KLRN Host Rick Casey speaks to the 2015 mayor candidates at KLRN. Photo by Scott Ball.
KLRN-TV host Rick Casey Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Texas Week with Rick Casey, the signature weekly news and public affairs program broadcast by KLRN-TV for the past seven years, will make its final on-air appearance Thursday, Sept. 14, according to an internal memo sent to staff by CEO and President Arthur Rojas Emerson on Aug. 30.

Emerson confirmed the news in a Wednesday interview with the Rivard Report.

“It’s a real blow, I’m very sad about that news,” he said. “At issue is the lack of funding for the program. We are out of money needed to produce the program and we have no new commitments.”

The weekly program, which for most of its run was broadcast Friday evenings and repeated Sunday, and posted on KLRN’s website, costs about $144,000 a year to produce, according to Emerson. That sum includes a modest salary paid to Casey.

Texas Week includes a weekly segment with the Austin-based nonprofit Texas Tribune that often has featured its founder and CEO Evan Smith or one of its editors or reporters. With the demise of Casey’s program, San Antonio will be one of the largest markets in the country in the nonprofit Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s network without a regularly scheduled local news and public affairs program.

“The program was launched by my predecessor, Bill Moll, with three-year funding commitments from three individuals,” Emerson said. “After three years we won a grant that kept us going, and then we did a function with [RK group founder] Rosemary Kowalski that was successful. All the while we have been looking for new funders, but without success.”

Emerson’s Aug. 30 memo to staff echoes those fundraising challenges:

Dear KLRN staff,

We’ve been in conversations since July with Rick Casey regarding funding for “Texas Week.” At issue is that funds for this program will be completely depleted in September. Past support had come from individuals and grants that chose not to renew.

Sponsors and ad agencies inform us that clients prefer to not be associated with public affairs programs, and across the PBS System programs of this nature have been a financial challenge.

Additional fundraising efforts included on-air packages that feature “Texas Week” along with all our news and public affairs programs. We produced an announcement with Rick encouraging financial support and a tag following each program inviting viewers to become patrons.

In order to keep Texas Week on the air we offered Rick an alternative pay structure that is in harmony with other talent fees.

At this time Rick has decided the alternative pay structure does not work for him. “Texas Week” will conclude production in September. We shared with Rick that we have no plans to replace him with another host. The decision to end production of “Texas Week” is solely based on funding.

Having “Texas Week with Rick Casey” has been good for KLRN in that it offers our viewers local public affairs programing, and we continue to explore ideas to keep Rick associated with the station providing that costs are recovered.

Arthur

Emerson said he has had success raising funds to repair and upgrade the KLRN building at 501 Broadway St. near the corner of McCullough Avenue that houses the station’s broadcast studios, as part of a larger capital campaign now underway.

“We received a $500,000 commitment from the McCombs Family Foundation earlier this year to replace some equipment in our building, which still needs a new roof, and it is now named the Charline McCombs Media Center,” Emerson said.

“Listen, if you can come to my rescue and help raise new funding, we will kiss you and put Rick Casey right back on the air,” Emerson added. “Rick Casey brought real luster to KLRN when he returned to San Antonio seven years ago.”

Rick Casey (right) interviews San Antonio River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott (center) and Assistant General Manager Stephen Graham (left) for Texas Week with Rick Casey on Sept. 1, 2017 "Prepping for Megastorms."
Journalist Rick Casey (right) interviews San Antonio River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott (center) and Assistant General Manager Stephen Graham (left) for Texas Week with Rick Casey’s “Prepping for Megastorms” on Sept. 1. Credit: Courtesy KLRN / Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Asked why he thought he and the station’s development staff were unable to secure funding for KLRN’s showcase local program, Emerson  said, “The sense I gather is that news and public affairs programs that from time to time have a political nature cause sponsors to shy away.”

Emerson was involved in a highly controversial incident in February when he prevented broadcast of Casey’s “Last Word” commentary that was critical of  U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). That decision, first reported by San Antonio Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia, led to a backlash against Emerson and a wave of support for Casey’s editorial independence.

Even if the news of the program’s pending cancellation leads to new funding, Casey is looking to the next chapter of life as a journalist and writer, he said in an interview Wednesday. His distinguished journalistic career has spanned four decades, including writing stints with the National Catholic Reporter, the Seattle Times, and a 24-year run as a leading columnist for the San Antonio Light, which closed in 1993, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Houston Chronicle, three Texas dailies owned by the Hearst Corporation.

“I would love to see the program continue beyond me,” Casey said Wednesday. “But once you’ve set a retirement date, you’ve retired. Next week will be the last show. It will be my last word. If there is any new support for continuing the show, I would support that, but I have some writing projects in mind – a book – and it won’t get done if I have other things to do.”

Casey, a 1968 graduate of St. Mary’s University, was one of the most influential and widely read journalists of his generation in San Antonio and South Texas. Earlier in his career, the Kansas City, Mo.-based National Catholic Reporter hired him to spend one year living in a camper, John Steinbeck-style, traveling the United States’ back roads in search of stories for the magazine’s national audience of Catholics.

When Carlos Guerra was hired as the first high-profile Mexican-American columnist at the San Antonio Light, Casey became his first editor while also writing his own column. In that role he helped Guerra develop his trademark voice for the hundreds of thousands of people in the city and region who until then were unaccustomed to seeing the work of a Hispanic columnist presented on page one.

Guerra died in 2010.

Casey and Guerra, along with Light columnists Buck Harvey and Susan Yerkes, were the only four journalists from the Light hired by the Express-News in the immediate aftermath of one of the nation’s last newspaper wars, one that ended with the closure of the Light in 1993 and acquisition of the Express-News by Hearst from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Casey retired from his position as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle in 2011. He and his wife Kristen returned to San Antonio and their life in King William where they had previously lived and where they remain a familiar couple.

Casey’s program that airs Thursday at 7 p.m. will feature a one-on-one interview with UTSA student and Dreamer Andrea Fernandez. His Last Word segment to close the show, ironically, credits Rep. Lamar Smith with “changing his tune” on his long denial of climate change.

The final program of Texas Week With Rick Casey will be broadcast Thursday, Sept. 14.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.