KVCR staffers speak out as licensee considers plan to revamp station

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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.”

5 thoughts on “KVCR staffers speak out as licensee considers plan to revamp station

  1. A little over ten years ago, I was hired as Radio Station Manager of KVCR where I was charged with bringing the station into compliance with the CPB’s Audience Service criteria for CSG eligibility. Although the team I was part of achieved significant gains in audience and listener-sensitive revenue, they were not sufficient to meet CPB minima and Radio CSG support came to an end.

    The reasons for this failure were multi-faceted, but many are close cousins to the issues that the San Bernardino Community College District trustees and administration are faced with now as the recent spectrum auction windfall dries up and the stations’ fiscal drain on the District general fund threatens to become burdensome again.

    Before things reach crisis proportions, SBCCD would do itself — and the Inland Empire community — a great service by contracting with Public Media Company to conduct a study of how to navigate away from the issues that have plagued KVCR for decades. The goal of such a study would be two-fold — to determine whether the licensee is willing to commit to the proven practices that underlie successful operation of a multi-platform public media entity, and to identify whether there is sufficient donor and philanthropic capacity to support KVCR and its mission.

    My best guess is that the outcome of such a study would recommend handing over day-to-day operation and administration of the stations to an independent 501c3 ‘friends’ group, transitioning the current facility to Valley College for academic use, and creating a new, off-campus public media center that would operate outside the jurisdiction of the District’s classified employees union whose collective bargaining agreement fails to recognize KVCR’s operational needs and funding realities, both of which differ significantly from those of the campus community.

    Such a study would also do well to identify whether KVCR Radio needs to acquire a signal and expand its focus to the Coachella Valley, the largest population center in California that lacks a homegrown public radio entity. It’s not hard to imagine that high capacity donors in venues like Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage would find such an initiative appealing.

    Unless the District acknowledges the twin realities that drive success in public media — programming causes audience, and public service begets public support–public support begets public service — KVCR will be on an accelerating treadmill to certain oblivion.

  2. The idea of the stations becoming teaching/training centers aligns better with the mission of the college. I’d like to see them continue to air the indigenous nations content. But one can’t really argue with the college about their own mission, and the stations’ financial drain on it. The Friends, and licensee model is suboptimal.

    • SBCCD is certainly the authority on determining academic mission. But all parties within the District ignore the collective intent of KVCR’s donors at their peril. Look no further than the multi-year litigation that ensued in Orange County a few years ago when Golden West College trustees thought they could bulldoze through community concerns about unloading its then-underperforming station, KOCE. That outcome still haunts KOCE which, though a court settlement, relinquished a portion of its bandwidth to the deep-pockets evangelical operator Daystar.

      Moreover, the notion of operating a full-power TV station for the benefit of students is guaranteed to be a money sink with little benefit flowing to the classroom. The overhead costs associated with such an endeavor would draw resources away from the classroom as it would require professional staff to maintain station operation. There would also be support costs for engineering and legal, stuff that cannot be done on the cheap without risking costly FCC sanction. A web stream would be a more suitable outlet, hence making the TV frequency redundant.

      A student-programmed and run radio station would be far less costly, but Generation Z has little interest in broadcast radio. We are rapidly transitioning to a podcast world. Is there even a market for an academic Radio course anymore that would justify the investment of scarce public education dollars?

      If a majority of SBCCD Trustees no longer wants to be in the business of broadcasting, it should just be done with it. But it would be negligent to fail to retain professional and knowledgeable consultants to guide the process lest prolonged litigation lead to an outcome that serves no one and leaves donors — many of whom the District may wish to approach in the future — with a bad aftertaste.

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