McALLEN, Texas – Attorneys for KMBH-TV joined Bishop Daniel E. Flores on Wednesday in assuring Rio Grande Valley residents that RGV Educational Broadcasting is working tirelessly to keep PBS on the air in the region.

Fears that shows like Downtown Abbey, Sesame Street, Charlie Rose, Nova, Frontline, and the News Hour, could be lost surfaced when RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., confirmed Tuesday it was in negotiations to sell KMBH-TV and transfer the TV license from non-commercial to commercial.

Additionally, the Commission for Public Broadcasting confirmed KMBH-TV was not getting federal funding for 2014, worth $685,000. Click here to read about the sale of KMBH-TV.

Washington, D.C., based attorney Lawrence Miller is working on Federal Communications Commission matters for RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., which runs KMBH-TV for the Diocese of Brownsville. Brownsville based attorney David C. Garza has been handling legal affairs for RGV since the non-profit was formed 28 years ago. Both gave extensive interviews to the Guardian on Tuesday.

Alvaro Gonzalez
Alvaro Gonzalez

Miller said that in the next few days he would be filing an application with the FCC to convert the status of the KMBH-TV license from non-commercial to commercial. “This station is one of the few in the country that operates non-commercially on a channel that is not reserved for non-commercial use. They have the ability to flip back and forth between commercial and non-commercial by filing a minor application. It should just be a formality.”

Miller said there are very few stations in the country in this situation. “I would estimate that 95 percent of non-commercial stations are on channels strictly reserved for non-commercial use. They couldn’t possibly change.”

Miller said RGV “doing everything it can” to make sure PBS programming continues in the Valley. “They have already done quite a bit by putting $10 million towards the station over the years. Their programming, with the exception of one hour on a Sunday, is mainstream PBS programming. They have done it just for the community and I think they have reached the point where they just can’t put in any more money to keep it going as a non-mission related public service.”

However, Miller said, RGV is “actively working” with CPB and PBS to make sure PBS programing remains in the Valley. “Selling the station will take several months. It requires an application to the FCC, and the processing can take three or four months before they are ready to close the deal. During that time their prospective buyer, with whom they have not yet signed the contract but are very close, the prospective buyer has agreed with them that the PBS programming will stay on the primary station. We want to make sure PBS is okay with that plan and we are waiting to hear from them. We hope to be meeting soon.”

Miller said that even after the closing of the sale, when the station becomes a commercial station, the new buyer has, at RGV’s request, “agreed that PBS programming could remain for an indefinite period and the second channel would be readily available to the community on cable.” Beyond that, Miller said, “it seems likely that PBS will make longer term arrangements so that the programs are available, at least on cable and most likely also over the air. Just how they would do that, I don’t know at this point but I know they are actively looking at it. And I know there are other public broadcasters in the state who are considering the possibility of filling in the signal.”

Miller said that when RGV files an application with the FCC for consent to assignment of the license from RGV to the new buyer, there will be a public notice and an opportunity for public comment. However, he said, FCC does not regulate content.

Asked if the general public in the Valley can write to oppose the sale of KMBH-TV to a commercial station, Miller said: “The station will put notices on the air and tell people that they filed the application and tell them they can file something with the FCC if they would like to. It will be widely publicized. But, case law is very clear that it is not a popularity poll. The people who are concerned would have to consider who is going to fund it. It is very, very, expensive to run the station and to pay PBS for program rights.”

Garza, RGV Educational Broadcasting’s longtime attorney, told the Guardian that CPB withdrew funding from KMBH-TV because the station did not meet its non-federal financial goal. “You have to raise so much money locally from pledge campaigns, sponsorships, and stuff and we did not meet it. CPB has been giving us waivers in the past. This year they did not give us a waiver. We are supposed to raise about $800,000 a year and it is a three-year rolling average. That could be from people who underwrite programs, it could be the monies that the Diocese contributes outright. It could be RGV pledge telethons. It can come from a variety of sources. We did not meet that goal.”

In an Oct. 11, 2013 letter to RGV, CPB wrote: “CPB has completed a review of KMBH-TV’s financial operational condition. We have concluded that KMBH’s current financial and operational condition does not enable it to meet the minimum non-federal financial support (NFFS) eligibility requirement in Fiscal Year 2014. Given this determination, CPB is not granting KMBH-TV a waiver from NFFS eligibility requirements and KMBH will not receive an FY 2014 community service grant.”

