CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – South Texas Public Broadcasting System, the non-profit which operates KEDT-TV and KEDT Radio in the Coastal Bend area, wants to save and enhance PBS in the Rio Grande Valley.

Don Dunlap, president and general manager of KEDT, met in Corpus Christi last Thursday with Robert Gutierrez, president and general manager of KMBH-TV, the Valley’s PBS station. Dunlap also had a telephone conversation last week with Brenda Nettles Riojas, public relations director for the Diocese of Brownsville, which owns KMBH.

“South Texas Public Broadcasting in Corpus Christi is very interested in helping the Rio Grande Valley maintain a strong Public Television and Radio service. We think the Valley is a viable market. There are 1.3 million people in the Valley that could benefit from PBS,” Dunlap told the Guardian in a telephone conversation and via an email message.

“We have expressed our interest. We have been in talks with PBS and CPB, as well as our Washington FCC attorney. We are exploring the options. We hope the timing could work out for everybody involved.”

The Valley is in danger of losing PBS because the Diocese of Brownsville, which owns KMBH-TV, wants to flip its non-commercial license to commercial and sell it to MBTV Texas Valley, LLC, in a multi-million dollar deal. The Diocese argues that it has pumped millions of dollars into KMBH over the years but cannot continue to do so. MBTV, which is connected to R Communications, owner of News Talk 710 KURV, wants the Diocese’s license to run commercial TV over the air and on cable and satellite.

Don Dunlap
Don Dunlap

Dunlap said he visited the Valley several months ago to look at the infrastructure at KMBH-TV and KMBH Radio. “We have a good working relationship with the folks down there,” he said. “In addition to Gutierrez and Nettles Riojas, Dunlap said he has spoken with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and has a meeting scheduled in San Antonio next week with new PBS Vice President Juan Sepulveda.

“In the last two to three weeks I have had a number of conference calls with PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, broadcast engineers and our FCC Attorney, Larry Miller to express our interest in assuring the Rio Grande Valley has a strong Public Broadcasting Service and to see if we can help,” Dunlap said.

Miller, a Washington, D.C., attorney, also advises KMBH on FCC matters.

“I met last Thursday with Robert Gutierrez, general manager of KMBH, who clearly recognizes the importance our Public Television programming to a community. Robert has been very helpful in assisting our research. Today, I spoke with the new PBS Vice President, Juan Sepulveda who expressed his interest in assisting. Juan and I have planned a meeting next week in San Antonio,” Dunlap said.

Asked about his conversations with CPB, Dunlap said: “We expressed our interest and are exploring with them the ways they may be able to help us. They mentioned that they are going to be getting some money back from the sale of KMBH that might be a resource for expanding the service in the Valley. They do have some resources that they will probably allocate to this from the sale of that project.”

Asked if PBS would be retained over the air, should South Texas Public Broadcasting System be able to broadcast in the Valley, Dunlap said: “We would likely have to find another channel down there or deliver initially a cable and satellite service until we could get another channel. Digital television stations often broadcast more than one program on their channel. For example, 16.1, 16.2, 16.3. There may be an opportunity for us to get on to one of those channels. We have not yet visited with the new owners about this. We may be able to go with them or another broadcaster in the Valley. Those would be some of the avenues we would explore.”

South Texas Public Broadcasting System is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. It has been operating KEDT-TV, the PBS station in Corpus Christi, since 1972. It started KEDT Radio, the NPR station in Corpus Christi, in 1982 and added another Public Broadcasting radio station in Victoria, Texas, in 1996. Its website address is KEDT.org.

Dunlap has worked at KEDT since it started its TV operation. He has been president and general manager since 1996. In his interview with the Guardian, Dunlap pointed out that KEDT sent PBS to the Valley via cable before the formation of KMBH. Once KMBH started it withdrew from the market. “We have had a long term relationship with the people in the Valley. Also, a lot of people in the Valley support us too because they have either homes or businesses in both locations,” Dunlap said.

Asked how successful KEDT has been in providing community-based radio and television and developing strong community relationships in the Coastal Bend region, Dunlap said: “I think we have been very successful. We have thousands of members for the radio and television station. We are breaking ground on a brand new broadcast center this summer in partnership with Del Mar College. We are very involved in projects with Texas A&M Kingsville, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Del Mar College. We are very heavily involved in the education community and the arts community. We do live symphony broadcasts from across the region, from Victoria to Corpus to Kingsville.”

Dunlap said KEDT has a particularly strong relationship with school districts and colleges in the Coastal Bend region. “KEDT has enjoyed a strong relationship with the educational community of this region for over 40 years. This summer we will break ground on the new KEDT Center for Educational Broadcasting in partnership with Del Mar College,” he said.

What may be of particular interest to KMBH listeners is the fact that KEDT does local news on its radio station. Delivering a solid local news product has been seen as a weak link at KMBH, preventing it from building a strong brand name over the years. “We have our morning news during Morning Edition, plus we have a noon cast from 12 noon to 12:20 p.m. with primarily local news from this region,” Dunlap explained. Producing local news is not cheap. Asked who produces KEDT’s news product, Dunlap said: “Our own staff does. People appreciate the local news and to be truthful, they expect to those kinds of services. They are willing to pay for the quality we provide.”

Asked if South Texas Public Broadcasting System is also interested in KMBH Radio, Dunlap said: “I have talked to Robert (Gutierrez) about the possibility. We are exploring all the options.” Nettles Riojas has said the Diocese does not plan to sell KMBH Radio and that its current programming, including NPR, will continue.

Dunlap said a remarkable statistic about the Valley market is just how many people get PBS over the air. “I looked at the most recent data, for November, 2013. In the Valley, 20.6 percent of households get PBS programming over the air, 40.4 percent get it off of cable and 39 percent off of 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,” he said.

Asked if KEDT would put particular emphasis into Spanish language programing, should it acquire the PBS license for the Valley, Dunlap said: “We have been after PBS to provide more programs in Spanish or programming that is relevant to our part of the country for years. I do not know that we have been very successful in convincing them of that. We have produced our own documentaries. For example we did a documentary for PBS about Dr. Hector P. Garcia, the national civil rights leader. We produced that 90-minute documentary that aired nationwide on PBS about six years ago. It was called ‘Justice for my People – The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Story’,” Dunlap explained.

“I do not know about producing Spanish-language programs but we would definitely be more relevant to the community. There is very little Public Radio or Public Television available in Spanish. We might, if there was a big enough need for it. We are seeing so many of our viewers here (in the Coastal Bend) speak Spanish in their homes but understand English and are pretty serious viewers of public television here. It is just like the children’s shows. They are very popular with all the households here in Corpus Christi.”

Asked if he would like to make any wrap-up remarks to the people of the Valley, Dunlap said: “I am glad there are people in the Valley that value PBS. We think it is an important service that every community should expect to have. Our intention is to try to help and to explore what options are out there.”