EDINBURG, RGV – The OWLS watchdog group is joining RGV Equal Voice Network’s efforts to save PBS in the Rio Grande Valley.

OWLS spokeswoman Fern McClaugherty said her group is concerned for two reasons: the loss of educational programs for children and the loss of Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meetings from the airwaves.

“We were shocked to learn that PBS could be lost and that the station is being sold to a company from Mexico that will be airing Spanish-language commercial TV. We cannot allow that to happen,” McClaugherty told the Guardian.

OWLS stands for Objective Watchers of the Legal System. The group has been going for many years and usually has half a dozen members at each Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting.

McClaugherty said OWLS members learned about the potential loss of PBS in the Valley at a recent Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting.

“We heard that the management at KMBH-TV was giving county commissioners 30-day notice that PBS as we know it was going off the air and that the station was going to go commercial. That means our commissioners court meeting will not be aired on TV,” McClaugherty said.

“I know the Commissioners Court meetings are broadcast on the Internet but not everyone has access to the Internet. PBS is free. Everyone knows where it is. If Commissioners Court meetings are not on TV the people have lost their voice. That channel, KMBH, is the voice of the people.”

McClaugherty said the same thing will be happening to tapings of Cameron County Commissioners Court meetings; that they, too, would no longer be aired on KMBH-TV. “We have to stop this happening. We cannot allow the kids’ programs to be lost. We have got to protect that station for the kids.”

McClaugherty said the OWLS will be signing the petition RGV Equal Voice Network has set up to “save” PBS in the Valley. She said she would also be sending out emails to everyone in the group asking them to write to the Federal Communications Corporation to block the sale. McClaugherty also said she would be reaching out to Jim Barnes, president of the McAllen/Hidalgo County Tea Party to see if his group would join the fight to save PBS. “All is not lost. Far from it. We can still save PBS,” McClaugherty said.

Fern McClaugherty of The OWLS.
Fern McClaugherty of The OWLS.

KMBH-TV is owned by the Diocese of Brownsville. Through RGV Educational Broadcasting, the Diocese has gained permission from the FCC to flip the license from non-commercial to commercial. Also through RGV Educational Broadcasting, the Diocese has entered into a local marketing and programming agreement with MBTV Texas Valley LLC. Through that agreement, MBTV is operating the station but the Diocese holds the license. The license is up for renewal on August 1. MBTV is connected to R Communications. R Communications has produced a corporate power point presentation promoting a proposed “affiliation” with MundoFOX for KMBH-TV.

Neither the Diocese, the management of KMBH-TV, MBTV or R Communications is returning calls from reporters about the sale of the station or the potential loss of PBS in the Valley.

RGV Equal Voice Network represents about ten community groups that work in the colonias of Hidalgo and Cameron counties. Equal Voice is particularly concerned that children’s programming on PBS will be lost to colonia families who cannot afford cable or satellite TV. The group wants PBS to remain free and “over the air” in the Valley, like it is in other parts of the country.

Equal Voice has proposed a community-based consortium be set up by local school districts, UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, in order to submit an application for the PBS license before the August 1 deadline. Equal Voice has won support for this idea from UTPA political science professor Samuel Freeman.

“Years ago, when the opportunity to bring PBS to the Valley arose, I went to the administrative leaders of UT-Pan American, urging them apply for the license for a PBS station,” Freeman told the Guardian. “I was not the only one. Those of us strongly supporting UTPA getting the license saw it as a great opportunity for our students, especially those interested in broadcasting. We had studios, equipment; startup costs would have been relatively low.”

Freeman said had UTPA moved on this years’ ago it would have made the University “much more visible” in the Valley. “It would have been a way of demonstrating the University’s involvement in the community. Sadly, we could not convince administrative leaders this was a tremendous opportunity for the University in many ways.”

Freeman says things are different now, especially with the formation of UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“The leadership at UTPA and the UT System in Austin is different now and both have far greater vision than did the leadership at UTPA and in Austin at the time PBS first came to the Valley,” Freeman said. “I sincerely hope, even though everyone’s ‘plate’ is very full with the creation of the new University, both the leadership at UTRGV and at UT System can see acquiring the PBS license for the Valley is a great opportunity for our new University, and will enhance its presence in and contributions to the Valley community.”