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.
The station could reapply in 2012, but before becoming eligible, it would have to repay the $66,000 auditors claim was misspent.
In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which licenses radio stations, is investigating how Lozano's drug conviction affects the station's broadcast license.
FCC investigators appear to be looking into whether Lozano or others perjured themselves when they reapplied for the station's license, Lopez said.
People convicted of drug felonies are not allowed to serve on the staff of public radio stations, Lopez said. Lozano was convicted in 2007, and investigators are looking into whether he and others lied on the applications when they swore that to their knowledge no staff had such felony records, Lopez said.
Janda said he expects the FCC at most would levy a fine in the case, not revoke the station's license. But Lopez said the investigation is "nail biting" because no one really knows what will come of it.
"We don't know precisely what it is they intend," Lopez said.
The most pressing problem facing the station is far more mundane.
Last week the Santa Rosa City Council slapped a $56,000 lien against the station's Finley Avenue property for repeated failures to resolve code issues. For years, the city has been trying to get the station to deal with a failed septic system, an unpermitted addition and lack of water for fire suppression.
Upcoming meeting to explore 4G wireless technology
Santa Rosa and Verizon are holding a series of meetings in coming weeks to allay concerns about its network of 4G “small cell” wireless antenna equipment being installed on utility poles around the city.
The four joint Verizon/city meetings will take place:
— Monday, Feb. 26, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 637 First St.
— Saturday, March 3, from 10 a.m. to noon at Veteran’s Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.
— Thursday, March 8, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Veteran’s Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.
— Saturday, March 10, from 10 a.m. to noon, at Veteran’s Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave.
In addition the City Council is planning to hold a study session on the issue Tuesday, March 6, beginning at 3 p.m. at City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Ave.