(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt of a commentary titled “Free Public Radio Is Anything But,” which appeared Feb. 23, 2011, at National Review Online.)
Despite claims that public radio only costs U.S. citizens $1.35 a year, the real-world costs are far higher. I interviewed several public radio station employees recently, and discovered state taxpayers cover far more of the costs it takes to bring “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Car Talk” to listeners.
National Public Radio listeners are being inundated with warnings that they soon may have to drive to work every morning without the sonorous intonations of Morning Edition’s Corey Flintoff, Steve Inskeep and Renée Montagne, and may be forced to drive home without the narrative drone of All Things Considered’s Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block.
Just this morning, I received a panicked e-mail from the director of broadcasting at an NPR affiliate in my home state, Michigan. You know, one of those state-based public-radio operations that just last October received a portion of George Soros’s $1.8 million Open Society Foundation gift to hire two government reporters in each of the 50 states; one of the same group of radio stations benefiting from the Joan Kroc Foundation’s $200 million endowment in 2003; one of the same stations that host interminable on-air fundraisers at least twice a year.
They are warning that Congress may eliminate taxpayer subsidies to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity that heaps money on 900 NPR affiliates across the country.
The warnings reek of disingenuousness.
After all, crying poverty is public broadcasting’s modus operandi. If it didn’t do it extremely well, no one would donate during those radiothons, corporations wouldn’t spend huge sums of money to sponsor programming, and “people just like you” wouldn’t forgo paying the cable bill so they could help meet a challenge grant from neighbors and co-workers.
As an example of how much begging public radio does, Wisconsin Public Radio — a network of 32 stations programmed by seven regional stations — reported that 13 percent of its total budget in 2009 was used for fundraising. Additionally, the network’s website reveals that 25 percent ($1.94 million) of the revenues garnered from listener and corporate donations ($6.25 million and $1.58 million, respectively) are directly allocated to fundraising.
So it came as no surprise when I received the director’s e-mail, which warns, “I believe this is one of the most serious challenges to public broadcasting that we have ever faced.”
Not mentioned in his emotional appeal are the substantial costs American taxpayers are stuck with. Read more here.