Many of my good friends and esteemed colleagues at TAMIU often lament the absence of what we might call “Anglo culture” in Laredo. No less a figure than our university’s president has recently spoken of this problem, stating ”[i]n that most universal of all media, radio, Laredo today has no station which connects us… to our national dialogue.”
Yet I wonder if the real solution for this problem lies in bringing NPR to Laredo. I have no doubt that my colleagues would enjoy listening to All Things Considered, and some bright, motivated teenagers might enjoy it as well, but the bulk of public radio programming is not of regular interest to most Americans, particularly young people.
Rather, there is a far more pressing absence from our local airwaves: PBS television. PBS may be available on cable and satellite, but much of our population—particularly those most in need of English-language programming aimed at young people, like Sesame Street—cannot afford those sources of programming (and PBS is unavailable at all to people in Nuevo Laredo, who comprise the majority of the population of our metropolitan area). I know that several years ago KLRN, San Antonio’s public broadcasting channel, applied for a permit to construct a retransmitter of its broadcasts in this area, but apparently nothing came of that.
But due to the advent of digital television, there is a low-cost solution: including PBS programming on a subchannel of an existing digital broadcaster. With the exception of KLDO and KGNS, the remaining local digital television stations (both in Mexico and the United States) are only providing one channel of television in their digital allotment, even though at least four standard definition (non-HDTV) channels can be carried on a digital channel (even with HDTV programming on the channel, one SD subchannel could be carried with little loss of quality—KGNS is currently carrying two, with noticeable problems on its main feed during some broadcasts). No federal permits need to be applied for; all it would take is an agreement between a local station and KLRN to retransmit their programming, and for the local station to receive the programming from San Antonio via microwave or satellite transmission (which is already being done to supply Time-Warner Cable and DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers with KLRN), and adapt its existing digital television encoder to multiplex the KLRN signal as well.
Realistically, young people in Laredo who need to be exposed to standard American English, including the wealth of childrens’s programming available on PBS, and the culture of the United States outside our community—and our friends in Mexico as well, who may not be familiar with what American society is like beyond brief visits to the border zone—are much more likely to benefit from television broadcasts than radio. And while I do not seek to discourage those who seek to bring NPR to Laredo, we can get PBS here and on the air at much lower expense with the cooperation of a local digital broadcaster like KVTV, XHBR, XHLNA, or XHLAT.