It’s been in the works and a well-kept secret for two years, but KCOS Channel 13, El Paso’s public TV station, is marrying its Texas Tech University counterpart in Lubbock, KTTZ Channel 5.
Texas Tech Public Media and KCOS announced the partnership after the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents approved it at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting and filed for approval by the Federal Communications Commission on Monday.
“We want people to understand that while this is an acquisition, it really is positioned as a partnership to make us stronger together,” said KCOS General Manager Emily Martin Loya. “This deal should close at the end of September, pending FCC approval.”
“Obviously, there has to be some recognition of Texas Tech Public Media,” Loya said. “They’re going to be our parent organization. But there’s no part of the agreement that says I have to run a bunch of Red Raider ads.
“Our station will continue to have its own look and feel.”
That is to say “both stations will continue to produce and air their own programming,” she said
The arrangement brings together KCOS and KTTZ and their six other Public Broadcasting Service TV channels along with KTTZ’s four radio stations.
In addition to PBS Channel 13, KCOS operates KCOS Create Channel 13.3, KCOS EPCC-TV Channel 13.2 and KCOS-HDTV Channel 13.1.
It all began at KCOS directors’ strategic planning session in the spring of 2016, Loya said, when the board agreed that the station “needed to find a bigger institution to partner with so we had a longer, sustainable track.”
They looked at KRWG Channel 22, the public broadcasting station in Las Cruces, she said, but it is state funded and would be unable to share funds with a Texas PBS operation.
Then there was the University of Texas at El Paso, which KCOS called home for years before moving to new quarters at El Paso Community College in 2005.
Loya said she put out the word that KCOS was looking for a suitor during the October 2017 Annual Texas Association of PBS Stations conference call with everyone listening.
“I brought it up that this is where we are, considering other partnerships,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting someone to come to the table, but almost immediately, I got a call from Texas Tech,” she said.
The caller was Paul Hunton, general manager of Texas Tech Public Media and KTTZ, who told her Tech’s president was interested.
“Within a month afterwards, we began the conversation, but as you can imagine, there were a lot of steps,” Loya said.
KCOS will continue to operate from the El Paso Community College Administrative Services Center at 9050 Viscount, and not much will change – except that everyone will be breathing a little easier.
“I will report to Paul Hunton,” Loya said. “However, we will continue to be our own team here, and over time we will integrate teams.
“And we will all become Texas Tech employees, which is huge for sustainability and benefits and being able to recruit and retain talent.”
UTEP’s National Public Radio station, KTEP, will not be affected by the partnership of the two public TV networks.
Many public TV stations are state supported or affiliated with a university that provides financial support. But KCOS has always been an independent PBS station wholly dependent on the PBS and private donations, which can be a hard road.
And it has been.
KCOS is run by the El Paso Public Television Foundation, which filed a nonprofit tax return for 2018 showing that the station’s expenses exceeded grants and donations by $62,368 last year and by a total of $404,031 for the three prior years.
Loya said the audited financial statements tell a more accurate story, but the statement for fiscal 2018 only showed a positive $13,338 net before depreciation.
But, she said, it wasn’t a loss, and Texas Tech would not have gone through with the acquisition if KCOS was losing money.
“We turned it around in the last few years, but it was very much on people wearing a lot more hats and working a lot harder,” Loya said.
KCOS’s for last year shows Loya, long said to be the lowest paid station manager in public television, making $49,871. She said her salary will be $56,000 with Texas Tech and the rest of KCOS staff will get raises as well.
The new partnership will be financially advantageous for both organizations.
“There’s a reduction in PBS fees of, like, $250,000 because we’re joined together,” she said.
According to KTTZ, the acquisition will make Texas Tech Public Media eligible for a one-time implementation grant of up to $750,000 and a management grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for $1.5 million over three years.
No money is being exchanged since both organizations are nonprofits.
“There have been a lot of station mergers in the last five years,” Loya said. “But I think it’s a bit unique for a big university to be willing to take on a community public media station.”
Despite the size of the El Paso market, the current number of KCOS donors is between 1,500 and 2,000.
The move will expand Texas Tech Public Media’s radio and television market from about 387,000 households to more than 1.4 million.
Board member and former El Paso City Rep. Steve Ortega said, “It was a question of do you want to have a public television station that is sustainable well into our future, or is this going to be a year by year battle?”
The board’s concern heightened, he said, when President Trump proposed deep cuts in the national public TV and radio budgets.
“If that had gone forward, there would have been a chance that KCOS would have gone away,” Ortega said. “For me of the board members, living in a community that does not have public television was unacceptable.”
Under the new arrangement, KCOS will have an El Paso advisory board but will be overseen and operated out of Texas Tech in Lubbock.
Once, that would have been highly unpopular in El Paso, but things have changed, Ortega said.
“I think Texas Tech is now part of the El Paso community,” he said. “Look at the amount Tech has invested here with the medical school, the nursing school and the new dental school.
“I think they view El Paso as a very important market for them, and we view Texas Tech as a very important part of our community and our economy.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.