McALLEN, RGV – Concerned that children in colonias will miss out on “over the air” PBS educational programs, a grassroots pressure group has been formed to fight the sale of KMBH-TV.

The group, which will likely be called “Save PBS-RGV,” was formed following a quarterly meeting of the RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., Community Advisory Board-Upper Valley on Wednesday evening.

Board President Edgar Lopez and Board Parliamentarian Lupe Saenz said they have received “insufficient reassurances” from KMBH management that PBS will continue to be provided ‘over the air,’ for free, should the non-profit station be sold to a for-profit commercial enterprise.

“If KMBH is sold it would be a great loss for our Hispanic community. A lot of our young kids in the colonias are learning their ABCs, their numbers, shapes and forms from public broadcasting,” Saenz told the Guardian, at the conclusion of the meeting.

“Out there in the colonias, the kids are turning the TV on in the morning and they are watching Sesame Street. If these guys are not going to be here, what will the people in the colonias do? They don’t have money for cable or satellite. They depend on over the air. This educational programing has got to be there for them,” Saenz said.

Lupe Saenz and Edgar Lopez
Lupe Saenz and Edgar Lopez

KMBH President Robert Gutierrez spoke about the pending sale of KMBH at the Community Advisory Board meeting. Asked during the meeting if he could guarantee PBS would remain available “over the air” in the Valley, Gutierrez said: “I can’t answer that question. We have always known that over the air coverage in the Valley is higher than the national average. We also know that that number is growing. It is not going down. In the last two years it has grown by 20 percent. They understand that number.”

According to Don Dunlap, president and general manager of KEDT-TV, the PBS station in Corpus Christi, 20.6 percent of Valley households get PBS programming over the air. He said 40.4 percent get PBS via cable and 39 percent via satellite. “The Valley has one of the highest percentages for over the air viewership in the country. In fact, it is No. 4 in the country,” Dunlap told the Guardian, earlier this week.

“Don has been a very good friend… phenomenally helpful. He cares just as much as I do, as we all do. He definitely wants to do something to help make sure PBS stays down here. You need people like that,” Gutierrez said at the meeting.

KMBH-TV and KMBH 88 FM are owned by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville. The Diocese wants to flip its non-commercial license to commercial and then sell the TV station to the newly-formed MBTV Texas Valley, LLC. MBTV’s agent, Robert Gonzalez, has yet to inform the Valley public what he intends to do with KMBH if and when his company acquires it. Gonzalez owns R Communications, which operates a number of radio stations from Del Rio to Brownsville, including News Talk 710 KURV.

Lopez, the president of the Community Advisory Board-Upper Valley, said that by forming a grassroots pressure group, supporters of KMBH could collect signatures for a petition to send to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has to approve the sale of all public broadcasting stations.

“I do not think I am the exception in my love of PBS. I am part of the quiet majority in the Valley that wants to keep PBS,” Lopez said. Asked if it was imperative that PBS be kept ‘over the air,’ Lopez said: “Heck, yes, it has to stay over the air. The support is there, the statistics are there. The percentage of people who can only listen to it freely is high. The conservative quiet majority here in the Valley is there for PBS.”

Lopez said his only request in helping form a grassroots group to save PBS in the Valley is that young people step forward to help. He said young people are needed in order to mount a campaign through social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. “We need the younger generation to come through to help us. Some of us do not all understand all this new technology,” Lopez said.

Saenz, the parliamentarian for the president of the Community Advisory Board-Upper Valley, said uncertainty over the future of KMBH has already resulted in the loss of one music program important to the Hispanic community. Saenz, publisher of El Donneno News Review in Donna, produces the Acordeones de Tejas TV show. “I pulled the show off KMBH because of uncertainty over the station’s future,” Saenz said. “It is really sad. People are asking me where my program is.”

Asked why, if a “quiet majority” is upset over the potential loss of PBS, there are no protests in the streets, Saenz said news about the station’s likely sale has not been carried extensively in Spanish language media. “The reason there is no movement going on is because the community is unaware, they really do not know what is going on. That is why I wanted information tonight – so I can go back and report to the community I represent. We do not know what is going on with KMBH.”

In his remarks to the community advisory board, KMBH President Gutierrez sought to reassure board members that PBS would continue in the Valley, even if the TV station is sold to a commercial entity. Asked where things were at with the sale, Gutierrez told the board: “I can’t say too much but it is moving forward. I just don’t know how long it is going to take.” Asked by Saenz if the station’s sale had been advertised, Gutierrez said no.

