. You get in the car and cut on the radio. However, you also have things like satellite radio and internet radio and other places where you can get the same service. Radio, especially public radio, is going through a real change now because not only are you competing with commercial radio but also competing with getting the audience to contribute to the station. The future is complex because there are so many other media companies competing for the same audience.
Defender: What are your plans post-retirement?
Thomas: I plan to continue promoting and being involved in music. I plan to continue playing with my band, George Thomas & Friends, and promoting jazz music.
Defender: Which artists influenced your music?
Thomas: I’m a Miles Davis fan. He was a trumpet player I admired coming up during the 1950s and ‘60s.
Defender: What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Thomas: KTSU would be a main highlight. When I came to KTSU it was just a radio station. We managed to get the radio station affiliated with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio and Public Radio International. We were also able to get a grant from Corporation for Public Broadcasting and get the station certified. This meant that we could get programming from NPR and Public Radio International. We created programs that were specifically designed for audiences of color. That was a great achievement in getting the powers that be to fund the African-American public radio consortium and to present programs to audiences of color.
The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 1 (October 31, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.
The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/10.31.2013_e-full.