Garza said RGV has had a “good relationship” with CPB in the past. “I can tell you the RGV board is doing everything they can to keep PBS in the Valley. We have been in communication with PBS and the intent is to keep PBS here and everyone is working to try to keep that going. PBS is still showing without any grant money from CPB. They (the Diocese) have dipped in their pockets so to speak to keep the thing going,” Garza said. “We are working trying to keep PBS going here in the Valley. Even when the grant money stopped in October we have kept it on and we are still trying to keep it functioning.”

Asked if PBS would continue once the new buyer is running KMBH-TV through a commercial license, Garza said: “Discussions are going on to ensure PBS continues in the Valley. We are talking about the TV license. KMBH Radio is not part of any discussions. That is a separate grant application. We are trying to keep PBS on, for the short term at least. It may take two or three weeks, to get conversion to commercial. Once it is commercial, PBS would have to agree to continue on (a) commercial (license) while everything is going on. We are working very diligently to keep PBS on and for sure it will be on for the short term.”

The company buying KMBH-TV is MBTV Texas Valley LLC. The company was registered with the Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 1, 2013. Its manager is listed with the Secretary of State as Roberto Gonzalez and the company’s address is listed as 307 E. 8th Street, Del Rio, Texas, 78840. Gonzalez, who hails from Saltillo, Mexico, also owns R Communications Radio & Television, which last year bought KURV Radio, the Valley’s talk show station.

R Communications has been buying many TV and radio stations in recent years along the Texas-Mexico border region. In Uvalde it runs Coyote Country – KVOU/104.9, Tejano y Mas – KUVA/102.3 FM, and U-Rock – KBNU/93.9 FM. In Del Rio it runs The Best – KTDR/96.3 FM, Outlaw – KDRX/106.9 and FM, D-Rock – XHRCG/105.1 FM. In Eagle Pass, it runs Power – KINL/92.7 FM and Tejano y Mas – KEPS/1270 AM. In Laredo it runs La Ley – KBDR/100.5 FM, Super Santa – KLNT/1490 AM, Hot – KNEX/106.1 FM, and Digital- KQUR/94.9 FM. In the Valley it runs Super Tejano – KBUC 102.1FM/KZSP 95.3FM, KURV – KURV/710AM, Digital – XHAVO/101.5FM, and La Ley- XHRR 102.5FM/KESO 92.7FM.

Gonzalez did not return a call for comment at press time. Neither did R Communications’ marketing director, Romero Herrera, who is based in McAllen.

The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville issued a news release Tuesday about the pending sale of KMBH-TV. It was sent to the media by Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocesan Relations Director. Here is the news release in full:

The Board of the RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., which operates KMBH-TV, voted today on three motions associated with plans to sell the television station.

The first authorizes Lawrence Miller and his law firm in Washington, D.C. to file the necessary application or paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission to convert the broadcast license from noncommercial to commercial.

The second authorizes David C. Garza, attorney for RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., to respond to a letter from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). According to the motion passed, the letter acknowledges the station’s obligations to repay certain grants totaling $789,776 to CPB, and notes the funds will be paid to CPB upon any ultimate sale of the station’s television license.

The third motion authorizes the chairman of the board to execute the local programming and management agreement (LMA) between RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc. and MBTV Texas Valley LLC upon the finalization of the terms and conditions of said agreement by the attorneys.

An LMA is an agreement that would allow MBTV Texas Valley LLC to operate the station, which is currently owned by RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc.

RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., a nonprofit corporation founded in 1983 under the auspices of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, has served the Rio Grande Valley community with Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programming for 28 years.

KMBH-TV signed on the air in October 1985. Over the years, KMBH-TV has struggled to survive and generate the needed financial support from the community. CPB awards their annual grants based on the non-federal financial support.

The Most Rev. Daniel E. Flores, Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, said “the commitment to ensuring educational broadcasting for the people of the Rio Grande Valley dates back 30 years when Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick first purchased the license. As you can imagine, operating a television station for 30 years is an expensive endeavor, and it is important to act prudently as we consider the best way to use our resources in a rapidly growing diocese.”

Bishop Flores added, “The board of directors is doing everything possible as it negotiates the sale of the television station to keep PBS programming on the air in the Rio Grande Valley.”