EDCOUCH, February 19 - School districts and colleges across the Rio Grande Valley have been asked to join a community-based consortium to apply to the Federal Communications Commission for the local PBS license.
The first step was taken yesterday when Save PBS-RGV and RGV Equal Voice Network met jointly with Richard Rivera, interim superintendent of Edcouch-Elsa ISD. Rivera said he was so impressed with the presentation made by the grassroots groups that he intends to put PBS on the agenda at the next meeting of Region 1 school superintendents.
“I want to thank these community groups for bringing this issue to my attention. I was only informed about this potential sale of PBS this week. If these groups had not come and seen me I would have been left in the dark,” Rivera said. “We live in a poor district and a poor region. There are a lot of Hispanic kids here that need over-the-air PBS. If we lose this station it would be disastrous to them.”
Lupe Saenz represented Save PBS-RGV at the meeting with Rivera, while Jose Medrano represented Equal Voice. In addition, veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock was present to give an update on his interaction with UT officials interesting in “saving and enhancing” PBS in the Valley. The meeting, held Tuesday morning at the Edcouch-Elsa ISD administration office, was covered by Action 4 News and the Guardian.
The PBS license in the Valley is currently held by Harlingen-based KMBH-TV, which is operated by RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., on behalf of the Diocese of Brownsville. The Diocese wants to sell the license to MBTV Texas Valley while at the same time flipping it from non-commercial to commercial. Little is known about MBTV. The company was registered with the Texas Secretary of State in November of last year by Mexican media mogul Roberto Gonzalez. Gonzalez owns RCG TV and Radio in Saltillo, Mexico, and R Communications in Del Rio, Texas.
The Diocese has said it is working hard to keep PBS in the Valley. However, neither the Diocese nor MBTV have told KMBH viewers if PBS will be retained “over the air” once the sale is complete. Indeed, in a discussion about the sale of KMBH at a meeting of the RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., Community Advisory Board-Upper Valley on Feb. 5, MBTV’s name was not even mentioned.
Medrano told Rivera that Equal Voice is currently engaged in a two-pronged effort with regard to PBS and KMBH. One is to build support in opposition to the sale of KMBH to MBTV. This involves the promotion of a petition that will be sent to the FCC asking the federal agency to block the sale. The other is to develop a community-based consortium that will bid for the PBS license. Medrano said Equal Voice envisages a non-profit being formed with a board of directors comprising community groups, school districts, community colleges and UTRGV. These entities would pool financial resources, one, to hire a talented team of professionals to run a community-based PBS station and two, to work with the corporate sector to find the local matching funds needed to draw down federal funding from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting. He said local school districts would benefit from expanded delivery of PBS's children's programming, while the local PBS station would benefit from local programming provided by Valley school districts.
Medrano said the consortium would apply for the PBS license whatever the Doicese and MBTV decide to do.
“The bottom line is we need to keep the award-winning educational programming provided by PBS over the air because we have tens of thousands of colonia children who will lose that access if KMBH goes commercial,” Medrano said. “This is why we are building this consortium. We believe we will be better stewards of the PBS license than a commercial entity.”
Saenz told Rivera that he has years of experience producing a music show for KMBH-TV and Radio and helping with pledge drives. Saenz said a new consortium has to be created if the Valley is to fully realize the educational programs on offer at PBS. Action 4 News reporter Valeria Aponte asked Saenz if he envisaged a local news component for a revamped PBS station in the Valley. Saenz said yes.
“The Diocese tells us they want to keep PBS but they will not tell us if it will remain free, over the air. Once this station goes commercial, we are going to lose it. We want the school districts to join us in this consortium because it will carry more weight. Our voices will be a lot stronger if we have the schools backing us up. It is all about education,” Saenz said.
Whitlock said he believes the FCC will look more favorably at a local consortium applying for the PBS license than one from outside of the Valley. “FCC used to favor local ownership whenever there was a competing application. It would be disastrous to lose this station and have someone from outside of this area control it,” he told Action 4 News. Whitlock also gave details of his conversations with UT officials.
“My understanding is the University of Texas System has fully engaged itself in this public-private partnership. I personally have met with the leaders of UTPA and UTB and have been asked to come up with a pro-forma that would go to the UT Regents once the combined university president is named. We must maintain this asset with the new university.”
The Guardian asked the Diocese for more information about the sale of KMBH to MBTV on Jan. 16. At press time the questions posed had not been answered. Brenda Nettles Riojas, public relations officer, responded: “I am waiting to hear from our attorney on some of the questions you had. I will keep you posted.”