BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A new National Public Radio station for the Rio Grande Valley would be bilingual, with programming in Spanish and English, says W.F. Strong.
The author, broadcaster and educator is leading the effort to get UT-Rio Grande Valley to invest in a new public radio station.
“We want this to be a bilingual effort because the university itself… we offer classes in Spanish journalism,” Strong said.
“We want our curriculum to be bilingual. We are working towards that. So, we want a radio station that will serve the Valley bilingually. We want to make it a bilingual station.”
NPR does offer Spanish language programing but it is rarely offered on the current NPR station in the Valley, RGV Public Radio 88 FM. Asked how much Spanish programming would be offered on a new NPR station, Strong said: “I do not know to what degree. It might be 20 percent Spanish language programming but it will be there.”
NPR programming is slated to go dark in the Valley in late April. This is when Relevant Radio/Immaculate Heart Media’s purchase of 88 FM from the Diocese of Brownsville is slated to go through. There are no plans to keep NPR programing when the station changes hands.
Strong gave the Rio Grande Guardian an in-depth interview about his efforts to create a new NPR station for the Valley. He said he wanted to reassure NPR listeners and supporters in the region that public radio can be saved. The best way of doing this, he said, is if UT-Rio Grande Valley starts such a station. Strong is a communications professor at UTRGV.
“The university is uniquely positioned to address this problem and should take the lead. Most of the UT System schools have NPR stations on campus and they serve the local community. So, it is really a no-brainer for us to pursue this,” Strong said.
“As always, it’s the money. Do we have the money and can we find the money to support the launching of a new station? We cannot save the old one. We have to start over from scratch and create a new station.”
Strong said there is support in the college of liberal arts at UTRGV to build a new public radio station.
“Here is the bottom line at the moment. The dean in the college of liberal arts is firmly behind the effort. He is enthusiastic about bringing NPR to the university, if we can get all our ducks in a row. Usually, that just means money,” Strong said.
“We are in the early stages. I met with the dean yesterday. I want to send this to upper administration so I can get this to the president.”
Strong was referring to Guy Bailey, president of UTRGV.
“We create a simple white paper, making the case. He (Bailey) has asked me to do that,” Strong said. “All the top tier schools have them (public radio stations). So, we should have one.
Strong said he is pleased with that a grassroots effort, titled Save NPR in the RGV, is underway to keep a National Public Radio presence in the Valley.
“I am glad they are right in there. I want them to know we are working. I just want the people in the grassroots movement to have some hope. Some of them believe nothing is happening and no one has a serious design on fixing the problem of addressing it and that is not true. Those of us working diligently and seriously to make this happen through the university, but as always, it is a big ship and it takes a while to re-steer it.”
Strong said having an NPR station on campus would be a great learning experience for students who wish to become broadcast journalists. And, he said, public radio is a great way for the university to improve its community outreach.
“We want to create it one (a public radio station) on campus, at least early designs would be to do what they do at most places: it is a student laboratory for broadcast journalism at the one end and on the other it is community outreach and community service for the region. We would be able to address both of those needs simultaneously.”
Strong said one of the best models to follow is KUT, the NPR station embedded within UT Austin.
“You know what they say about KUT up in Austin? It is the No. 1 branding engine for the university because it has beautiful outreach in the community. It gives the university an opportunity to translate their research from the academic to the layman, in a sense. They can teach the public what it is they do at the university.”
By way of an example, Strong cited a program called ‘Two Guys on Your Head’.
“One of the most popular programs at KUT is called Two Guys on Your Head. That is two psychology professors talking about psychological theory and neurology in a popular press kind of way. There is an example of how people can go from the academic side to popularize their work in the general community and to educate. It is a wonderful educational tool.”
Strong has is a professor of communication in the Department of Communication. He taught at Edinburg for ten years and has been on the Brownsville campus for 20 years.
“I teach radio and television announcing, research methods, survey research, cross-cultural communications . A wide range of things. My PhD is in rhetoric, which I call the history of storytelling,” Strong said. Among his books is Stories From Texas – Some of Them Are True.
“Somebody said, oh, you just want to save your show (on 88 FM). My show runs statewide. I am not here to save my show. I am here to save the educational power of the institution. They (students) can learn on campus. That is what they have at KUT in Austin, it is a beautiful synergy between the educational program and the outreach to the community.”
Strong said it helps KUT that Austin has a high level of educational attainment. “That is the demographic of NPR. So you have more people listening and more people supporting with pledges. They get great underwriting from HEB and other places.”
A Million Dollars
Asked how confident he is of building a new NPR station in the Valley, Strong said:
“I am fairly certain we can pull this off. It may not be… you don’t always get it the way you have it in your mind. For me, I would like to see some type of really strong signal, a 25 kilowatt or more station.
“I would like to have it on campus where we have the funding for more NPR programming. To be a true NPR station you have to have five full-time employees. I think we might be able to professionalize the station a bit more and that is no slur against those guys because they were working on a shoestring, doing the best they could.”
Strong was referring to 88 FM’s two current staff members, Mario Muñoz and Chris Maley.
Strong said he had written to U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela in order to get support at the congressional level for a public radio station in the Valley. He said that while many NPR fans are talking about organizing a petition, his role is best served trying to secure backing within UTRGV.
“Let me get it through the university and get the university formally on board, so they say, yes, we want to do this and yes, we will find reasonable funding.”
If that happens, Strong said, it will give him the green light to go to foundations for funding.
“The people signing petitions can donate money. If you really want to be helpful, get out your checkbook. Let us raise some funds because we will have to buy a frequency and we will have to get a license. All of this takes money. Lots of it,” Strong said.
“I may be a little bit naive but for a million dollars, I think we can launch. We can get the staff in place, we can get the signal, we can get the license. I am thinking a year in advance, you have to pay for programming, you have to pay for the staff, you have to have the budget to do it. The university can provide the space, it already exists. We have a studio. We just need to get the equipment and the frequency and then we have got to have an engineer. For around a million we can launch.”
Strong said it be best to have a budget laid out where the radio stations has operations covered for three years.
“I am also thinking of a powerful signal, which is going to cost more. I want a signal that is going to go from South Padre to Rio Grande City, northern Mexico through the King Ranch country. One that does not require a repeater.”
Asked why he supports NPR, Strong said the Valley has had a challenge improving educational attainment levels. A quality NPR station can help, he argued.
“To lose that is, as many people have said, is devastating,” Strong said. “NPR is the most powerful educational tool that works hand-in-hand with formal education in the Valley. To lose NPR in the Valley is devastating because it is like losing a limb from your body, within the educational system. It is like losing your arm. You are going to be far less dextrous. It is especially devastating in a community that is already disadvantaged. We do not have anybody to step in and take over. If you are in a place like Boston, well there is always someone who can step in and make up the difference.”
Strong added: “There is going to be a vacuum without it. People may not realize it until they get in their car in late April and turn on 88.9 FM and there is nothing there. People say, well, just listen to it on the Internet. But, people do not listen to it on the Internet that much. They listen to it in drive time on the way to work, driving from McAllen to Brownsville and vice versa. They are going to miss it.”