Santa Rosa's pioneering bilingual public radio station, KBBF, has endured its share of struggles since it started broadcasting 38 years ago.
Despite limited financial support, poor facilities, internal power struggle, and increasing competition from commercial Spanish language radio stations, the scrappy KBBF has always managed to stay on the air with music, news and programs aiming at Spanish speakers throughout the region.
But the station's new leaders say they have inherited such profound challenges that the survival of the station is now in doubt.
“It feels like we are facing a time when the station, under this particular group, will either go out of existence all together or will rise out of the flames,” said former station manager and current board member Josue Lopez. “We're not going to be able to limp along much longer.”
The station and its owner, the Bilingual Broadcasting Foundation Inc., face a daunting array of financial, physical, legal and licensing challenges.
Members of the new board say they are hopeful they can persevere, but acknowledge the difficulties before them have never been greater.
“It's a sad situation we are in right now,” said Alicia Sanchez, president of the board and a one-time union organizer.
KBBF's downward spiral began about three years ago when it was revealed that station manager Jesus Lozano had a drug conviction. In December of 2008, Lozano began serving a 5-year prison sentence in Oregon, where he had been arrested in 2003 and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell.
Also in 2008, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public radio and television stations and programs, audited KBBF and found “egregious” violations in how taxpayers' money was used by the station, according to spokeswoman Nicole Mezlo.
As a result, the station lost its annual community service grant from the corporation, which at the time was about $125,000 per year, or about a third of the station's entire budget, said board member David Janda, a retired postal worker.