COMMENTARY: Keep NPR in the Rio Grande Valley

KATHY TRENFIELD RAINES | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR 

I read with great distress about the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville’s decision to sell its two National Public Radio stations, 88.9 FM in Harlingen and 88.1 FM in McAllen to Immaculate Heart Media, for religious programming. Certainly, this is the diocese’s prerogative, yet it is urgent that we, with the help of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, create another NPR station as soon as possible.

When our Valley NPR station ceases programming in late April, flourishing university cities like Brownsville and Edinburg will be left with no educational radio, our nearest NPR being in Corpus Christi, which is 160 miles away and whose signals we can’t pick up until we’re in the middle of the King Ranch.

Already, some mistakenly consider Brownsville, along with other border cities, to be a backward community, not the thriving, forward-looking one we know, containing, among other assets, a fine university and community college as well as a top-notch zoo, community theater and children’s museum.

A city that lacks NPR appears to be one without appreciation for education, a worthy radio station being akin to fine schools, libraries and parks.

Some claim that we can always listen to NPR on our phones or laptops, but that is not the same.

I love the serendipity of realizing that a noontime Saturday errand will be enhanced by the hilarious news spoof/game show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” or that I can listen to Terry Gross’s fascinating interviews when I happen to be driving around at 4 p.m. I love catching portions of “Morning Edition” or “All Things Considered,” news programs that sincerely attempt to follow the now defunct Fairness Doctrine, with multiple views considered, programs devoid of yelling and interruptions.

When I’m in the car, I so appreciate the five-minute news clips at the top of some hours or an especially

interesting “Latina U.S.A.” or “Pharmacy Today.” I often find myself swept up in “driveway moments,” so engrossed in a story that I dare not leave my car lest I miss any of it during the walk down the driveway into the house. NPR gives us the spontaneous joy of listening to what we didn’t know we wanted to hear.

Our local NPR station has provided an excellent creative venue for noteworthy members of our community, much to our benefit. In past years we’ve enjoyed Joe and Rosa Perez’s “North of the Border,” which brought us Mexican roots music, and Will Everett’s “Theme and Variations,” which offered poignant readings of literary works. Currently, we enjoy W.F. Strong’s very entertaining,insightful “Stories from Texas” (“some” of which, he claims, “are true”), John Cook’s “Good Books Radio” and Brenda Nettles Riojas’ “Corazon Bilingue,” in which she interviews local poets who also read their works on air. And then there’s Friday night’s “Rosie’s Jukebox Memories,” which offers a fun variety of old tunes.

Our local airwaves are full of country music, rock and pop, in both English and Spanish, and religious programming in both languages. And, on the noncommercial 105.1 FM, sponsored by the Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts, we do enjoy a variety of music from multiple genres. One switching to AM can listen to passionate conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. But without NPR, we have no unbiased — as unbiased as human beings can be — news programs, no classical music, and no venues for locally produced creative endeavors.

It only makes sense for our university, an educational institution, to take over NPR, and I am heartened to read that W.F. Strong, a communications professor there, is striving to make this happen. I am on board, ready to contribute to this vital enterprise. We must do whatever we can to revive educational radio in the Rio Grande Valley.

Kathy Trenfield Raines lives in Brownsville.