College trustees ask for ‘serious plan’ for KVCR’s future

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KVCR's studios.

The board of trustees for the San Bernardino Community College District tabled a proposal Thursday that could have reduced PBS and NPR programming on KVCR, the station owned by the district.

Trustees were scheduled to vote on whether to convert KVCR by June 2023 to a facility for students at San Bernardino Valley College, where the station is located. District representatives had previously suggested cutting back on the station’s PBS and NPR programming in favor of student-produced content.

The board instead unanimously approved a motion by trustee John Longville directing the college district’s interim chancellor to “make a focused, immediate effort to produce a serious plan for the best uses for this district’s broadcast facilities and that existing KVCR staff, media faculty and community representatives all be involved in this effort.”

The board did not set a timeline for the plan’s delivery. Trustees said that they would support improving student access to KVCR while maintaining the station’s affiliations with PBS and NPR. Interim Chancellor Jose Torres first recommended reducing public media programming in September, citing the station’s financial losses.

Approval of Longville’s motion followed more than two hours of public comment from KVCR staff, community members and SBCCD students and faculty. Out of 62 commenters, 18 supported making the station into a student lab. Most were students who said they lacked consistent access to KVCR’s facilities and had not been able to get hands-on media experience that could train them for future jobs.

Several KVCR staffers expressed opposition to Torres’ recommendation. They said shaky management, conflicts with the district and misuse of a $157 million windfall from the 2017 FCC spectrum auction had hampered the station.

“At one point, KVCR was under $300,000 from being self-sufficient. Then in came another interim manager who blew the budget out of the water,” said Barbara Nichols, a project analyst for KVCR. “Who is hiring these managers? Now you want to abandon KVCR again because of the numbers.”

Other staffers said they would welcome more student involvement with the station and that management and the school district were to blame for limited student access.

Fans of the station’s PBS and NPR programs also spoke, as well as three public media professionals from elsewhere in the country: Ethan Toven-Lindsey, executive editor of news for KQED in San Francisco; Franz Joachim, CEO for New Mexico PBS; and Royal Aills, GM for RSU Public Television in Tulsa, Okla.

Joachim said students who work for an NPR or PBS affiliate can receive training that will help them get full-time media jobs. “Simply put, you will lose much more than you will gain by separating from PBS and NPR,” he said.

Toven-Lindsey said KVCR is a “critical part of the growing statewide and regional partnership to produce news from local stations,” citing the station’s rebroadcast of The California Report, produced by KQED. He also said that KVCR’s local news productions covering San Bernardino are important to the surrounding community.

In a separate presentation, KVCR staffers said the station had lost money in part due to unexplained general administration cost increases. In 2014, SBCCD documents listed general administrative costs for the station as $67,107. By 2019, that had ballooned to $867,066.

“What is being charged to KVCR/FNX … to make this increase more than quadruple over a six year period?” said a slide in the presentation. “Who is accountable for this? This type of expense increase would not be permitted in any other dept, division or program without proper program review.”

They also said the station needs more development professionals with public media experience and that some staffers have helped with development work on top of their official job duties.

Community members and KVCR staff said that they were also concerned about SBCCD’s suggestion to transfer the trademark and license for First Nations Experience, a nationally distributed television channel for Native American and Indigenous programming. FNX is owned by the district and is distributed from KVCR’s studio.

Thursday’s motion did not address FNX. At a March 15 retreat, trustees discussed an “operational agreement” with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, according to minutes of the meeting. The San Manuel Band helped launch FNX in 2011 and has invested millions in the channel.

Trustee Frank Reyes, who emphasized that the board supports KVCR, expressed doubt that staffers could significantly increase fundraising and make up for the station’s losses. In response, Longville said he agreed that KVCR’s development efforts had been slashed in favor of “dumbass, stupid expenses that don’t do anything for the station.”

Trustee Joseph Williams said that the district had not communicated well with the community about proposals related to the station, citing several members of the public who said that the community needed public media programming for local news and that Native American and Indigenous communities were concerned about the uncertainty around FNX.

He added that an online survey for public feedback had further alienated station supporters. Some supporters during the meeting said that the survey’s findings were flawed and that SBCCD had allowed too little time to gather a wide range of comments.

“We should see this as an opportunity to build deep relationships with people,” Williams said. “People love KVCR, y’all. You got to include them.”

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