As part of the NPR "New Realities" workshops, attendees were asked to write a letter to their grand duaghters about the journey public radio has taken in the past decade. The missive below is one of those letters. Perhaps a bit optimistic, but why not?
March 26, 2016
Well, as they say – "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times." A lot has happened to make public radio what is today. When you were born, cars generally only had standard AM & FM radios. Satellite radio was just starting to become popular and multicast radios were still pretty much a gamble.
We were still going to the Congress for a yearly support grant and that was getting harder and harder and harder to get. They really cut back on the money they gave to stations and it was very hard on some stations.
Many stations started to spend a lot of time just raising funds. They had to cut many programs and local services like news and a lot of people lost their jobs. Some stations couldn’t make it and had to go off the air and their stations were snatched by commercial and religious broadcasters.
Then, President Clinton was elected and like her husband, she gave public TV and radio their due. There was not a whole lot more money, but at least there was some stability and we were back to our old funding levels. But the funds that radio stations needed to go beyond just providing a regular service were still well out of reach.
Don’t get me wrong, we appreciated the support and in many ways it set forth the tremendous success we have today. But it was still a yearly process that really cost a lot of effort to get.
But then, Susan, some very forward thinking people in Congress who were very disappointed with the state of media in the country devised a plan. Why were they disappointed? Well, over the years, just about all of the commercial media had been purchased by just four huge companies. They owned just about every TV channel – cable, satellite and broadcast, and just about every radio station as well --- satellite, internet and broadcast too.
The people in congress were upset that independent media – local radio and TV stations were quickly becoming a thing of the past and were soon to be as useful as a videotape recorder. They were really worried that the diversity of speech that had built America was being lost. They looked around and found that public radio, TV and public service media may be the last best hope for the voices of “regular” Americans to be heard.
While there wasn’t enough support to just give public radio and TV the money they needed, there was support for a public-private partnership – the kinds that President Bush – the 2nd one – tried to make popular. They worked out a plan that gave the stations a real incentive to find major contributions. They proposed and passed a matching grant program that would replace the yearly federal funding mechanism and would give public radio and TV a much more secure future.
They created the “Public Service Media Endowment” which is what we are using today for the major portion of our funds. They promised to match contributions from corporate and private American up to $10 billion. So, the stations, NPR and PBS pulled together and cooperated on a national campaign to raise $10 billion that the Federal government would match. Within 4 years, the dollars – and then some -- were raised and a $21 billion endowment was created. So, now every public radio and TV station – along with some national public service media organizations, receive yearly grants from this huge savings account. We never take money out of the $21 billion, just the interest that it makes – just like your account at the internet bank.
Now, while it didn’t eliminate our pledge drives, it sure cut them down a lot. We only do one a year now!
And since we didn’t have to spend nearly as much time raising funds and fighting Congress all the time, we were able to spend a lot more time creating new programs and services. And of all the changes, I think the biggest change has been our multicast services.
Ten years ago, I was very eager to just start a second service for our station. But now, because the technology had become so good, listeners can receive six different streams on their iPodradio from my station. The diversity of music, talk, and ideas are tremendous!
Now, I have to admit that many people though I was crazy when I started an All-conservative stream, but it’s turned our great! Listeners understand that diversity of thoughts and ideas is the real public service that stations should be engaged in.
Did you know that the “Conservative Caucus” just celebrated its 5th anniversary of being distributed nationally? We’re having a party next month and our special guest is Rush Limbaugh. Who’s Rush Limbaugh? Well, he was a popular radio host once on commercial radio. He’s now a commentator on “Conservative Caucus.”
We'll have cake and ice cream! Want to come with me?
Be good in school and mind you parents.
Hugs & kisses,