BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – A big supporter of public radio in the Rio Grande Valley says he has received an encouraging response from NPR as he battles to get its programming restored over the air in the region.

W.F. Strong, an author and communications professor at UT-Rio Grande Valley, produces a radio series titled Tales of Texas which airs on NPR stations across the state. On Facebook this past week, Strong posted:

W.F. Strong

“Haven’t posted in a while. Interesting opportunity for NPR arising. I’ve talked to NPR in Washington about the possibility fo making Brownsville Arts Radio – which has a good coverage of the Lower RGV (San Benito/Rancho Viejo/Brownsville/ Los Fresnos/ Port Isabel) – into an NPR station.

“They are in favor of helping us do it – saying we might create a network of these LPFM stations (four of them) across the Valley to bring NPR to everyone. So here we have a chance to start building that network. Have to start somewhere. Thoughts?”

The Valley lost its NPR station last May when the Diocese of Brownsville, which had been underwriting the service, sold 88.1 FM KHID and 88.9 FM KJJF.

A nonprofit group called Grassroots Public Radio-RGV has been set up to try to bring NPR back to the Valley. One of its directors, Ron Rogers, said he would prefer to see a fully powered radio station carry NPR programming, rather than a low-powered one.

Ron Rogers

“Based on our population and where we are strategically in the world, we need and deserve a full-powered NPR station instead of trying to cobble together a plan that involves low power which may or may not work,” Rogers said.

“We know we have full-powered NPR stations interested in the Valley. We ought to support their efforts.”

Rogers said he would be surprised if NPR supported a low-powered FM station for the Valley.

“From a funding perspective, they are more interested in a legitimate, full-powered radio station that has complete NPR programing. They are all or none. They are not interested in something that is cobbled together that may or may not work. They want stability. They are looking at the long term.”

Rogers added: “The Valley is hungry for NPR and the quality news and educational programming it provides.”

One of the NPR stations that would like to offer its services in the Valley is KEDT of Corpus Christi. While it pursues efforts to purchase or rent a radio station in the Valley, KEDT has started to offer its programming via a streaming service. KEDT has advertised its product on the Rio Grande Guardian and KRGV Channel 5.

Don Dunlap

“KEDT-FM continues to see more and more listeners in the valley using our streaming service,” said KEDT Station Manager Don Dunlap. “In the last couple of months we have seen a rapid increase after KRGV started promoting the KEDT streaming and the Rio Grande Guardian ran information on its news site that instructed people how to listen to NPR on KEDT- FM.”

Dunlap added: “In October 2019 we had only an average of about 80 daily listeners from the Valley. With the Rio Grande Guardian’s promotion and the spots running on KRGV we now have 500 to 600 daily listening to our programming from the Valley.”

While Brownsville Arts Radio is the low-powered FM station in the lower Valley, 97.7 FM, KCYP is its equivalent in the south Edinburg and north McAllen area. Station owner Joe Martinez said he was encouraged to hear Professor Strong’s remarks about NPR being interested in seeing its programs carried by low-powered FM stations in the Valley.

Joe Martinez

“It was sad to see NPR disappear from our area. Our station, 97.7 FM KCYP, stands ready to carry the programming of NPR if allowed to do so. We need NPR back in the Valley,” Martinez said.

Strong also received encouragement from Ken Mills, a veteran public radio expert and consultant based in Minneapolis. Mills spoke via Skype to supporters of NPR in the Valley when Grassroots Public Radio-RGV hosted a town hall meeting in McAllen last year.

Ken Mills

Mills said that while NPR could support a series of low-powered FM stations in the Valley, the stance of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will be crucial.

“CPB does provide funds to LPFM stations in certain situations. They currently are funding a “borderlands” project that brings together stations along the border such as KJZZ in Phoenix and KPBS in San Diego. KSTX has done a bit of coverage of the RGV. But most of the time NPR sends its own people to report from the RGV,” Mills said.

“Professor Strong is correct that NPR will likely participate in bringing it’s programming to the RGV. I don’t know of an LPFM station that is carrying NPR News, but I see no reason why it can’t happen. Several LPFM stations now have CPB support.”