Central Texas public television viewers will have to find Public Broadcasting Service programming from other sources after a Central Texas College decision last week that effectively spells the end to KNCT-TV, Channel 46.
The Central Texas College trustees voted 6-1 on Tuesday to rescind an earlier approval for the Killeen-Temple public broadcasting station to move to a new channel, Channel 17. The Federal Communications Commission is clearing stations from a certain frequency band, which includes KNCT, so it can auction those frequencies to wireless broadband providers, a move called “repacking.”
Repacking, to be completed by 2020, would have cost KNCT about $4.5 million for new equipment and other items, a figure the board anticipated would be covered by federal funds. When it became clear that Congress might be appropriating only enough money to cover 60 percent of the costs, leaving Central Texas College to fund the balance, trustees opted to reverse their past approval.
In a statement after the board’s decision, Central Texas College Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus said fiscal prudence forced the college’s hand.
“Neither the administration nor the CTC board take this decision lightly,” Yeonopolus said. “But as good stewards of our financial resources — comprised primarily of student tuition, state funding and property tax revenue — the decision to rescind has been made. KNCT-TV has a long history of innovation, and we will continue that tradition with digital media moving forward.”
KNCT will continue to stream local programming online, and KNCT general manager Max Rudolph sees the station repurposing itself as an online entity in the digital age with a website offering information, features and Central Texas College coverage.
The impending close to KNCT’s television service — the radio station and academic classes will continue as before — will end an over-the-air public broadcasting signal in Central Texas. The Killeen-Temple public television station went on the air in November 1970 as the area’s first public television station.
KNCT projected its signal into the Waco area through a low-power translator starting in 1978, upgrading the Waco service to a full-power station KCTF, Channel 34, in 1989. The Waco-based Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation assumed control of KCTF in 1994. Five years later, Baylor University took in the foundation and rebranded KCTF as KWBU-TV. Budget constraints later forced Waco public television station KWBU-TV to quit broadcasting in 2010. KNCT then replaced KWBU on many local cable and satellite services.
Rudolph, who has led the station for most of the last 38 years, said the station had run deficits of about $500,000 in recent years that the college had to cover. Regardless of repacking, KNCT was anticipating more expenses to update aging equipment, in addition to increasing costs of PBS programming and operational expenses, he said.
“The board had to make a tough decision, but repacking was only the tip of the iceberg,” Rudolph said. “It’s economics — dollars and cents.”
The public broadcasting station has a 15-person staff handling television and radio broadcasting, with five part-time employees. The television part of KNCT’s budget ran about $1 million, with about half earmarked for PBS dues and programming. Annual income from station subscribers and donors averaged about $160,000, he said.
Rudolph stressed that KNCT’s radio station and the Central Texas College classes taught by station personnel would not be affected by the impending shutdown of KNCT-TV and its side channels, PBS Kids and Create. Rudolph, his staff and college administrators are starting the process of planning the station’s end, though no timeline has been set.
“This is not going to be an overnight deal,” he said, though he thinks it will happen before 2020.
The loss of KNCT will affect those who watch the station’s over-the-air signal the most as that signal will disappear. Area DIRECTV and Dish Network satellite subscribers likely will see College Station’s KAMU-TV in place of KNCT, Rudolph said.
Waco cable television subscribers may find their cable companies moving Dallas’ PBS station KERA or Austin’s KLRU into the channel position filled by KNCT. Efforts to find a Spectrum spokesperson who could address Spectrum’s post-KNCT plans were unsuccessful. Grande Communications vice president Matt Rohre said his company would start talks with the stations involved to find a PBS replacement.
“We want to keep from interrupting service for our customers,” Rohre said.
Grande would see which PBS provider would give the cable company permission to carry its programming, with the possibility that Grande customers could get access to both the Dallas and Austin stations.
“We might flip a coin or get both, if both agree,” Rohre said. “From our perspective, PBS has a lot of programming that people still want to watch.”