Radio host hopes to find way to keep NPR in the Rio Grande Valley

In 2010, radio host and University of Texas Rio Grande Communications Professor W.F. Strong wanted to tell Texas tales on public radio.

“This is where it started, where I got the chance,” Strong said of Rio Grande Valley Public Radio. “Had I not had a local public radio station that was willing to let me experiment and run with my project, it wouldn’t be statewide right now.”

Indeed, Strong’s “Stories from Texas: Some of Them Are True” is broadcast on 32 stations across the Lone Star State and 75 of those broadcasts have been turned into a book by the same title.

“It started out as a little idea that locally someone green lighted, Chris Maley, and said let’s do it,” Strong said. “That’s the beauty of public radio. It allows the public to have a shot at making sure their interests finds an audience.”

Maley is station manager for Rio Grande Valley Public Radio, which may soon fall silent from the airwaves here.

RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., a subsidiary operated by the Diocese of Brownsville, agreed on Feb. 12 to sell 88.9 FM in Harlingen and 88.1 FM in McAllen to Immaculate Heart Media, which operates Relevant Radio and airs Catholic programming for $1,251,000.

Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said he is thankful the church contributed generously for many years to provide public radio programming to the Rio Grande Valley, but RGV Educational Broadcasting’s board reached the conclusion that it made financial and operational sense to end its radio station ownership.

“While we wish we could continue we recognize that as a growing diocese we must be prudent with our resources and make sure they are in line with the mission of the Church,” Flores said in a statement. “We expect the programming of the new licensee to further that mission.”

Relevant Radio Chief Marketing Officer Nancy Jensen said Monday that Immaculate Heart Media plans to bring Relevant Radio En Español, a format that is under development, to 88.9 and 88.1.

“Relevant Radio has a number of local programs on its owned and operated stations, each unique to its own market,” Jensen said. “We are not able to offer you any specific examples of how this might work in Brownsville as our license application is still under review.”

Strong said news of the sale saddened him.

“My greatest concern is I’ve always considered NPR programing a regular complement to a college education,” Strong said. “I’ve always said you can get the equivalent of a liberal arts education by listening to NPR.”

That programing can expose people to classical music, a multitude of literature and to diversity through different cultural experiences, while providing local Rio Grande Valley residents a vehicle to explore their interests, whether they be rock-n-roll or conjunto.

FM noncommercial licenses, like those sold to Immaculate Heart Media, must advance “an educational program,” according to the Federal Communications Commission.

This is why the Diocese of Brownsville, through its subsidiary, RGV Educational Broadcasting, was able to provide public radio to the Rio Grande Valley.

Immaculate Heart Media is a registered nonprofit classified by the Internal Revenue Service as Religious Radio, offering religion-related and spiritual development-oriented content.

Approximately 42 percent of non-commercial licenses are held by religious entities, which are allowed to determine what constitutes educational programming, according to the FCC.

As far as Strong knows, 88.9 FM and 88.9 FM are the only frequencies set aside for public radio in the Valley.

“My concern really is that we don’t let NPR go away for the longterm, that we move collectively in the Valley to find an answer,” Strong said.