“They are just as concerned about the future of PBS as is anybody. PBS is going to be in the Valley. It ain’t going anywhere. It is going to stay here. They know the importance of PBS down here. This is a very important region of the country,” Gutierrez said. Asked by a reporter who “they” were, Gutierrez said: “I am talking about the attorneys who are working on this. I am talking about PBS, CPB. I am talking about everybody understanding what is going on. They are concerned. There is a grand effort to make sure there is no loss of programming for PBS.”

CPB stands for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Saenz asked Gutierrez who he should call if he wanted to know what was happening with the sale of KMBH. “Steve Taylor,” Gutierrez joked, referring to this reporter. “No, you would have to ask me. But when things are in a legal situation you cannot say much. You might be wrong in what you are saying. That is why I can’t say too much,” Gutierrez responded. Gutierrez said he had received a number of calls from individuals and organizations interested in buying KMBH. “It is important to everybody, about keeping PBS here. There are a lot of people interested. We have had several calls about people wanting to buy the station and do something to help. We are very thankful for that but right now we have to let the process move forward.”

In response to a question from community advisory board member Shawn Seale, Gutierrez said PBS does not like being put on a sub-channel. “Now that everything is digital there are many sub-channels. One of PBS’s policies is to be on a primary channel, not a sub-channel. If you are a major network you do not want to be on a sub-channel,” he said.

Sue Groves, a reporter from Beyond Arts magazine, asked Gutierrez if MBTV would have any problems with the FCC if the company’s owners turn out to be from outside of the United States. Gonzalez, who registered MBTV with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office last November, is a major media figure in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. He owns the Saltillo-based RCG Radio and TV. Groves said MBTV is likely to be over the 25 percent benchmark for foreign ownership, as laid out under a new rule, Section 310 of the Communications Act.

“I have no idea what that is,” Gutierrez said. “It is about foreign ownership,” Groves responded. “I am sure they have complied with everything,” Gutierrez answered. Groves pressed Gutierrez on the foreign ownership question again: “It (the MBTV purchase) is over the 25 percent benchmark,” she said. “I am vague on the rules. I just don’t know anything about that benchmark,” Gutierrez replied.

In a CommLaw blog posting last November, Peter Tannenwald, a communications law expert, wrote “Section 310(b)(3) of the Communications Act requires that entities holding certain FCC-issued licenses (for broadcast and common carrier services and radios serving aircraft while en route) must be organized under U.S. law AND may have no more than 20 percent foreign ownership. By contrast, Section 310(b)(4) of the Act permits such licensees to be indirectly controlled by separate entities up to 25 percent of which is owned by alien interests. In other words, while the license holder itself cannot be more than 20 percent foreign-owned, up to 25 percent of its parent company may be owned by foreign individuals or companies (even if the parent, which must be a domestic U.S. entity, is a 100 percent owner of the licensee).”

Groves also asked Gutierrez if there would be any public hearings on the sale of KMBH. “I don’t know how the process works but I am sure some notices have to be posted for a public hearing,” Gutierrez said. Asked by Groves if the sale of KMBH has gone through, Gutierrez said: “Not that I know of. All I know is we have applied to change the station from commercial to non-commercial.”

Groves also asked Gutierrez if he has been in contact with MBTV. “When necessary,” he said. Groves’ final question was whether KMBH had been given a deadline by CPB to repay its debt. “They have been very cordial, very understanding. They understand somebody needs to come down here (and provide PBS). They want to make sure there is no loss of PBS,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez also told the advisory panel that his day-to-day work keeps him from getting involved in knowing every last detail about the potential sale of KMBH-TV. “I am busier than a beaver. It is a big job running a full powered TV and Radio station. There are only 15 of us. Whatever the future holds, the future holds. I cannot worry about things I cannot control. Has the sale been signed? I don’t know. All I know is, I will get a phone call,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez did acknowledge he cannot initiate any long term projects for KMBH-TV until a sale has been concluded. “We had to take a step back a little bit to see how things were going to evolve. But, we just sold a sponsorship package for an architectural show we have. We are doing short-term commitments. We are bringing in as much (money) as we can. We cannot sign up for any long term commitments. We are still acting as normal as possible. The staff has been wonderful, they have been great. They have been stoic. They have had a positive attitude. They have been really good people,” he said.

Saenz made one of the last statements at the community advisory board meeting. “It sounds like the deal is done,” Saenz said. “If it happens, it happens,” Gutierrez replied. Saenz later told the Guardian that he expects to hear that the sale of KMBH will be announced next month. “That is why we need a grassroots response, to inform the FCC of our concerns,” he said.

The RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., Community Advisory Board – Upper Valley meeting was held at the Texas Oncology Community Conference Room, located at 1902 S. 2nd Street in McAllen.