McALLEN, Texas – The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville wants to sell KMBH-TV but must first get permission from the Federal Communications Commission to flip the license from a non-commercial public service TV station to a commercial TV station.

The sale may result in PBS no longer being on the air in the Rio Grande Valley, with taxpayer funding no longer available for 2014. The Corporation of Public Broadcasting has told the Guardian that KMBH TV is no longer eligible for community service grant funds for 2014. This funding was worth about $685,000 to the TV station.

The board of directors of RGV Educational Broadcasting, which runs KMBH TV and KMBH Radio for the Catholic Diocese, held a very short board meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen at 8 a.m., on Tuesday. The board of directors had an agenda with three motions to consider. They approved all three unanimously without discussion and the meeting was concluded within seven minutes.

The board of directors of RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., met briefly at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen on Tuesday.
The board of directors of RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., met briefly at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in McAllen on Tuesday.

The motions approved were:

1) That Lawrence Miller and his law firm in Washington, D.C., are authorized to file the necessary applications and paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission to convert the RGV Educational Broadcasting license from non-commercial to commercial.

2) That David Garza, attorney for RGV Educational Broadcasting is authorized to send a letter to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to its letter of October 11, 2013, in which the letter confirms that RGV Educational Broadcasting acknowledges its debt of $789,776 to CPB as set out on page two of that letter and that said funds will be paid to CPB upon the ultimate sale of the RGV license and receipts of sales proceeds and paid within ten days thereafter.

3) And that the Chairman of the Board is authorized to execute the local programming and marketing agreement, better known as LMA, between RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., and MBTV Texas Valley LLC upon finalization of the terms and conditions of said agreement by the attorneys.

Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores and attorney David Garza of Brownsville listened to the meeting via a telephone conference call but did not comment. Garza represents RGV Educational Broadcasting. Miller is an attorney based in Washington, D.C., who specializes in filings with the FCC. An LMA is a lease marketing agreement which allows day to day operations of an entity to be turned over to a third party. MBTV Texas Valley LLC was registered with the Texas Secretary of State’s office in November, 2013. Its registered agent is Roberto Gonzalez and it is based in Del Rio, Texas.

RGV Educational Broadcasting Chairman Alvaro Gonzalez refused to take questions from the public or reporters at the board meeting and said there would be no public comment period during the meeting. Gonzalez is a broker with Merrill Lynch in McAllen. Gonzalez directed all questions to the Diocese’s public relations director, Brenda Nettles Riojas.

Nettles Riojas was sitting in the audience at the board meeting. She said she would report back to reporters with details on how much KMBH-TV was being sold for, provide more details on MBTV Texas Valley LLC, and have a quote from Bishop Flores. Nettles Riojas said KMBH Radio is not affected by the sale of KMBH TV and that the Diocese has no plans to change the format of the radio station, which carries NPR programming.

Members of KMBH’s Community Advisory Board have told the Guardian in the past that they are concerned that PBS could be lost to the Valley if KMBH-TV is sold.

Confirmation that KMBH-TV is no longer getting community service grant funding from CPB was confirmed by the agency’s press office. Michael Levy, a spokesman for CPB, told the Guardian last month that CPB has been “waiting for a response for over two months to our letter dated October 11, 2013, regarding RGV’s obligation to refund CPB the amounts provided to the station in CSG and DDF grants as requested.”

Levy went on to say that KMBH-TV “has declined to talk to us and instead has directed us to talk to its broker, whom it has not given the authority to respond to our letter (including the demand for the pro-rata refund of a two year CSG grant as well as a grant for digital equipment that we assume will be sold with the station.”

Levy said CPB has a two-fold primary interest. One, ensuring that Valley audiences continue to receive a public broadcasting service, and two, that CPB gets back the money KMBH-TV owes it.

On January 8, Kelly Broadway, a spokeswoman for CPB, told the Guardian that it would be incorrect to say CPB is withholding funds from KMBH-TV. She said CPB and KMBH-TV are “reconciling amounts due to us under existing grant agreements.”

Broadway went on to say CPB “does not feel it is appropriate to discuss the grant details without the consent of the grantee.” She recommended the Guardian contact RGV Educational Broadcasting for this information.

“I can confirm that on October 1, 2013 KMBH-TV became ineligible to receive a Fiscal Year 2014 TV Community Service Grant. The station did, however, receive its radio CSG for FY 2014 and remains eligible for radio grants.”