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February 17, 2011


Tim in Albion

Congress cannot de-fund NPR, only the CPB. CPB does not directly fund NPR; it gives money to local public radio stations. Many of those do indeed turn around and buy NPR programming with some or all of the CPB grant money, which itself makes up only a fraction of the total station budget. Others however buy little or no NPR programming, instead using the CPB grants to keep producing local content. Cutting the CPB kills those stations dead, along with many of the NPR affiliates. NPR itself can undoubtedly survive the loss of CPB - but the local public radio stations cannot. This is indeed a politically-motivated attack on speech, but it will strike at the wrong targets.

Cascades Tom

"Sometimes skewed" ??? Eric, you are not being candid here. NPR targets many of us and our values and political positions day after day after day in their broadcasts! Why were you not writing editorials about that in the past? NPR has not represented any really broad cross-section of American views for many years; and they do not even tolerate objectivity (ask Juan Williams) - so why should they be funded by the public?

Kim Mays

How do you figure that NPR programming is "left-leaning"? Please be specific.

Doc Searls

Good piece. Some extra notes, to clear a few things up, especially with other commenters...

NPR is the biggest name in public radio, but it is not all of public radio. PRI, PRX, American Public Media and various stations also produce and distribute programs.

While NPR is a target of this political attack, it can get along fine without CPB funding, which currently contributes only about 1.5% of NPR's revenues. (In my own opinion, NPR would be wise, politically, to let it go and say they are off the public teat.)

NPR is a producer and wholesale distributor of programs. If you like All Things Considered, you can't pay NPR for it, any more than you can pay a wholesaler for a retail product. You have to pay the retailer in the system, which is the public radio station.

NPR is a membership organization. The members are stations to which NPR distributes programs. Back in '83 years ago the stations got together and saved NPR from bankruptcy. What followed was the organization that exists today. NPR's board is comprised of station representatives. It can do nothing that compromises its wholesaler-retailer relationship with stations.

In respect to the above, NPR has a problem that sources of commercial radio programming also share. That problem is that listening in general is drifting from transmitters to files and streams. You can get Fresh Air and Talk of the Nation from any public station in the country on your phone or your pad, over wi-fi or the cell phone data system. You can also get podcasts of the shows. This creates a classic channel conflict. NPR has handled it well so far, but in the long run it's a big problem. If you, as a listener, want to "go direct," you can. What matters for RadioInk readers is that NPR's problem here is merely a harbinger for the whole industry.

The parties that will be hurt most by a CPB funding cut are the smaller public stations, many of which may not be viable without that support. This may have the unintended effect of pissing off the electorate in GOP-friendly states that will find themselves without the only remaining news and information stations on their radio dials.

In terms of listening, public radio does very well. Look at the ratings at http://www.radio-info.com/. (Arbitron AQH 12+) KUOW is #4 in Seattle. KQED is #2 in San Francisco and #1 in San Jose. WAMU and WETA are #s 4 and 5 in Washington, DC. KOPB is #2 in Portland. Throw in the secondary public stations, and in many places you're looking at shares in the teens. NPR's cume nationwide is in excess of 30 million people, most of whom, I would bet, vote.

A big reason NPR does well is that its news and public affairs staff is filled with principled people who work for their conscience and not for George Soros or the ghost of Joan Kroc. NPR is not the partisan mirror image of Fox News, and there are no personalities on NPR that serve the Left the way Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck serve the Right. Talk interview shows like On Point and Talk of the Nation go out of their way to bring in voices from both sides. Look at http://npr.org. Is this a partisan site? Challenge to critics: show where. Yes, the firing of Juan Williams was handled terribly, but it's beside a larger point, which is that NPR still does a helluva job. And, hey, if caring about arts and culture and the complicated nature of the real world is a lefty thing to do, so be it. At least some broadcasters still care.

