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Rio Grande Valley Residents Rally To Save Big Bird, Public Broadcasting

RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc.

The Rio Grande Valley is facing the possibility of losing their only public television outlet. But national public broadcasting leaders are working to find a solution to keep programming on the air in one of the nation’s poorest regions.

KMBH-TV is the PBS station that serves the border communities of Brownsville, McAllen and others – over one and a half million people.

And the community was shocked when they recently learned that the station’s owner – the Catholic Church Diocese of Brownsville – is selling KMBH to a mysterious Mexican businessman who plans to turn the station into a Spanish-language commercial broadcaster.

Juan Sepulveda is the senior vice president for PBS station services.

“For us from the national side the biggest piece for us is: We’re not going to let that happen," Sepulveda said. "There’s no way that PBS is going to go away from the Valley. So it’s really about working out the options.”

Community organizers in the Rio Grande Valley have launched a petition drive with hopes of convincing the FCC to deny the transfer of the broadcasting license on the grounds of not being in the public’s interest.

They hope if the sale is blocked then the community can find another PBS station to step in and take over operations.
“We appreciate that the community is stepping up to say, 'We have to have PBS in the Valley,' " Sepulveda said. "They haven’t filed yet so we haven’t actually seen the papers to kind of see the specifics of what’s there in terms of the sale itself. So it’s kind of premature for any of us to kind of say, 'Block it. Stop it.' "

A spokesperson for the diocese has said that negotiations to sell KMBH are nearing completion and an agreement should be signed soon.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi