McALLEN, RGV – The board of trustees for RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., has asked its attorney to look into the possibility of acquiring call letters KDIO and KJJF as possible replacements for KMBH.

The DIO in KDIO would stand for Diocese. The Diocese of Brownsville owns KMBH Radio. The JJF in KJJF stands for the initials of the founder of KMBH TV and Radio, the late former Bishop of Brownsville, John Joseph Fitzpatrick.

Alvaro Gonzalez, chair of RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc.
Alvaro Gonzalez, chair of RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc.

The possibility of changing call letters for the radio station that carries NPR in the Rio Grande Valley was considered at an RGV Educational Broadcasting board meeting held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen last Thursday. Board trustees agreed that it might be confusing for listeners to continue with KMBH Radio when KMBH TV has been sold to a commercial entity.

The Diocese sold the station that carries PBS programming to MBTV Texas Valley, LLC, in January, though the TV and radio station still share the same RGV Educational Broadcasting offices in Harlingen.

At the board meeting, Bishop Daniel Flores asked RGV Educational Broadcasting’s attorney, David Garza, when the board has to make a decision about the call letters. Garza responded: “KMBH is both TV and Radio. The FCC is suggesting we ought to get different call letters for radio. As a practical matter I think we presently use KHID for the radio station in Hidalgo. The other one (in Cameron County) is KMBH. We would have to advise the FCC attorney we want to make an application to change the call letters of the radio station. There is no deadline and the other side (MBTV Texas Valley) is not pushing us. It is more to clear things up. It has to happen at some point.”

FCC stands for the Federal Communications Commission.

“We are not saying we are changing. We are seeing if they (KDIO and KRRF) are available,” said RGV Educational Broadcasting Chairman Alvaro Gonzalez. On air presenters have been promoting the radio station as RGV Public Radio 88 FM to avoid confusion with KMBH TV.

A potential change in KMBH Radio’s call letters was just one of a number of major issues discussed by RGV Educational Broadcasting at its meeting. Trustees also discussed staffing and programming.

On the staffing front, Garza pointed out that the FCC requires KMBH Radio to have a minimum of three full-time staff members. He said this is what the station currently has. Garza said he recently met with its two veteran broadcasters, Chris Maley and Mario Muñoz and both had agreed to stay with the station, assume more managerial responsibilities and to accept possible programming changes. Garza said both Maley and Muñoz started at KMBH on August 1, 1994, and so have been at the station for over 20 years. Garza said Maley has agreed to act as interim general manager.

“I wanted to assure them there is nothing on the table to even consider selling the RGV license,” Garza said, referring to Maley and Muñoz. “They felt at ease. I did tell them the board may want to do a different mix of programming. That is for the board to consider. They said fine, we have been here 20 years, we love our job, if you decide to do a different kind of mix of programing that is fine.”

The third employee at the radio station is account executive David Jimenez, who, Garza said, has worked for the station for five or six months and concentrates on getting sponsorships and underwriters.

Discussion then turned to who might carry out the office manager duties now that Debrah Ratliff has left the station to join R Communications/MBTV Texas Valley, LLC. Garza said that in talking to Ratliff it is clear that somebody has to pick up the mail from the Post Office, pay the water and electric bills, and process the time cards for pay roll. “Debrah believes we can get by with a part time person. She is willing to do contract work during the transition,” Garza said.

Board trustee Andy Hagan was concerned about who would man the front desk at the studio in Harlingen once KMBH TV employees move out. This could happen within the next six months. Garza said MBTV Texas Valley had indicated that the TV staff would likely be moving to McAllen. Garza acknowledged that manning the front desk is an issue because Maley and Muñoz mostly work on the second floor, handing programming duties. No decision was made on hiring new staff for the radio station.

As for programming, Garza said he had not realized until recently that KMBH Radio has a number of locally produced shows, in addition to NPR. “I just assumed we were NPR all day,” he said. Some of the non-NPR programs are paid for, Garza said, while others are provided to the station at no cost. He said RGV Educational Broadcasting pays NPR $16,000 every three months for its programming.

Board Chair Gonzalez said the programming has to change in order to bring in more money.

“The programing is highly important for everyone here but the main thing we have to do is make sure that the station is viable financially. We have to look at all alternatives with regards to what kind of programming you could use to try to increase the revenue sources and so it is not a burden on the Diocese,” Gonzalez said.

“The whole thought process and work that has been put it into this… I think this board has probably done more work than a lot of the other boards we have seen in the past. We really want it to be self-sufficient and try to not be a drain on the Diocese.”

Gonzalez said it can get disheartening to put the amount of work the board of trustees puts in without recognition. “Our pay checks for doing this aren’t real good, right?” he joked. The trustees do not get paid. “We get lunch every now and then, I guess. The fact is we do it because we are trying to help out and it doesn’t seem to make sense to be criticized for all this work that we are doing when all we are trying to do is help get this thing to survive,” Gonzalez said. “The TV station was very difficult to operate. It did not function for 30 years. It is not like we came in and blew it. It was in the red before we showed up. We got the numbers narrowed down. Anyway, I think everyone should be clear on the direction that I would like to see it go.”

That direction could include a decision not to seek about $100,000 a year from the federal government for a Community Support Grant. Board treasurer Richard Walker pointed out that if the station accepts the CSG monies it has to conduct an audit every year that costs about $25,000.

“We should look at this. Quite honestly, in my best estimates, from what I have seen so far, I do not see where it makes sense for us to go after this funding. Unless you all see something I don’t. I don’t see where the value is, if it costs us 25 cents on the dollar just to get the audit done. The government thinks it is giving us 100 percent but they are giving us 75 cents on the dollar and the requirements are pretty onerous,” Gonzalez said.

Monsignor Gustavo Barrera said: “It (the radio station) it will never be profit-making, that is for sure.”

Gonzalez responded: “Monsignor, on that point, we are dispelling a profit, we just don’t want it to be a drain. If we can get it to a point where it is not a drain, that is good. That is already a success. But it is difficult when you take a look at the TV station and you figure you had a million dollar loss last year.”

Barrera answered: “We are playing for a very small audience.”

Gonzalez responded: “There is only one way to solve that. Increase the sponsorship and the listeners and find out what kind of programming will make that happen.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on KMBH Radio, the Rio Grande Valley’s NPR station. Part Three, focusing on community advisory boards, will be posted in the coming days. Click here for Part One, which focused on the station’s finances.