MCALLEN, RGV – Carlos Rodriguez, president and CEO of R Communications, says PBS will be back as an “over the air” service in the Rio Grande Valley within the next couple of weeks.
KMBH-TV has been “silent” since late January because, R Communications reported, a local electric utility company caused a surge that damaged the KMBH transmitter in La Feria.
MBTV, an offshoot of R Communications, could have lost its license for KMBH, simply because it was off the air for more than a month. But, it successfully applied for more time from the Federal Communications Commission. The federal agency gave R Communications until early September to resolve the transmitter problem.
“We had an overload of electricity and that burned our transmitter. But, we finally got the parts. We are going to do an emergency fix. We will have it back on the air, hopefully, next week,” Rodriguez told the Rio Grande Guardian, in an exclusive interview.
Valley residents can watch PBS via cable or dish. But, those who use “rabbit ears,” often the poorest in a community, have gone without since Jan. 25. It is not just PBS’ news and entertainment programming they have missed. PBS is noted for its educational programming.
Rodriguez said R Communications is working on a “permanent fix,” as well as an emergency one.
“We should get the money that the FCC allocated to every station that got relocated on the dial, and with that money we are going to put a permanent transmitter and a permanent antenna in place, and do all the upgrades,” Rodriguez explained.
Rodriguez said all TV stations that volunteered to have their frequency moved will receive funds from the FCC.
“There was a spectrum auction. What happened was the FCC reorganized things to make it more efficient for cell phone providers. They compressed everything so as not to waste space. That is the best analogy I can give. So, with that some of the stations, like us, were moved. With that comes a reconfiguration of the equipment because the frequency that you transmit on is different. The FCC reserved some funds for that transition of the broadcasters. The FCC made sure that those broadcasters that had to be moved would not be left out of pocket when investing relocate. That is why we are receiving that allocation of money, because we voluntarily submitted our station to be moved.”
The FCC explained it this way:
“On March 29, 2016, the FCC commenced the first-ever “incentive auction” designed to re-purpose spectrum for new uses. Authorized by Congress in 2012, the auction used market forces to align the use of broadcast airwaves with 21st century consumer demands for video and broadband services. The auction preserves a robust broadcast TV industry while enabling stations to generate additional revenues that they can invest into programming and services to the communities they serve. And by making valuable “low-band” airwaves available for wireless broadband, the incentive auction will benefit consumers by easing congestion on wireless networks, laying the groundwork for “fifth generation” (5G) wireless services and applications, and spurring job creation and economic growth.”
Allowing commercials on PBS
In his exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Rodriguez revealed he made a proposal to PBS that he believes would ensure continuity and prosperity for PBS in the Valley. He wants PBS to allow R Communications to run commercials on KMBH. In a way, he said, the funding stream would be similar to how the BBC operates in the United Kingdom.
“We told the Congressman (Vicente Gonzalez), and I want to make sure you know, and the people know that we do not have a formal agreement with PBS. We are running PBS because we want to continue it on the air. We are making that effort. I know PBS was looking at other options, other than us, to have a permanent house, with a permanent agreement done for PBS. We do not have a formal agreement,” Rodriguez said.
“I told the Congressman and PBS, PBS has incredible programming. PBS has quality programming that is the equal of or better than, in some cases, CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox or any other network.”
Asked to explain his proposal, Rodriguez said:
“If we look at the way the BBC operates, it is in conjunction with the government and private equity. BBC allows for commercials to be sold on their programming. They must run the programs, but they are allowed to sell. That way, the taxpayer does not subsidize the operation of the station. What we asking PBS is, would they allow us the same privilege, similar to the BBC. We could then easily commercialize the signal so that there is no burden on the taxpayer, yet, we would run PBS in the market. Everybody gets what they want: the community gets the prime learning signal, we get to make a profit, well, it will depend on us if we make a profit, and there is no burden on the taxpayer. That would be the ideal scenario.”
Asked what how PBS responded, Rodriguez said:
“They listened to us, but they have not given us an answer. What we are proposing is something completely different to what people are used to in the United States. And we are proposing it in one of the poorest areas in the United States. When the Diocese (of Brownsville) was running PBS, they did not get any local funding because people could not afford it. So, I am telling PBS, hey, instead of asking the public for money, let me run commercials, because there are plenty of companies that would like to have their image associated with PBS. They would be more than willing to pay for commercial space.”
Rodriguez said KMBH would be unique if it were given permission to run commercials. “No other PBS station in the country does this. We are willing to be the guinea pig.”
Rodriguez said his proposal is in line with President Trump’s stance on PBS.
“What the president is trying to do is make the public’s expense more efficient. I think this is a smart way to keep the community informed, to keep the community with programming that is educational and not have a burden where the government has to pony up money to keep the station on the air. It could be they are subsidizing companies that are inefficient.”
If R Communications was allowed to run commercials on PBS, Rodriguez said he might even consider having a local news component.
“We would probably put a news segment in there but, quite honestly, why would you mess something up that is completely fine? Right now, just to keep the station on air, never mind purchasing a small transmitter, every year we spend a million dollars, the money of R Communications. If I were to develop more programming that would mean another expense. And I have no way to return any of the money back.”
Rodriguez said he thinks other communities would like to have commercials on their local PBS stations.
Asked about the big contrast between PBS programming in El Paso and the Valley, Rodriguez said: “In El Paso, they can do it (better programming) because they receive a lot of funding from the general public. We, as a for-profit company, cannot receive donations from the general public. So, even the $70,000 the Diocese got every three months, we cannot receive that because we are not a non-profit.”