The licensee of California’s KVCR is proposing to end the stations’ affiliation with NPR and PBS and cease broadcasting First Nations Experience, a television channel of Native American and Indigenous programming that KVCR distributes nationally to public television stations.
If the plan is approved, the San Bernardino Community College District will transfer the stations’ facilities and equipment to San Bernardino Valley College and convert KVCR into a lab for its media training program by the end of June 2023. This arrangement could lead to job cuts and staff restructuring, according to Jose Torres, the district’s interim chancellor.
Angel Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the district, said more details about the potential transfer will be shared after a meeting of the district’s board of trustees Thursday. Interim GM Alfredo Cruz referred questions to the district.
Torres discussed the plan with trustees during a Sept. 24 virtual meeting. One of the goals of the board’s 2020–21 strategic plan is to “define KVCR’s purpose and take action,” according to presentation slides from the meeting.
Background materials in the slides included budget scenarios projecting losses of $3 million to $5 million at KVCR between 2021 and 2025. The stations’ endowment, built by an infusion of millions from the 2017 FCC television spectrum auction, would be drawn down to cover the losses. Different scenarios projected that the endowment’s value would decrease from nearly $23.2 million in fiscal year 2021 to between $20.3 million and $18.3 million.
Ending KVCR’s affiliation with public broadcasting would save costs and align the stations’ operations with the district’s mission to prepare students for college or to enter the workforce, according to the presentation materials.
The board did not take action on the proposal; Torres said he was seeking consensus on how the district should proceed.
“We need time to pull back from PBS. We need time to pull back from NPR,” Torres told the board. “PBS and NPR is just content. The bandwidth, the highway still exists in this proposal.”
If the stations are transferred to the media training program, the endowment “will be repurposed for other uses pending Board approval and collegial consultation,” according to the presentation slides.
In 2017, the San Bernardino Community College District received $157 million from the FCC spectrum auction; $42 million of the proceeds was allocated to KVCR. The district later announced plans to establish the endowment and allocate some of the funds to FNX, local television productions and a $16 million renovation of KVCR’s studios.
But investments in KVCR’s content for San Bernardino did not last long. Mark Lágrimas, the GM who led TV expansion, departed in 2017. The station laid off staff and cut its local production slate in 2018. Keith Birkfeld, who became GM in October 2017, resigned in April 2019, and producer Tony Papa became director of operations. Cruz returned to KVCR this year as interim GM. Cruz previously worked as GM of KVCR and FNX from 2013 to 2017.
During the Sept. 24 board meeting, Trustee Donald Singer said severing KVCR’s memberships with PBS and NPR could be unpopular with the stations’ audiences. Trustees also expressed concern about the future of FNX. John Longville said ending KVCR’s role in national broadcasts of FNX could upset the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a tribal nation that has invested millions in the network. Torres said FNX will need a new broadcast home to continue but did not discuss specifics.
In December 2019, FNX announced that the channel had achieved carriage by 20 stations and was reaching more than 57 million television households across the United States.
Board Clerk Gloria Macías Harrison advised trustees not to rush decisions about the stations but to consider all of the district’s options, including tapping into the endowment. She also said longstanding issues with the station led district leaders to this decision.
“It’s certainly because of our ups and downs with KVCR, we have lost an awful lot of the people who were devoted donors. We’re not getting the kinds of donations that I think are essential to sustain,” she said.
“I’m not saying I’m for or against,” Harrison added. “But I don’t think we have done enough research, and we need to do that research.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians as a tribal group. It is a tribal nation.