Page 9


Othal Brand, right, has his say at KZLN’s review. By Joan Penzenstadler Alamo Anybody who knows the lower Rio Grande Valley can tell you it’s a natural site for a chicano-oriented educational television station. Eighty percent of the citizens of Cameron, Willacy, and Hidalgo counties are MexicanAmerican. The poorest and leasteducated people in the nation live here. Only 20 percent of the population get Public Broadcasting System programs on their televisions, via cable from Corpus Christi. But the same observers can also tell you that any threat to the power of the Valley’s anglo elite, including its control of the media, is sure to start a fight. The latest episode in this perennial conflict has left Harlingen-based KZLN-Channel 60 struggling for its very existence. The backers of KZLN, who aim to make it the first minority-owned public television station in the U.S., proclaim their identity in its call letters, which refer to Aztlan, the chicano heartland embracing the Southwest and Mexico. Already the embryonic station has an FCC construction permit, several federal grants, and encouragement from Washington to apply for more funds, based on a 1978 federal law that calls for expanded public television service and increased broadcast opportunities for minorities and women. The Roman Catholic church at the national and local levels has kicked in seed money, office space in Alamo, and tutoring in grantsmanship. Two Valley FM radio stations offer technical advice and publicity, and chicano entrepreneurs have been making cash donations as charter members of KZLN. KZLN’s organizers, who have been laying the groundwork for the station for the last five years, hope to begin construction of the station facilities next year and start broadcasting in 1981. To do it they’ll need $3 million from federal and private sources, but the money is there. The problem lies in getting hold of it, because the federal aid has to be reviewed by local government entities through which Valley political powers are trying to block two crucial grant applications. The first, for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to pay for construction of the station, must originate with a municipalitythe city of Harlingen. The second, to finance staff training, goes to the Community Services Administration, but both requests must be channeled through a three-county council of governments, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. The Harlingen Valley Morning Star, a link in the ultra-conservative Freedom Newspapers chain, has been a major instrument of the attack on KZLN. After Harlingen’s city commissioners voted in March to apply for the HUD grant, the newspaper warned that commissioners were putting “too much power in the wrong hands.” The “wrong hands” have already struck a few blows against Valley com placency. The idea of starting the station came from a group of Mexican-American organizations that banded together in 1973 and formed the Rio Grande Coalition on the Media. Later renamed the Texas Consumer Education and Communications Development Committee, the media group challenged the FCC license renewals of two local commercial stations in 1977 for ignoring the needs of Mexican-Americans. The challenge forced KRGV in Weslaco and KGBT in Harlingen to open job and promotion opportunities to chicanos, to furnish training scholarships, and to provide more chicano-oriented public affairs programming. The media-monitoring committee is now the license-holder for KZLN. Several members of the station’s staff are committee veterans; nearly all are Valley natives, a step away from farm work, but with college educations. Only three are over 30, but their youth is misleading. Station manager Jaime Garza, for instance, who formerly chaired the media group, has racked up ten years of field labor and poverty program jobs since he left home at 15 to help support his family. His activist experience includes stints with MAYO and the Brown Berets. Not on the staff, but the driving force behind KZLN thus far, is Francisco Briones, director of the social action office of the Brownsville Catholic diocese. Backed by Bishop John Fitzpatrick, Briones helped organize the media watchers, later shepherded the first station proposals through the federal bureaucracy, and still helps out with grant applications. Obviously the people involved in getting KZLN off the ground have not endeared themselves to the defenders of the status quo. Under pressure from these critics, the Harlingen city commission called a special meeting in April to revoke its earlier agreement to administer the HUD construction grant. Despite assurances by the city manager that the city would incur only nominal liability and expense, the commission reversed itself the day before the proposal was to be reviewed by the area council of governments. That left just the training grant application on the agenda of the area council. Unfortunately for KZLN, the council is dominated by Othal Brand, mayor of McAllen, chief of the Griffin & Brand agribusiness operation, and selfappointed scourge of chicano activists. KZLN representatives had submitted their application to the council in March for CSA funds to hire two professors from Ohio University to conduct a tenweek training program for the station staff. Brand pounced: “Why Ohio? Why not Pan American University [in nearby Edinburg]? Why not at least UT in Austin?” Garza’s explanation that the Ohio professors were recommended to KZLN Public TV Static in the Valley