Several staffers at California’s KVCR expressed opposition Thursday to a recommendation to cut the station’s PBS and NPR programming and sever ties with First Nations Experience, a network for Native American and Indigenous programming.
Speaking during a virtual board meeting of the San Bernardino Community College District, the staffers were addressing a proposal by the district, KVCR’s licensee, to transfer facilities and equipment used by the station to San Bernardino Valley College by June 2023. Jose Torres, the district’s interim chancellor, recommended Sept. 24 to transfer the station and turn it into a student-focused media lab. Torres and the board have discussed cutting public media programming to save money but have not made formal plans.
The board approved a motion Thursday that said KVCR’s operations will be used for “a dramatically expanded film, TV, media program, and other programs” to align use of the facility and its equipment with the mission of the district and the community college. The motion reflects the board’s desire “to start planning a smooth transition,” according to a district spokesperson.
The motion also said that “this action does not precipitate disaffiliation from NPR, PBS, other affiliates, or FNX.” According to the motion, the district will present the board with “a framework for the development of the plan, methodology, and vision” in December. The board will approve the plan by April 30.
Torres’ recommendation was accompanied by documents that projected a $3 million to $5 million total loss for KVCR between 2021 and 2025. Torres said Sept. 24 that he expects job cuts and staff restructuring, but he has not discussed specifics.
Ben Holland, a program manager for KVCR’s television station, said Thursday that he was shocked by Torres’ recommendation. Holland urged the district and board to reconsider the proposal because the station’s programming is important to the community.
Jessica Greenwell, KVCR’s traffic coordinator, and Yesica Alatorre, FNX’s traffic coordinator, said the district should be speaking to staff about the proposed transfer.
“We love KVCR and what it stands for,” Alatorre said. “We should be given the chance to speak and have our voices heard before any critical decisions are made.”
“I implore you, before you make any decisions, at least take the time to understand what we do here at the station, how we serve the community, and how, if viewed as an asset and invested in as such, how we could benefit the colleges as well as the student body,” Greenwell said. “Transferring the KVCR facility and equipment will not allow for any additional training and teaching opportunities that the students do not already have, but ending our affiliations could limit opportunities for students.”
Cassie MacDuff, a contributing journalist to KVCR, said that the documents Torres prepared for the board meetings need to provide additional line item financial information to show what is working and what can be improved. “To make an informed decision about the future of KVCR, the board needs that information,” she said.
Rick Dulock, a program manager for KVCR’s radio station, said that the station needs more reliable leadership to be more effective. The station has had eight leaders in the past eight years, including those in interim roles.
Nicholas Van Luven and Josh Ratti, two students at San Bernardino Valley College, said that they would welcome the transfer and want access to more media equipment and educational opportunities.
FNX in jeopardy
The suggestion to cut ties with FNX also prompted concerns among staffers and the community. Torres said in his recommendation that FNX may need a new broadcast partner to continue. He suggested that the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a tribal nation that has invested millions in the network, may help keep the network alive. A spokesperson for San Manuel declined comment to Current.
Frank Blanquet, a producer and director for the channel, said during the board meeting Thursday that based on previous meetings, he doesn’t believe that the district and the board “know what the channel means to our Indigenous communities.”
The Native American Community Council of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties sent a letter signed by several Indigenous organizations that said ending FNX and public broadcasting in the area would be a “betrayal.”
“There are so many of us who tune into FNX on a daily basis to keep up with Indian Country Today newscasts and programs on history, language and culture,” the organizations said.
Bill Legere, president and GM of KTOO in Juneau, Alaska, said in a statement to Current that his station “would be sorry to lose a service so important to Alaska communities.” KTOO picked up FNX last year to improve service to the state’s Indigenous population, Legere said. He added that he hopes another organization will keep FNX going.
Micah Wright, a former chief content manager for FNX, told Current that he’s disheartened by what is happening to KVCR. “It’s sad. It could be a crown jewel,” he said. “Instead, they’re about to kill the station that they just spent millions of dollars rebuilding the antenna and tower for, all so they can have a glorified media class for a 2-year college.”