Last night at the JazzFest (what a glorious party of music, people, food, and drink) one of our patrons asked me about our relationship, as a station, with NPR.
“Does NPR own you?” (I chuckled because, honestly, there are days when it feels like that. Our financial relationship with NPR is a challenging one.)
No, it’s a really different kind of relationship. We are a customer of NPR, a client of sorts.
When Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 (originally titled the Public Television Act, I believe, with radio not mentioned at all. It’s a great story), what we now know as NPR (National Public Radio) was born. There have been lots of changes and reimaginations and new funding structures in the interim years, but today NPR produces content and stations buy that content.
And the government supports the process by funding individual stations through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Here at Northeast Indiana Public Radio, we get about 10% of our operating budget from CPB. For this year we’ll receive about $120,000. Through a very convoluted formula, our allocation is based on how much support we get from our community. So CPB bases its opinion of how much we’re worth on our statistics showing how much our community thinks we’re worth.
And then we get to take that money and buy the programming that serves our community (It should be noted that our total programming costs approach $400,000 a year. You can see why pledge drives exist.). We buy a lot of that programming from NPR – Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Diane Rehm, On Point, Talk of the Nation, Car Talk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, Fresh Air Weekend, On the Media . . . . but we’re free to purchase whatever programming fits our community. We also purchase programming from APM (American Public Media ) – A Prairie Home Companion, Splendid Table, Speaking of Faith – and PRI (Public Radio International ) – This American Life, BBC News Service. In addition, we have access to a huge selection of independently produced programs, like Travel with Rick Steves, from around the world. We pick up several of those over the holidays, for special events, and when we see something of particular interest.
And, of course, we produce our own programming. Our local news, Midday Matters, Con Brio on WBNI, Connexxion Latinas well as many music programs such as The Burnt Toast Show, Little Brother Radio, Folk Tales, Saturday Fade, All That Jazz, Matinee, In the Spotlight, Best Seat in the House, and more.
So, it’s a system that in theory makes good sense. The government (well, some folks in government) believe public broadcasting is important to an informed electorate and so support stations that qualify as “public” broadcasters. Rather than funding the content providers, like NPR, which might lead somebody somewhere to think that the government was controlling the content itself (go figure), through CPB the government funds individuals stations and we (and by “we”, I mean a not-for-profit organization led by a community based unpaid board of directors who hire and evaluate the staff leadership and oversee the decisions, direction, and community support) choose our own content and provide it through broadcast, and now interesting new high tech ways, to our community. And the community provides feedback, input, financial support and direction as we go along.
So, no, NPR doesn’t own us. We’re partners with them in providing news and information, music and culture that presents a very broad spectrum of content that we hope informs our community in a radically different way than most media outlets. We belong to this community.
Thanks for asking.