Technically, NPR (and PBS) have been leaders in adopting new technologies. They pioneered and shook down the use of RDS, satellite distribution, podcasting, standards-based streaming, smartphone apps, APIs and other good things. Yes, they made a bad bet on HD radio, but so did plenty of commercial stations, and the jury is still out. In any case, the problem with HD radio wasn't public radio's use of it (or its alleged mis-use of CPB funds). It was iBiquity's proprietary technology, its keiretsu of investors and developers, and the absence of serious-enough interest by manufacturers, thanks to those other factors. HD radio is not yet the disaster that AM stereo was, but the causes and effects are similar enough to draw parallels. At least, as David Harris says (above), public stations are generally making good use of their additional HD channels.

Public radio has one big advantage over commercial radio: it's customers and consumers are not separate populations. With commercial radio, the customers are advertisers, and the consumers are listeners, which are sold to advertisers. With public radio, listeners are customers. There is a direct market relationship (the kind conservative Republicans should like and understand) between stations and listeners. Public radio folks hate to talk about their listeners as customers (preferring to call them 'members' or 'supporters'), but listeners do play a customer role when they pay for the goods, and this matters a great deal. The fact that the majority of public radio listeners still don't pay for the goods is beside this critical point about the marketplace: that there is a direct and accountable relationship here — and one that's lacking in commercial radio. And it is a serious competitive advantage for public radio.

Should CPB funds be cut, this market relationship between stations and listeners will get a lot closer, and public radio will end up stronger — and offering much more competition to commercial radio. (Disclosure: I'm working on one funding approach that will reduce the frictions that currently meet listeners wishing to make donations and become involved with their stations and program sources. For what it's worth, the approach can help commercial radio too. This explains it: http://bit.ly/dYwWMl)

So, to sum up, there are several stories here, and they transcend this one political attack. And that attack may well prove to be a bad move.

Travis Medcalf

I once ran off the road and hit a tree when an NPR stations pledge drive stated that "You need to give because All Things Considered costs this station 325 THOUSAND dollars a year!"

I got the power and objectivity of CBS News at my station for Barter. This taxpayer waste of money needs to go truly public and get the money from he people that have written here who care. Not the taxpayer who doesn't. Get off my teat NPR. The picnic is over!

Leander Pearson

Without public funding, NPR will go the way of Air-America. They cater to the entitlement crowd who don't want to pay for anything. I was a sometime listener of NPR until their left-turn several years ago. I would prefer that my tax pennies go elsewhere.

On a political level, Republicans are exacting revenge for last year's attempt to reinstall the fairness doctrine on ALL radio stations (except for NPR, of course).

Chris Merrill

I like pudding. I want Boysenberry flavored pudding. There are no Boysenberry flavored snack packs. It is vital to the balance of the pudding industry to have contrasting flavors. Therefore, the government should allocate YOUR taxes to satisfy my niche taste. LARGE vats of tasty pudding, desirable by only a few, should be manufactured at a cost to the many because it's FAIR that I be given a fair and equal opportunity to satisfy my wants. Mmmmmmmm.... slow, monotone, long pausing, unmarketable PUDDING!!!!!

Roy H. Williams

Eric, the essence of your position was summed up in your statement, "If public broadcasting were a target only for financial reasons, I’d be less impassioned to save it. But it’s being targeted because of the politics of the people running it. That bugs me. Shutting down opposing viewpoints can never be a good idea."

I agree with you. I've been politically conservative for most of my life but I'm beginning to hear ravings from fringe conservatives that sound just a bed sheet away from being K.K.K. If the money were the true motive behind this, okay. But it isn't. The motive is rage. And that gives me pause, as it obviously does you.

Steve Fuss

Are you nuts? NPR will become a commercial competitor to you. They will have a great demo, a very loyal base and you will have a local group who starts looking at your public file, your compliance with public service and other FCC mandates. Also this is only the Republicans throwing Meat to their dumb followers, it ain't going to get through the Senate. Glad I'm out of this Business run by the Bean Counters and the short sighted.

