Why Are Some Texas PBS Stations Going Dark?

Technical and financial struggles are hurting Texas PBS.

By Kevin WheelerJune 29, 2018 12:40 pm

PBS has been going through some hard times in Texas. Many Texans who rely on a digital antenna to watch TV have gone without the channel for months. The two stations that serve the Rio Grande Valley have been off the air since January because of technical issues. And the only public television station that serves the Waco area of Central Texas is going dark by the end of August.

Dru Sefton covers public television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for Current. She says the problems hurting these Texas stations are different from one another.

In Killeen, KNCT’s problems began last year when the FCC auctioned off PBS station spectrums, or frequencies, to help make more bandwidth room for mobile devices. However, in order to keep the channel running, the station would need to update its equipment to switch to a new frequency.

“For KNCT, it was going to be about $4.5 million,” Sefton says. “So they decided then rather than pay that and move the channel, they’re just going to basically go out of business.”

Further south at KMBG in the Rio Grande Valley, the problem is similar, but it’s not certain that the station will stay gone for good. The PBS signal has been dark since February. The problem began when the stations’ original owners, the Catholic Archdiocese, sold the station to a commercial broadcast company, who agreed to air PBS programming on one of its digital channels.

“Meanwhile, the new owner has decided to sell the station,” Sefton says. “So unfortunately, that owner doesn’t have any motivation to fix (the problem).”

Smaller stations tend to have more problems because there are fewer donors, foundations, and corporations around willing to support. There simply isn’t as much financial support in Killeen or the Rio Grande Valley as there are in places like Austin or Dallas.

“It’s just kind of the luck of where you are geographically,” Sefton says. “If you’re a small station in a smaller market, you’re going to struggle.”

Many PBS and NPR stations have to rely on these because, according to Sefton, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has a budget of $445 million, which equals one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire national budget. This money is shared by all NPR and PBS stations across the country, hence the need for outside support. So, PBS stations do what they can.

“CPB, their goal is to get quality educational programming to every American, and not every American is on cable or satellite, and so they have to get it over the air,” Sefton says. “It’s going to be a challenge in the years to come.”

Written by Kevin Wheeler.