MCALLEN, Texas – Copyright laws are stopping the Rio Grande Valley from accessing National Public Radio programming via a Mexican radio station.

The nonprofit Grassroots Public Radio-RGV recently met with radio executives from Radiorama in Reynosa.

A tentative deal was struck that would have allowed NPR programming to be played on Radiorama’s Romantica XHRKS 103.3 FM and XERKS 940 AM for seven hours a day – from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

The cost would have been around $6,000 a week.

As part of the deal Grassroots Public Radio-RGV would have had free use of a studio in McAllen.

The deal did not go ahead, however, because the nonprofit learned that NPR would not sanction its programming on a Mexican station.

“We were very disappointed to learn that NPR does not allow its programs to be aired on a Mexican radio station, even one that would be broadcasting for an American audience, such as Romantica 103.3 FM and 940 AM,” said Steve Taylor, editor of The Rio Grande Guardian and a board member of Grassroots Public Radio-RGV.

Taylor learned of NPR’s stance from Don Dunlap, station manager for Corpus Christi’s NPR station, KEDT-FM. KEDT is keen to provide NPR programming into the Valley.

“We actually looked into that possibility of airing on a Mexican border radio station about two years ago – and earlier, about four years ago for TV – and found that it was not possible due to copyright restrictions dealing with our programming provides including NPR, American Public Media, PRI, etc.,” Dunlap said.

The same issue applies on the U.S.-Canadian border, with Canadian radio stations prevented from airing NPR programming, even if most of their audience is in the United States.

The Rio Grande Valley, with a population of 1.2 million, is the largest market in the United States without NPR. The service was lost to the region in May 2019 when the Diocese of Brownsville sold KHID 88.1 FM and KJJF 88.9 FM. The stations had been airing NPR for decades.

KEDT is offering its NPR programming via an online streaming service.

Taylor said Grassroots Public Radio-RGV wants to see NPR provided in the Valley 24/7. He said the nonprofit saw the deal with Radiorama as a stop gap.

“Yes, we want NPR round the clock but we thought seven hours a day would have been better than nothing,” Taylor said. “The idea was to have local programming mixed in with the national NPR feed. With the lure of NPR we thought we could attract local sponsorships, to go alongside federal funding.”

Radiorama is a Mexican radio conglomerate. The group has 320 stations across Mexico, including 19 in Tamaulipas.

“As a stop gap, XHRKS 103.3 FM and and XERKS 940 AM, would have been ideal. Outside of the hours NPR programming ran, the stations would continue with their traditional romantic musical ballads – Musica para tu Corazon. That would have been a good combination,” Taylor said.

As for their reach, XHRKS 103.3 FM covers the entire upper Valley as far east as Harlingen, while XERKS 940 AM covers the entire Valley, stretching to Laredo and the Coastal Bend.

“One proviso would have been that we would have had to give the Mexican government three minutes of our air time each hour for its commercials. That is the law in Mexico,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the fight goes on to bring NPR back to the Valley.

“We were really looking forward to covering the Coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath in depth. That is what good public service radio is all about. We are keen to talk to NPR stations in other markets to see if they can help. It is scandalous that a region as big as ours does not have NPR.”

Congressman Gonzalez

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez is leading the fight to bring NPR back to the Valley. In a recent coronavirus stimulus bill, Gonzalez helped secure an additional $75 million for NPR and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Federico Garza, treasurer for Grassroots Public Radio-RGV, said the Valley deserved to get $3 million of that $75 million.

“We deserve to have this money injected into our area. We need an NPR station in our area. We need two to three million dollars of that stimulus money for the radio station’s infrastructure and operations. We desperately need to provide good, local news and information to our residents,” Garza said.

Asked why the Valley deserved to get $3 million out of the $75 million, Garza said it might cost that much to purchase a radio station and operate it for the first few years.

At a news conference in McAllen on Tuesday, Congressman Gonzalez said the $75 million he helped secure for NPR and PBS will assist in the effort to bring NPR and PBS back to the Valley.

“I was able to bring PBS back to the Valley for a year and I have to look for funding. A lot of that funding would have come from the private sector. But, right now, with the economic situation we are in, it makes it more complex to go to these folks and say, hey, we need some help,” Gonzalez said.

“It took a lot of work for us to get PBS back. I am going to keep pushing. We are working on NPR. While I am in Congress I am not going to stop that daily battle to make sure our community has access (to PBS and NPR).”

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