Richard Boekeloo

I have no bone to pick with NPR/CPB. It does produce good programming. It well serves a demographic. It chooses not to be apolitical, which is fine by me lest we get the worse evil of a 'fairness' doctrine. I do not want it to disappear, but I have a host of reasons why it should have NEVER been tax-funded at all.

1. NPR/CPB is nothing more than a network operation no less than Citadel, Premiere, Westwood and the ilk. I am unclear on how there can be ANY rationale for tax-funding this network over any other independent network.

2. Since relieved of the 'Fairness Doctrine', NPR has slid toward the left of the poltiical spectrum, which is just fine by me. I don't WANT broadcasting to be apolitical. The evolution of free political speech on broadcast has brought the debate closer to the public ... a good thing. However, we now run afoul of using TAX FUNDS, which puts the government into the broadcast equivalent position of sponsoring a religion, or in this case, a political point of view. Whether one believes MSNBC or FOX are political pawns is immaterial. That is PRIVATE money and I'm free to choose my poison. With TAX money, not only NO, but HECK NO ... not with tax money. To dismiss this as a minor annoyance against the notion of 'a public good' is to be intellectually dishonest. There are two fixes; eliminate the tax funds or invoke the 'Fairness Doctrine' on PUBLIC broadcasting and insist on a balance that would also fund the likes of a Limbaugh all affiliates are forced to carry. Can you imagine what the streets of D.C. would look like? The whole place would be littered with progressives who dropped dead on the spot with siezures. T.E.A. party members get epilepsy over raising and feeding Nina Totenberg. What's fair is fair.

3. The tax funding is a shell game, plain and simple. Before any non-comm can run an NPR program, it must first become a dues paying NPR member and it must use a portion of the grant money it receives via CPB/NPR to buy NPR programming. I'll bet the execs at Premiere lay awake at night trying to figure out how to make that work.

4. Tax funding is anti-comptetitive. There is NO law that prevents you and me from going into the non-comm network programming business in competition with NPR. The very first thing we get is $70-mill from Congress, because that's only fair. If GOOD programming justifies $70-mill, tell me why BETTER programming through competition is not justified by $140-mill. NPR claims it can barely make it. I know you and I can make it highly profitable, starting with the most gorgeous radio studios in the WORLD. The first thing we'll do is let stations buy without paying dues so they'll get more for the grant money we give them as they flip it back to us. One problem, though ... finding news reporters who know how to be news reporters instead of editorialists. Maybe Soros can help us with that.

5. I accept on face value the claim by NPR member stations that incoming grants cover a bare niggling portion of expenses. Well, it should be no big deal to ask the aficianados of NPR programming to write their checks for $102 instead of $100 during fund raising week that runs year round and leave any one who does not like or cannot get NPR, ALONE. Tighten the belt, instead ... it builds character.

6. Major NPR affiliates are actually states as licensees of a state network along with independents. By what rationale are we to ask the people of Wyoming to fund New Jersey public radio? If that makes any sense, then let's bail out the nuts who bankrupted California while we are at it.

7. Politicians are a breed that jump at the chance to 'fix' a crisis, except for one. The debt crisis is real and our 'leaders' are so-far impotent with it. It is not political, any more. It's mathematics, which I remember to be apolitical; at least it used to be. $200-mill of CPB funding is raised by selling T-bills to borrow it, $40-mill of which comes from China. If we, as a nation, cannot get control of this 'little' stuff against the looming disaster that is coming, then enjoy your tax funded NPR programming when you move into "Tent City". Further, any good manager knows that EXPENSE CONTROL is everything. Revenue does NOT matter if expenses are not held in check. Bankrupt is bankrupt.

8. Anyone who thinks CPB/NPR is not driven to protect their assets has already forgotten what CPB did to a civic club when it innocently put on a public event for kids with someone dressed up in a "Barney" costume. CPB made it very clear to that club what would happen if it didn't stop.

9. How many of you think Jim Henson passed away as a pauper? How much of Kermit-the-Frog does the public own for its tax money? 0%.

