KMBH Spots Worry Radio Group
Some think the announcements are targeted at a planned second public radio station.
By: Laura Tillman
BROWNSVILLE — Announcements on the Rio Grande Valley's public radio station, KMBH, warning listeners that donations to a different public station are either "a scam or fantasy" have riled members of a group seeking to create a second public radio station in South Texas.
"When the spots began to air, people immediately called me about it," said Betsy Price. Price is organizing a new public radio station - Voices from the Valley, which plans to begin broadcasting in the next few months. "They were very concerned."
Voices from the Valley members said they worried the ads could mislead the public to believe that they are not a legitimate radio station, and that making pledges of support was somehow dangerous.
Price says she and the other members of Voices from the Valley have not placed any calls to solicit money, but have been fielding calls and pledges of support from those who log onto the group's Web site.
"We're not asking for money at this time, just pledges of support," Price said. "People have tried to hand me checks and we have to tell them, ‘No, we can't accept money until we are launched and have a business plan.' "
KMBH had this text posted at the top of its Web site as of June 19:
"ONLY ONE PUBLIC RADIO! ONLY ONE PUBLIC RADIO!
There is only ONE PUBLIC RADIO in the Rio Grande Valley ... and this is Public Radio 88FM, serving you with the best of NPR and local talent since October 1989. If you or someone you know is contacted requesting a donation for Public Radio which is not Public Radio 88FM please report it to the authorities and let us know at 956-421-4111. Public Radio 88FM has been serving you in the Rio Grande Valley for TWENTY YEARS. Anything else may be a scam or fantasy."
Voices from the Valley said it is organizing a second legitimate public radio station in the Valley. It is common for large cities or well-populated regions to have more than one public radio station. Often, stations have different genres, group members said. Msgr. Pedro Briseño, the president and CEO of KMBH, says the spots are unrelated to Voices from the Valley and are rather the result of calls from listeners.
"So far we have just received a couple of vague reports about attempts to collect financial pledges for a public radio station," Briseño wrote in an emailed statement. "No more information (was) given and the individuals reporting do not want their names disclosed. It has been suggested for us to make a public warning such as the one on our Web site in order to protect the public from a potential scam."
Asked for more details on the calls, Briseño said the station's role was not to investigate.
"We are not in the business of law enforcement investigation," Briseño wrote, "but in the business of serving our community through educational broadcasting, twenty years through public radio, twenty-five years through public television."
But organizers for Voices from the Valley, who are attempting to establish their credibility as a second regional public radio station, see the spots differently.
"I think they're trying to prejudice the public against another station," said Joe Perez, who used to host "North of the Border," a conjunto show on KMBH with his wife, Rosa.
Rosa and Joe Perez left KMBH after the network failed to air the "Hand of God" documentary at its scheduled time. The documentary, which the station later said aired at 1 a.m. the next morning, chronicled molestation by Catholic priests.
Joe Perez said he lost faith in the honesty of KMBH's managers when they provided what he called a "totally unbelievable" explanation for why the program didn't air. He said this distrust is the reason he also doesn't buy the station's explanation about the new spots. "I do not believe there is a scam going on," Joe Perez said.
Pablo Almaguer, a McAllen resident who used to volunteer with KMBH and is now helping to spread information about the Voices from the Valley station, says the spots are a "threat wrapped up in a warning." "I listen to the ‘NPR Morning Edition' pretty religiously and, when I heard the spots, I couldn't help but smile and shake my head," he said. "The last sentence, saying that another station is a ‘scam or a fantasy' is passive aggressive. This is a threat to those folks who are out there trying to start a new station, and I think this is the way management has decided to deal with it, by flexing their muscles and by saying: ‘Don't contact our funders.' "
Briseño insists that any speculation that the commercials are related to Voices from the Valley is unfounded. "We are not in the business of attacking anybody or campaigning against anything. We have no interest on useless debates of opinions. Any negative reaction to our warning is perhaps a confirmation that such a warning was needed to protect the public of the Rio Grande Valley from scams," Briseño said.
Perez, who plans to donate his show to Voices from the Valley when it starts up, says he hopes that potential listeners will continue to pledge their support. "All I can say is Voices from the Valley is starting from scratch and we're going to be fighting for listeners, so all is fair in love and war and radio," Perez said.
Laura Tillman is a reporter for The Brownsville Herald.