HARLINGEN, RGV – The University of Texas has been approached by supporters of KMBH-TV with a view to saving PBS in the Rio Grande Valley.

Concern about the loss of PBS in the Valley was aired at the Harlingen Economic Vitality Forum at TSTC-Harlingen on Saturday.

“It is sad if in fact that is what occurs, that the station is converted from a PBS to a commercial station and we lose PBS,” said Randy Whittington, a supporter of KMBT-TV and an attorney based in Harlingen. Whittington was one of the panelists at the forum. In a question and answer session, Whittington said although the sale of KMBH-TV could be imminent, all may not be lost.

“It (the sale of KMBH-TV) could be a temporary thing and it could present an opportunity. There are a number of other PBS licensees throughout the state of Texas who could perhaps fill some of the need down here,” Whittington said.

“The one that immediately comes to mind and the one that I have had discussions with is the University of Texas. With the new university, it seems to me that a partnership between the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Public Broadcasting would be a natural partnership.”

Whittington said the template for what could happen in the Valley is already in place in Austin, Texas.

“The University of Texas either owns or controls the PBS licensee for two stations in Austin. Their studios are actually on the campus,” Whittington said. “We have had some discussions with Dr. Cigarroa about the possibility of the University of Texas actually being an acquirer or purchaser.”

Dr. Francisco Cigarroa is chancellor of the UT System. Whittington went on to say his discussions with Cigarroa came about after he learned KMBH-TV could be on the market.

“It came sort of late in the process so it probably isn’t going to occur in connection with the transaction you have been hearing about in the last week or two but there is a possibility that the university could, along with local folks here in Harlingen and across the Valley, create a new organization and a new non-profit organization to become a new PBS licensee here in the Valley and have a partnership with the university,” Whittington explained. “So I think all is not lost. I think the fans of Downton Abbey will rise and try to figure out a way to make sure that we have a PBS station in the Valley.”

Randy Whittington
Randy Whittington

At the Economic Vitality Forum, audience members were asked to gather around the table they were sitting at to brainstorm about how they wanted to see Harlingen develop in the coming years. At the end of the session, one representative from each table was asked to give input. One of those who spoke was Ruthie Ewers, a retired store owner and community leader from Harlingen. Ewers said her group did want to see the Valley lose its PBS station.

Afterwards, Ewers told the Guardian that she would help mobilize efforts to stop the sale of KMBH-TV, if that was deemed necessary. The sale of the station will have to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the FCC listens to the general public.

“I do not know a lot about what is going on KMBH-TV, only what I read in the newspaper. But, I have worked on their fundraising campaigns and I have promoted the station. I love Antiques Roadshow,” Ewers said.

“I, for one, do not want to see the station sold and I do not want to see the Valley lose PBS. It is a vitally important station, particularly because of the educational programs it offers to our schools and our children. We have certain needs down here that need to be met.”

Ewers said she would like to see a grassroots effort develop to save PBS in the Valley.

“When there was talk of Harlingen losing the medical school, the Harlingen Area Chamber of Commerce got 3,300 letters of support within 16 hours. If our Chamber did the same thing with PBS as they did with the medical school, other chambers could do it, such as the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. We can do this. We can save PBS in the Rio Grande Valley.”

The Diocese of Brownsville owns KMBH-TV, the PBS station in the Valley. Last Tuesday, the board of directors of RGV Educational Broadcasting, which runs the station for the Diocese, unanimously passed three motions related to the sale of the station. One motion asked one of their attorneys to get with the FCC to try to flip KMBH’s non-commercial license to commercial. Another motion asked another attorney to get with the Commission on Public Broadcasting to ask if CPB would accept a debt repayment plan that would be executed upon sale of the TV station. Another motion asked that the chair of RGV Educational Broadcasting sign a lease marketing agreement with MBTV Texas Valley, LLC.

MBTV Texas Valley was registered with the Texas Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 1, 2013. Its registered agent is Roberto Gonzalez and it is based in Del Rio, Texas. Gonzalez, who hails from Saltillo, Mexico, also owns R Communications Radio & Television, which last year bought KURV Radio, the Valley’s English language talk show station.

R Communications has been on a buying frenzy in the last couple of years to purchase radio stations along the Texas-Mexico border region. In Uvalde it runs Coyote Country – KVOU/104.9, Tejano y Mas – KUVA/102.3 FM, and U-Rock – KBNU/93.9 FM. In Del Rio it runs The Best – KTDR/96.3 FM, Outlaw – KDRX/106.9 and FM, D-Rock – XHRCG/105.1 FM. In Eagle Pass, it runs Power – KINL/92.7 FM and Tejano y Mas – KEPS/1270 AM. In Laredo it runs La Ley – KBDR/100.5 FM, Super Santa – KLNT/1490 AM, Hot – KNEX/106.1 FM, and Digital- KQUR/94.9 FM. In the Valley it runs Super Tejano – KBUC 102.1FM/KZSP 95.3FM, KURV – KURV/710AM, Digital – XHAVO/101.5FM, and La Ley- XHRR 102.5FM/KESO 92.7FM.

Last week, veteran TV and Radio broadcaster Ron Whitlock revealed he tried to make a rival bid for KMBH-TV but could not get a response from RGV Educational Broadcasting. Whitlock showed reporters a text message he sent Oct. 21 to Alvaro Gonzalez, chairman of RGV Educational Broadcasting. The text read: “ASAP, can you please advise if Bishop Flores and the Board would like to consider a second offer to buy KMBH-TV rather than so quickly accepting the one currently being considered. Sincerely, Ron Whitlock, 956-778-7903.” Whitlock told the Guardian that he had also approached Dr. Cigarroa, UT System Vice Chancellor Pedro Reyes, and UT-Pan American President Robert Nelsen about saving PBS for the Valley. “I was and still am trying to set up a public-private partnership to ensure that KMBH-TV and PBS is available over the air and that it stays connected with KMBH Radio and NPR,” Whitlock said.