10. The non-comm commercialism rules are no longer that far afield of standard commercial broadcast, relaxed by the FCC to aid COMMERCIAL funding. I don't care about that, just quit telling me CPB/NPR is operating like a non-profit.

In conclusion, there are a lot of things I want that I cannot have. It's time for CPB/NPR to live in the real world. Note that I didn't even talk about the Juan Williams debacle for one good reason. Life isn't fair, stupidity is not limited to NPR executives and I heard a rumor that Roger Ailes broke is right index finger doing a desk dive for his phone to hit Williams speed-dial number. What it did do was bring into question everything else NPR does. I, for one, prefer they do it without tax money.

Jerry Ferch

Collectively, we Americans have been lulled into a mentality of national financial security that no longer exists. It may have been true ten or twenty years ago that the US could still "afford" various national financial frivolities, but it has always been with the caveat that our gross misappropriation of funds from social program taxation would cause a huge price to be paid somewhere down the line. We are now at the point where either we take action to pay that huge price by massively trimming our bloated national budget or we become the victims of a catastophic financial crisis that will be of our own making. I, like many people, enjoy NPR, but cutting NPR's budget is just the beginning of what we, as a country, must do. The US spends money like a drunken sailor. The sailor needs to sober up, stop spending on alot of things and (I guess) he will need to do all of this while listening to ad supported radio.

Gary Weber

i am a Public Broadcast Fan. I make My Living In Commercial Radio. Like Manny of my successful co workers I started in College on Public Radio. The methods of story building and research that NPR reporters have the freedom to do and contrary to the false doctrine of Conservative Talk show hosts, there is no Bias to the left. The stories are straight down the middle where they falls sometimes makes both liberals and conservatives uneasy because when its the truth and it does not go in your favor you try to blame the messenger. NPR is needed for a Healthy and Free Broadcast spectrum. The investment of the Federal funding pays off in big dividends so we can have this option.

Byron J. Garby

Completely disagree with the editorial. Public funds should not be used in hundreds of areas; that it can start here is fabulous. Importantly also, given that public radio provides, as you suggest, a counter point to conventional airwaves, perhaps without NPR, that will open the door to a PRIVATE broadcaster to consider this option, thereby being the best of both worlds.

Byron Garby

Chuck Kay

I am a very conservative person in the radio busness and I feel exactly the same way as Eric. I listen to NPR every morning for news and almost all day on Sat.
I don't think we need to worry about Soros funding it....he does not want another "Air America". That worked well, didn't it?
We should continue to fund it with the threat of pulling the money if they get too far off track. I really think they learned a big lesson with the Juan Williams affair.
They definitely have good programming no one else will duplicate.

David Harris

It would be a tragic mistake to "defund" public broadcasting in the USA. Their programming is top notch and nowhere duplicated by the "for profit" stations. They use their HD channels with real and useful programming instead of additional crap from the "for profit" folks. If their analysis is seen by some to be left of center it is probably because those observers are screaming for Obama to fail and ready to do anything to obstruct and defeat any plan put forth by the Democratic Party. Nothing on the NPR stations comes within light years of the sickening vile on the AM "talk shows". The public monies that go to NPR and PBS are minuscule and should be increased. Proposals to defund public broadcasting has NOTHING to do with reducing the tax burden on the American public, and EVERYTHING to do with the concerted Republican Party effort to benefit their party at the expense of our country.

Greg Smith (HDRadioFarce)

It's time to get these NPR shysters off taxpayer dollars. They already scammed Congress out of tens-of-millions for "upgrades" to shoddy HD Radio. It's a given that HD Radio is a failure on many fronts. NPR is nothing more that liberal propaganda. Here's the Facebook site to defund NPR, as I proudly display it on my blog:


"I’m a fan of NPR and public radio, and not a fan of HD Radio, but..." LOL!

Greg Smith - The Farce Guy

Scott Todd

I like your idea of weaning them off the public dole. But with a whole bunch of new reporters hired with a "donation" from George Soros, I think we can dispense with any pretense of their objectivity.

Billy Craig

That was fantastic and very very well said....thanks!

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