Texas’s KEDT builds on alliance with local college

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One of the smallest independent public broadcasting operations in the country will move into new facilities this fall under its expanding partnership with a local community college.

For more than 40 years, KEDT-TV/FM in Corpus Christi, Texas, has been housed in a strip mall in what was originally meant to be a temporary location. Its unusual agreement with the city’s Del Mar College preserves its independence as a community pubcasting licensee while allowing the two institutions to share content and a state-of-the art broadcast and production facility, the new KEDT Center for Educational Broadcasting.

Del Mar College students will gain direct experience in media production and access to digital broadcasting technology when KEDT moves to campus.

Del Mar College students will gain experience in media production and access to digital broadcasting technology when KEDT moves to campus.

Under construction after a ceremonial groundbreaking last fall, the center will be located on a prime site adjacent and connected to Del Mar College’s Center for Economic Development, and offer amenities such as an outdoor performance plaza wired for live broadcasts.

The two institutions have plans to work closely together on content going forward, in addition to sharing the space and digital television equipment. They will also work together on the operation of Del Mar TV, the college’s public access cable channel. But KEDT will remain a community-licensed station.

By maintaining its independence in the partnership, “we won’t be paid for by the taxpayers,” said Don Dunlap, president of the South Texas Public Broadcasting System, which comprises a TV station and two FM radio stations. The college, meanwhile, is protected if the stations broadcast anything controversial, he said.

KEDT started thinking about finding a partnership that went well beyond content-sharing in 2003, as it contemplated the expensive transition to digital broadcasting, said Dunlap. KEDT is the smallest unattached public radio-TV combination in the country, with an annual budget of about $2.4 million, Dunlap said, so “every major effort we do is a partnership. It’s just a way we can be more effective and survive.”

Initially, after exploring numerous options, KEDT struck an agreement with Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi branch, but that fell apart in 2005 after a new president arrived with different priorities for the campus, Dunlap said. (The two still work closely together, he said, and the university sponsors KEDT’s popular high school academic quiz program, Challenge!)

So KEDT again turned its attention to Del Mar College, which was on a growth spurt, Dunlap said. Today, its enrollment comprises about 10,000 students pursuing two-year degrees and 12,000 students enrolled in continuing education and workforce training programs for local employers.

The two institutions already worked together on student internships, and college regents have also served on the station’s board. They started comparing long-term needs: Del Mar TV was operating with analog equipment that needed updating, and KEDT needed a site for a new building.

“Right now we’re in a strip center, and you need a GPS, a compass and a Ouija board to find us,” said Dunlap, who helped start the station in 1972. The new site is located at a major intersection in town.

Given the ways they already worked together, “it made sense for an educational institution to open our arms” to KEDT, said Claudia Jackson, Del Mar’s executive director of strategic communication and government relations.

The partnership began in October 2006 and was formalized in 2008 when a 45-page legal agreement was signed. “It took longer to build the agreement than the building,” Dunlap said. KEDT kicked off a capital campaign in April of that year with a $750,000 lead gift from H-E-B, a Texas-based supermarket chain.

KEDT is funding the $4.8 million project, while the college is providing the land under a 60-year lease arrangement. Del Mar College is also contributing its project management expertise for construction of the 16,000–square-foot facility, which will house KEDT’s television and radio broadcasting studios and offices as well as Del Mar TV, which is already based in the existing 50,000–square-foot Center for Economic Development.

The Del Mar TV and KEDT studios will be back-to-back in the expanded facility. KEDT will assist with Del Mar TV functions, including master control and the automation system, allowing the college to focus on content development. “Everybody is focused on their areas of expertise,” Dunlap said.

KEDT officials visited other PBS and NPR stations, including WCNY’s new space in Syracuse, N.Y., as they planned the new building.

The agreement will lower operating costs for KEDT by about $240,000 annually, Dunlap said, and eliminate what had been “an ever-increasing rent situation.” The projected savings have pleased station donors, he said, and will free up money to produce more local programming. The college’s adjacent building already serves as a community meeting space for discussions on topics such as water use and immigration. KEDT expects to be able to begin broadcasting those meetings, he said.

The college’s students, meanwhile — some of whom are pursuing associate degrees in radio and television broadcasting — will benefit from more internship opportunities, hands-on production classes and access to state-of-the-art digital broadcasting technology. The new facility will link all of Del Mar’s campuses, as well as two nearby Texas A&M campuses, to provide workforce training and distance learning opportunities.

KEDT and the college plan to jointly produce programs featuring Del Mar College music and drama performances. The college is also enthusiastic about hosting future events in the performance plaza, Jackson said.

Going forward, she said, Del Mar College is hoping to gain wider exposure for its community access programming, which includes some shows about the college, on KEDT’s digital multicast channels, which reach beyond the city limits. The college has a well-regarded biomedical research program and a new virtual lab for training nurses to care for dementia patients. “Those are the kinds of stories we are excited to be able to share” with KEDT audiences, Jackson said. The college sees the collaboration as a new opportunity to promote the strength of its faculty and students.

Separate from the new building, KEDT is also looking at a possible expansion of its broadcast reach, according to Dunlap. The station has been working with PBS for more than a year to extend its signal 135 miles south to the Rio Grande Valley, where the sale of Harlingen’s KMBH-TV to a commercial buyer is pending.

After the sale closes, KEDT hopes to provide a customized program feed that packages PBS fare with local and regional programming — including an expansion of the academic quiz show Challenge! — as a multicast channel tailored to the Rio Grande.

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