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KRWG on the NMSU campus is dedicated to connecting with the community

With a bad economy and being in congressional crosshairs, this has been a difficult time to be in public broadcasting. But KRWG-TV and KRWG-FM on the campus of New Mexico State University are proving their mettle.

Portrait of Glen Cerny in the control room at KRWG-TV.
Glen Cerny is the director of university broadcasting at New Mexico State University. He oversees the operations of public media stations KRWG-TV and KRWG-FM. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"Some of the things we've accomplished at KRWG during some very turbulent times include staying really true to our vision, which is simply to provide relevant news, a forum for open discussion, a celebration of the arts, while preserving human and natural history," said Glen Cerny, director of university broadcasting, overseeing KRWG-TV and KRWG-FM. "It's a pretty common public media goal, but for us to see some of the things that we have been doing to fulfill that mission is very gratifying."

It's especially gratifying for Cerny because his stations have to compete for fundraising dollars against two other public broadcasting outfits in El Paso, Texas: Public Broadcasting Service KCOS-TV and National Public Radio station KTEP-FM on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso.

"That kind of dilutes some of our exclusivity," Cerny said. "On the other hand, as far as electronic media in Southern New Mexico, we are pretty unique. We are unique with TV."

Now entering his sixth year at KRWG, Cerny has devoted himself to keeping both the television and radio stations active members of the community. This past summer, both stations launched "Fronteras - A Changing America," a regional radio news magazine and a weekly public affairs TV program that look at the issues affecting the border region. KRWG-FM also is part of a multi-station public media project in the Southwest called "Fronteras - The Changing America Desk," which features reports from stations throughout the region, including KRWG.

"Because we are public media, we have to look at the total public," Cerny said. "Now the fact that (our community is) over 50 percent Hispanic is a little difficult for me to ignore. That's what programs like our participation in 'Fronteras' address; we want to look at ourselves and ask, 'What can we do better to serve the community, even become a better citizen of the community?'"

Cerny also is determined to create partnerships between the stations and the community to better leverage each other's strengths. He is particularly keen on building bridges with area schools.

"I think what is terribly lacking is that youth in our community do not have a voice," he said. "I'm old. I don't know what's going on in middle school; I don't have a clue about what it's like to be a high school student. Our young people need to have a voice. They need to have a sense that they can be heard. We're trying to launch some initiatives with some school systems to give them that voice."

Fred Martino, assistant executive director of KRWG-TV also serves as marketing chair for the Las Cruces Mayor's Top Teens Committee.

"The committee recognizes area high school students who excel in their academic work while also giving back to the community," Martino said.

The Top Teens have been featured on KRWG-FM and KRWG-TV, and the TV station maintains a Top Teens YouTube page that hosts archived interviews.

And, of course, there's all the work those Muppets on "Sesame Street" do to enhance preK literacy.

"It takes time to build these partnerships. It has to be very clear that you are available for that kind of partnership; that you want to entertain those kinds of partnerships and join in. It's easier to combine two existing programs than it is to create one. The money just isn't there to create," Cerny said. "You also have to be out in the community, so you are visible and show you truly are available. It's easy to sit in an office in Milton Hall and not get the word out."

Cerny and his staff regularly conduct two-hour coffee visits out in the community so members of the public can learn more about what the two KRWG stations have to offer. Among those offerings is the television news magazine "Newsmakers," which focuses on the people, issues and events that shape the regional community. Martino hosts the show.

"We also host economic and candidate forums in conjunction with the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and other partners," Martino said.

In keeping with NMSU's status as a land-grant institution, Cerny also has developed programming to reflect the university and community's agricultural roots. Prominent among those efforts is the TV show "Field Trip!" which follows products from the farm to the home.

"It took a good four years, but we were able to produce 13 episodes of "Field Trip!" last year," Cerny said.

This year, "Field Trip!" is being distributed nationally.

"The mission of public broadcasting and the mission of a land-grant institution are on a very close, parallel track. The university's mission is to create education opportunities across the entire state," Cerny said. "With two other stations (KNME-TV in Albuquerque and KENW-TV in Portales), I don't cover the whole state. But from Silver City to Deming to Truth or Consequences to Alamogordo, all the way down to even Juarez, we help the university fulfill that land-grant mission of providing services."

The two KRWGs also serve the student population at NMSU by acting as a learning lab for journalism and broadcast production students.

"Students have access to field cameras and digital editing suites to produce material for a television newscast," Martino said.

During the fall and spring semesters, the student-produced newscast, News22, airs Tuesday through Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on KRWG-TV. News22 is directed by Nick Miller, a former long-time anchor and managing editor at the NBC affiliate in El Paso, KTSM.

KRWG-FM also provides students with the opportunity to intern for academic
credit, Martino said. In addition, students produce radio news stories in the studio and in the field, and have access to digital audio recorders and state-of-the-art digital production studios.

Students from NMSU's Creative Media Institute also have proven invaluable not only to News22 efforts, but behind the scenes for KRWG-TV, as well.

"We also have AggieVision, the production unit that produces all of the university's athletic events. During a game we'll have 14 students running cameras, audio, replay, and to be honest, we couldn't do it without them," Cerny said. "Without the students we are a very different organization. We have enough good students that they can pick up the skills they need to do a very professional job."

Looking to the future, Cerny said he would love for KRWG-TV and radio be recognized as the leading sources of news and information for the region.

"We're building a legacy that could last for years. If we do it right, if we can create this media organization, it's going to be an asset for this region for decades," he said. "I hope in five years little kids are still clapping with Elmo."