There’s a hit list, and Big Bird and my workplace are both on it.
Maybe you’ve heard that the president has a plan to get rid of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Not just reducing funding (again), but eliminating its $445 million in funding altogether.
Ouch. That hurts.
There’s a bunch of other worthy agencies on the Trump administration’s chopping block, but I hope you’ll humor me for a bit while I try to clear up some of the misconceptions about the CPB and public media funding, and help people understand what the situation really looks like from someone who’s been living and breathing public media for the past three decades. I thought the best way to do this is to answer some of the questions I get from time to time about public broadcasting, although most of these questions have been asked by people who don’t actually listen to public radio or watch PBS.Before I get into the real issue, though…the #1 question I am asked on an (almost) daily basis about public radio?
You call yourselves Jefferson Public Radio. Is that because you’re part of the State of Jefferson movement?
No, we are not. When our flagship station in Ashland, OR became more than one station back in 1988, we decided to find a new name. We played around with a lot of names, but ultimately decided on Jefferson Public Radio because our broadcast area at the time mirrored the borders of the “mythical State of Jefferson” effort that was launched in the 1930’s. That effort (you can read about it on our website here, filed under “About”) ended when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, redirecting everyone’s energy and attention, but also resulted in achieving one of the SoJ’s goals, which was a better road system on – as well as to and from – the coast. JPR does not get involved in politics, except when there are political efforts made to defund us.
Which brings me to the current proposal to defund public broadcasting.
What is the CPB and why does it need $445 million dollars?
The CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) was created about 50 years ago to serve as an agency that distributes operating and programming grants to individual public radio and TV stations. So Trump isn’t just trying to defund the CPB’s operating budget, he wants to remove the funds that the CPB distributes to individual stations across the nation. The grants received by some large stations equals a pretty small portion of their budgets, like 10-15%. But for smaller stations in rural areas, that CPB grant is everything. More like 80% of their budget. Without that grant from the CPB, they shut down. Stations like the one I worked at in Alaska, which is the ONLY radio station on the dial, are in serious danger. It is the ONLY source of daily news if you don’t have TV, or live off the grid. Public radio is so vital in rural Alaska, that the crew for the HBO documentary news series VICE traveled there last month to film a segment about the proposed budget cut, and interviewed the entire staff of the station I used to work at for an episode that is expected to air on Monday.
Is that money distributed evenly?Heck no. Of the $445 million, $400 million is distributed to public media. The CPB keeps the change for system support and administration. Public TV gets 75% of the distributions. Public radio gets 25%.
But aren’t public radio stations sitting pretty after the $225 million gift from McDonald’s a few years ago?
Sigh. No. Joan Croc, widow of the legendary McDonald’s empire builder Ray Croc, bequeathed a gigantic gift to public broadcasting when she passed in 2013, bless her kind, philanthropic soul. But the only station that specifically benefitted from her gesture was her hometown public radio station, KPBS in San Diego, CA. She left it $5 million. The other $220 million went to National Public Radio.Yeah, but doesn’t that money trickle down to stations?
Nope. You see, NPR is its own entity. It produces some incredible programs, like All Things Considered and Morning Edition. And public radio stations, like ours, pay them a lot of money (like a lot a lot of money) so that we can carry those programs. We are affiliates. But if we didn’t have the money to pay them, they are not going to give us those programs for free. Besides, NPR took that $220 million and put it into an endowment so that NPR’s future could be stabilized. To help it weather through tough times like now.
If public media is defunded, will Sesame Street disappear?
Negatory. You can tell your children to rest easy, and hug their Tickle Me Elmo doll extra tight tonight, because the production of Sesame Street would be able to endure losing federal funding. That’s because the popularity of this show has been savvily leveraged in extremely lucrative licensing agreements, large corporate sponsorships and has even entered into an agreement with HBO. But Forbes hit the nail on the head when they claimed “Trump’s Budget Won’t Kill Big Bird, But It May Make Him Endangered.”
Here’s why, short and sweet: Killing the budget for public media won’t stop the production of programs like Sesame Street and All Things Considered. But it will be much more difficult for people to access these programs if there is no longer a public radio or TV station in their vicinity.
What’s so ironic about this, is that stations in big cities (where lots of educated, liberals tend to congregate) will mostly survive. But stations broadcasting in the sparsely populated, rural plains of America’s conservative heartland are in grave danger of going dark. And the saddest part is that denying our country’s young people quality news and educational programming makes them collateral damage in a struggle for control over the minds and the tax dollars of our nation’s adults.
Speaking of danger, retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal thinks funding public broadcasting makes our nation safer, and that re-routing the public broadcasting budget to support the military is a mistake. My friend Cork sent me a NY Times Op-Ed piece written by this former leader of the Joint Special Operations Command. He was also fired by President Obama for saying unflattering things about his administration. Which makes what he has to say, being a conservative military man, all that more relevant. And speaking of the military…when our nation is attacked, or decides to attack another nation, as we suddenly saw last night, if you’re going to turn to your radio for more information, who is dedicated to covering the event? Public radio. In fact, we ditched our fund drive on day one to focus on special coverage of the administration’s missile launch on Syria.What about MY public radio station?
Well, I think that right now, more than ever, we are finding out that if something is important to you, that you need to speak up for it. The public radio station I work for receives about 12% of our funding from the CPB, about $400K per year. I don’t think losing that money won’t kill us, but it will force the station to make some very difficult, unpopular decisions.
What can I do?
First, if you love your public radio station, put your money where your ears are, and support it financially (same thing for your public tv station). Up until now you’ve been donating about $1.35 per year with your taxes for public broadcasting whether you like it or not. We don’t know if this budget item will really pass, but if it does, we – the listeners and viewers – need to get in front of it and pick up the slack. In advance.
Then, what you can do is grab your piggy bank, sit down and consider an amount that makes sense to you. Maybe you could even sit down as a family and decide on a total amount that your family feels comfortable donating to charity over the year. Then, check out this list of the organizations that the Trump administration is targeting for annihilation, and figure out which ones are meaningful to your family, and start figuring out what percentage of that total amount you want to donate to each organization. And of course, it certainly can’t hurt to let your elected officials know what you would like your tax dollars to support.
Lastly, you can follow through and make those meaningful contributions. And don’t doubt how meaningful even a small donation can be. Remember… even $1.35 a year adds up.
By the way, this week Jefferson Public Radio is making it super easy to follow through with a desire to support this public radio station. Our Spring Fund Drive is in full swing right now. Since you’re already online, making a donation is as easy as clicking over to our website.
And while you can always stream one of JPR’s three stations while you’re there, you can also hit the play arrow on the Put Your Money Where Your Ears Are Spotify playlist below and check out some of my favorite songs about radio, money and taxes!