McALLEN, RGV – The chairman of the board of trustees which runs KMBH Radio says the Diocese of Brownsville has not received the credit it deserves for keeping the Rio Grande Valley’s PBS TV station afloat for decades.
Alvaro Gonzalez made his comments at a board meeting of RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., the non-profit which runs KMBH Radio for the Diocese and which used to run KMBH TV before it was sold earlier this year to MBTV Texas Valley, LLC. Then-Bishop John Fitzpatrick started KMBH TV in 1985.
The board meeting was held at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen last Thursday. It was the first time the board of trustees had met in almost a year and the first since the TV license for KMBH was sold for $8 million. The agenda reflected the fact that the board had not met for some time. Among the issues under consideration were the station’s finances, its call letters, its staffing, its programming, its building, its radio towers and its community advisory committees. Board members made clear that KMBH Radio was not for sale but acknowledged it is in a state of transition.
“We have yet to see a thank you letter from anyone, have we Bishop, with regards to operating the (TV) station for the past 30 years at a deficit on an annual basis and not having enough local support,” Gonzalez said.
“We have had a lot of comments with regards to criticism as far as the sale (of the TV station) and all of those different things but I have not gotten one letter or any commentary saying thank you, the Diocese of Brownsville for having operated the station for 30 years at a loss and having planted the seed money originally. Have you seen any, Bishop?”
Bishop Daniel Flores, a member of the board of trustees, replied, “No.”
“Anyone else heard anything?” Gonzalez asked. Monsignor Gustavo Barrera, another member of the board, said: “What about all those who have contributed, who made donations? That is, in fact, a thank you; all those who did make contributions throughout the years.” Bishop Flores said, “Yes, definitely,” in response to Barrera’s comments.
“And all of those are appreciated,” Gonzalez replied, referencing those who have given money to KMBH over the years, often through pledge drives. “Unfortunately the level of funding that is required by CPB, not by us, you have to have a match to a certain amount, which is about $800,000 a year. We were never, ever, close to that. We were always in arrears with the CPB and their processes.”
CPB stands for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The meeting started out with RGV Educational Broadcasting trustees approving without comment the minutes of their last meeting, held on April 24, 2014.
Richard Walker, the board treasurer, then laid out RGV Educational Broadcasting’s current financial standing.
“As of June 30, 2014, we had current liabilities of approximately $2.4 million. To date most of that has been paid due to the sale (of the TV station). The only thing I think that is pending right now is monies that are owed to PBS. We are reflecting a loss for the June 30, 2014, of approximately $1.1 million,” Walker said.
“If you compare that to the loss we incurred on June 30, 2013, that was at about $500,000. I want to point out to everybody that part of that has to do with the fact that we did not receive any grant support on the television CSG. That was approximately $500,000. So if you take that away from the loss that was incurred, we would be down to about a $620,000 loss. That is closer to the loss we had in the previous year and the year before that.”
CSG stands for Community Service Grant.
“We have been losing money each year – that is how it is for now. Now, as far as the current fiscal year (is concerned), I am sure we are losing money in the current fiscal year but it is nowhere close to the amount that we lost for June 30, 2014,” Walker added.
Walker pointed out that RGV Educational Broadcasting has yet to ask for federal CSG funding for KMBH Radio for this year. This is approximately $100,000 a year. “We are debating whether we take it for radio,” Walker said. Gonzalez responded: “If we don’t continue with the federal funding then we may have a different set of rules that would apply and we are seeking guidance from counsel on that.”
KMBH’s attorney, David Garza of Brownsville, was at the board of trustees meeting. Garza reported that the sale of KMBH TV was completed on January 23, 2015. “The funds came in and from those funds about $800,000 was used to pay CPB for past obligations that were owed to CPB. They were very thankful we paid them,” Garza said.
Garza said monies were also owed to a bank for the conversion to digital transmission. He said PBS is also owed money and that funding for this has been set aside. He said PBS has set a “large amount of penalties” against RGV Educational Broadcasting and in response the non-profit has asked for a waiver, which, Garza said, PBS is considering. Once this is resolved PBS will be paid, Garza said. As for National Public Radio, all its dues that were owed from the past were brought current and have been paid through March 31 of this year, Garza said. “At this point in time, after many years of being in the red I am happy to say we are in the black,” Garza reported.
Garza also brought up the subject of RGV Educational Broadcasting’s studios in Harlingen. He said that as part of the sale of KMBH TV, MBTV Texas Valley LLC was allowed to stay on in the studios for another six months. Garza said the board of trustees might want to consider a new studio once MBTV Texas Valley LLC leaves since the radio station will not need as much space.
Garza said he has had to field a number of calls concerning the future of KMBH Radio. “There is no plan to sell the radio license. There is no contract to sell the radio license. There is no offer to sell the radio license. There is no broker agreement to have someone sell the radio license. It is owned by RGV Educational, it is a non-commercial license that the board will have to deal with. The license is one of the assets owned by the RGV just the like the building where the radio operates out of in Harlingen. It is probably too big a building, you may want to consider downsizing. A radio station requires a much smaller space,” Garza said.
Chairman Gonzalez reiterated Garza’s point. “Just to clarify is there is anyone here that has done any negotiating on selling the radio license?” he asked. No one said yes.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series on KMBH Radio, the Rio Grande Valley’s NPR station. Part Two, focusing on its call letters, its staffing, and its programming, will be posted in the coming days.