I’m probably going to hell for saying this out loud, but every time some high ranking Republican politician starts making threats about taking a federal axe to funding for public broadcasting, I get a little thrill. I know, it sounds awful. I wrote pretty extensively about defunding last Spring when the Trump administration put the CPB on the chopping block, but this is probably the first time I’ve ever talked about that little spark that I experience each time someone starts sharpening the blade.
Here’s the honest truth about the situation: sometimes – well, a lot of times – people take public broadcasting for granted. They forget that public broadcasting truly depends on the people who partake of it for the funding to run it. About fifty years ago the federal government spread out a lot of our tax dollars to build a public broadcasting system throughout the nation. But since that time, public broadcasting has had to rely more and more on the people who use it and feel have a strong sense of community responsibility to support it.
Once upon a time, back in 1967, our government was really behind it. In fact it was my grandfather’s friend, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who pushed through the concept of public broadcasting and signed the bill that made it all happen. Why did he think the government needed to create and support public broadcasting? I’ll just let LBJ speak for himself.
“It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a ‘chicken in every pot.’ We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit.”
I’m in a pretty good position to confirm that President Johnson should be pretty happy with how his legacy has developed since its inception. Every year when we hold our on-air fund drive (which is underway right now), we ask our listeners to provide feedback and share what it is that motivates them to support public broadcasting. Overwhelmingly, we hear “The programming on this station enriches my life.”
More often lately, we’re hearing from listeners that feel public radio isn’t simply enriching their lives, but providing a crucial public service in the form of well researched news from reporters who endeavor to give the facts and let listeners make up their minds instead of being told how to feel and what to think. The organization I work for is pretty fortunate right now to be experiencing growth in the news department. This is a rare feat in the current world we live in. Commercial news sources are being gobbled up by large corporations and pared down to a skeleton crew to increase profits for shareholders.
So back to that little thrill I get. It’s more like an adrenaline rush I suppose. It’s a little bit of fear, because I’m terrified that in its all out war against news organizations that the current administration will actually succeed in diverting your $1.35 to something else. Yep, the average taxpayer’s contribution that is handed over to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting each each year is less than a buck fiddy, and of that amount about 37 cents makes its way to public radio. Because public radio really knows how to stretch a budget. Ain’t nobody getting rich in public radio.
I really fear for the small stations, like KFSK, the small community station I worked at in Alaska many years ago. About a third of the station’s operating budget comes from their annual CPB Grant, even though the station is one of the top ten in the nation for funds raised per capita in the community. Without those tax dollars, KFSK would be decimated. The station is in a unique position because it’s located in a conservative fishing village where Trump won the election by a landslide (2 to 1), but those same devoted Republicans are huge public radio supporters and are adamantly opposed to defunding it. As we used to say, it’s not just the best station on the dial, it’s the only station on the dial. The situation caught the eye of the HBO program Vice News, which came to town last year and profiled the station’s unique situation on its show. Check it out here. You’ll meet a lot of my old friends like Hoopie, who taught me how to drive the school bus.
Jefferson Public Radio is in a much better position. That’s because we’ve been fortunate enough to leverage the past support of our listeners to grow and reach more territory. JPR broadcasts to over twenty counties throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California, not just one tiny little community on an island. We estimate that we’ve got about 100,000 dedicated listeners, and about 10,000 members, each one of them voluntarily donating (in most cases much more than $1.35 a year) to the station when we ask nicely. Right now JPR’s CPB grant is just a tiny portion of our budget. So if that money goes away, we’ll survive. I might get pink slipped, but the station will survive.
Why do I call it a thrill? Because I know when people start talking about taking away the funding for public radio, it alarms our listeners. It gets their attention. And finally, that’s when people take a moment to really pause and think about how important public broadcasting has become in our lives in just 50 short years. And they stop taking it for granted. When public broadcasting funding is on the chopping block, that’s when we have our most successful fund drives. Its that outpouring of support from listeners who tell us they’re going to do everything in their power to make sure public radio is funded that gives me a little jolt of feel good.
I know, I know, so far this is sounding like a self-serving, banner waving propaganda piece for JPR. And it is, I won’t lie. I’m hoping that as a result of reading this piece you’ll ponder on how fortunate you are to have JPR, that you’ll think about how often you’ve been intrigued, better informed, or completely surprised by something you’ve heard on a public broadcasting station, and realize that its future really does depend on the generosity of people just like you who decide to throw in a couple of bucks a month to keep it going. Its a community effort that we do together to support the things that are important to us so that we still have it as a resource; to enrich our lives. If you want to do your part and contribute, I’ll make it easy for you, just head on 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.
But before you go put your headphones on, I want to tell you that I also have an ulterior motive. JPR is a great community resource for news, social and civic engagement, and music. And its worthy of your support. But so is A News Cafe. In fact, A News Cafe is a lot like that little station on the island that I used to work at. There is a very small but dedicated crew busting their asses to try to inform, engage, entertain and provide thought provoking and insightful dialogue. It is a community. Your community. But it doesn’t happen magically. It costs real cash money to run a website like this, and if we don’t come together as a community to support it, it can’t keep the lights on indefinitely. If you find yourself coming here often to check in and find out what’s happening in your community, if you enjoy the insights and respectful dialogue, then please do what you can to help ensure that we have this amazing place on the web to congregate and find a little sanity. Its so rare these days.
Hopefully, you’re already a contributor to A News Cafe. But if you’re not yet, I hope you’ll choose to change that today, and become an active participant by doing your part to helping this little garden flourish. How do you do that? Plant a seed. Tend to it. Help it grow. And if you’re already gardening this patch, consider recruiting a friend or local business to pitch in and help create a more vibrant online resource for us all.
Could you do that? Thanks!