UTRGV, congressman’s office in work group exploring public radio, TV

Local leaders from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s office, in addition to members of the local community have together created a work group to study the logistics of possibly bringing public radio and TV back to the Valley.

The group, Grassroots Public Radio RGV, is considering options such as possibly housing a radio station at UTRGV, with other options also being explored.

Communications professor William Strong is a member of the working group and an advocate for NPR, specifically. This radio station provides residents a complement to education, he stressed.

“I’ve always told my students if you listen to NPR regularly, you can get the equivalent of a liberal arts college degree,” Strong said. “If you listen regularly over 10 years or so, you don’t have exams but you get the content.”

Although he is largely a proponent of bringing NPR to the Valley, expenses associated with such an endeavor are of concern, he said.

With over 1.4 million people living in the Valley, it’s one of the largest areas without a public radio station, said Jose Borjon, chief of staff for Gonzalez’s office. Borjon, a former journalist whose worked at local newspapers, also hopes to bring NPR and PBS to the Valley.

The working group, he said, will visit the University of Houston in August for inspiration, looking at the facilities there and current implementation to possibly bring these programs to the Valley.

Many metropolitan areas and large cities have PBS and NPR stations within university systems, Borjon said. Approaching UTRGV for a partnership was inspired by the models of University of Houston and UT at Austin, both of which host public media in their institutions.

It could take about one to three years to implement the measure, depending on licensing and other factors, Borjon said.

Going back to expenses, however, a rough estimate shows it may cost at least $1 million to fund an NPR station, and up to $5 million to create both mediums with PBS, he said. It should be noted that these figures are rough estimates, as it’s too early to provide a more definite number.

“We need to have a diverse, strong, robust media that holds people accountable… asks the right questions, that is informative, that is entertaining, that is cutting-edge technology,” Borjon said.

Borjon further cited the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967: “It is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes.”

Strong also founded a GoFundMe for SaveNPRintheRGV, a nonprofit group which as of Saturday has raised more than $6,500 with over 80 donors with the goal of hosting NPR independently or through UTRGV. This fundraiser is being conducted externally from the university, and is not a part of UTRGV’s official sanction.

The communications professor also writes and edits “Stories from Texas,” a show about Texan culture on the Texas Standard. And while NPR is available through many online resources, a radio station offers another element, Strong said.

“I think radio is just a wonderfully intimate medium, and there’s so much that you can do through it that is not capital intensive,” Strong said. “It doesn’t require a lot of money and you can reach a great number of people, and you can reach them in a highly personalized way.”

Housing the station in the university will also prove a “learning lab” for students, Strong said.

Other universities, such as the KUT housed in UT, is a possible model for bringing NPR to the Valley, Strong said.

Although there are several benefits to the potential housing, there are no “discretionary funds” for housing a radio or TV station, UTRGV spokesperson Patrick Gonzales said.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey and Congressman Gonzalez, D-McAllen, are slated to meet in August to discuss a possible partnership to house NPR within its institution.

There are two potential outcomes of such a collaboration.

“One is just to bring back public TV and radio, which has a big fan base here in the Valley, and then secondly to provide the university with a platform to share the great things that are going on here,” Gonzalez has said.