PASO ROBLES — After Paso Robles Joint Unified School District announced a new practice of charging a $100 fee per game to broadcast Bearcat football from their one and only weather-protecting booth, KPRL decided to forgo the bidding process.
The conflict, or opportunity, as Superintendent Chris Williams puts it, began when two radio stations wanted to broadcast Bearcat football games: KPRL, which had traditionally covered the Bearcat high school football games from the booth for almost 50 years, and KJUG, which wanted a chance in the booth as well. Williams said the play to make the booth accessible to other stations was made out of fairness.
But KPRL didn’t take it that well. The station didn’t bid for the booth. Nor did KJUG or any other radio station. KPRL made it known that they weren’t happy with the play.
According to a story from the KPRL website, “The decision by Paso Robles School District administrators to charge radio stations for broadcast of the Bearcat football games has fallen flat.”
The story describes the implementation of formal process in Bearcat booth rights as unusual, stating that no other high school in the county charges radio stations to broadcast their football games. After about a week of hurt feelings, Williams sat down with the stations to both apologize for the confusion and to negotiate. Yet he said the stations expressed the timing of the new protocol came too late in the year. Williams admitted PRJUSD could have handled the timing better.
He said the stations may reconsider next year, and he’s willing to air from the booth for free, but as of now, he and his administration are exploring different plans to broadcast the game, while KPRL has committed to broadcast Templeton Eagle football games and KJUG will cover the Atascadero Greyhound games.
Attempts to reach KPRL and KJUG about their decisions went unanswered.
“It’s not about taking away our tradition,” Williams explained. “We have a rich Bearcat community. In reality there had to be some things adjusted and cleaned up and done correctly by what we’re required to do by regulations. The doors are open. They can still be here. I’ve offered that to both radio stations.”
This change has stirred up both negative and positive reactions from the community.
“I’ve spoken to both channels that were involved,” Williams said. “I definitely wanted to clarify the process. I apologized for any confusion on it. But reality is that we want our kids to expose statewide. So we’ve worked with different groups and we want our kids on the air and people have reached out to us and want to participate with us to have radio going in the homes of every family in Paso Robles. I guarantee that will happen.”
According to Williams, KJUG asked to broadcast in the booth about three years ago. He said he was very pleased with the commentary and coverage KPRL was already providing, but found that since both stations wanted a space in the one booth, a process needed to be developed to determine which one would have the rights.
“When you’re working with a school district and providing a service, and you’re working with students, there are steps you have to take and there are steps that we have to provide. So we want to ensure that everyone provides 100 percent insurance and liability coverage for our school district, which has not been done in the past.”
Williams said some community members might have been confused with the motivation behind the change. He wanted to clarify: “We have not denied any radio station to do work with Paso. 100 percent of our opportunities of any radio station within our district and county would have rights to broadcast our games. So no one’s been denied. No one’s been turned away. Period,” he said.
Williams further explained, if something were to happen against board policy, the district would need the proper legal requirements in place. So he and his staff consulted with the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section office and came up with an equity program that worked with the school district’s goals and fit into the requirements of the Athletic Event Broadcasting Guidelines.
A certain unwritten, casual booth priority to KPRL had been in place. But Williams said having a system on file is what created the process. Equity, fairness, and access is what Williams said his staff was going for.
This is the Bearcats’ last season in the Southern Section. Williams has been thinking quite a bit lately on how to manage the high school football broadcasting.
According to CIF regulations, if a broadcast company is part of a non-student based program, the outside vendor has to pay the Southern Section $300 per game.
“So when we move into the Central Section next year, there aren’t any parameters and no one has to pay any money to Central Section, and there’s no fee base that has to go in unless it goes to the playoffs because ESPN radio has first right of refusal, so ESPN pays annually and if they choose to air the game, the outside vender would have to pay $100 to CIF to broadcast the game. And if ESPN did not broadcast the game, they still have to pay $100,” Williams said.
“In the past, one particular radio station would provide either four or five-hundred-dollars donation annually to our boosters. For us there is no need for revenue. There is no expectation of revenue for us. In fact we’ve had numerous people come forward that said if it’s a revenue issue we will cover the cost.”
He said all money coming in from the bidding process would go directly into the student body fund, providing additional support for uniforms or reconditioning of football equipment if needed. “We need zero dollars, nor do we have any anticipation to make money on any of these,” Williams said.
Williams is open to options moving forward. He said PRJUSD is currently working with a company that has submitted a formal proposal. But if stations don’t actually submit a contract proposal for the booth, but they would like to discuss other options, even if they choose not to pay the suggested fee and still would like to broadcast, Williams said his answer will be “absolutely.”
Williams said the answer to this issue is simple and can be paired down to three options.
His staff is looking at live streaming the game internally, through a student-based program within the Paso District. This would be a no-cost option.
Independent live streaming is a second option, since CIF and not PRJUSD, owns the rights to live stream.
The third solution would be for local radio stations to negotiate within the new system of bidding for a broadcast radio spot. Williams reiterated that it’s not the money the PRJUSD district is after.
“This was a very simple issue of finding an equitable process,” Williams said, and expressed much gratitude for the way the Bearcat games have been covered over the years on the radio. He said he’s spent the past week talking with several people about the district’s responsibility in the airing of games.
“Some feelings got hurt. Some emotions got attached.” Williams said he was absolutely surprised at the reaction to the new process. “I was more surprised that people didn’t step up to come back and do business with us again.”
“Some of the people that approached how the process had happened, first of all, they had very limited information,” he said.
Williams released a letter to local news website the Paso Robles Daily News to explain the bidding process. He said he is still willing to sit down and talk to anyone who still needs clarification on the broadcasting decision, and for those who still have harsh words he said, “Talk to me. Those people who have come forward have a better understanding and we haven’t had that many issues once we’ve talked to them.”
“Those that don’t like things, well listen, I didn’t come here to be mediocre and they’re not going to change my passion and purpose,” Williams said.
You may contact reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected]