Tue, May

Is NPR Really ‘Commercial Free’ Radio?


MY TAKE--It is clear to anyone listening to KPCC or KCRW, the local affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), that these stations have the most insightful, well produced, and entertaining news programming around ... except when it comes to reporting anything that might in the slightest way contradict one of NPR's large corporate-controlled foundation donor's business or political agenda. 

As one KPCC reporter said to me when I asked why her station and NPR never reported such basic information as how much money corporations would make if they successfully privatize public education (and decimate the ranks of high seniority teachers,) her response was, "We're not going to bite the [corporate] hand that's feeding us." 

And make no mistake, with the cut in funding from the federal government and their dependence on large subsidies from pro-public school privatization corporate/foundation interests, (controlled by the likes of Broad, Gates and Walton,) any notion of "commercial free radio" has become a fantasy. Just consider that in 2009, 26 percent of NPR's total budget came from corporate sponsorship. This has only increased in the ensuing years. 

Try a little experiment. When you've got an hour to kill, take a stop watch and time what percentage of any hour on supposedly "non-commercial public radio" is actually commercial. You might make a distinction and argue that the incessant fund drives and solicitations for your old vehicles several times a year are not commercial, but rather an acceptable alternative to funding NPR without resorting to more obnoxious "I am the king" or "You're killing me Larry" type commercials. 

However, NPR's equally obnoxious "non-commercial" geriatric-targeted goods and services are really "commercials" directed at the dominant older citizen listenership of NPR. With the hawking of all sorts of other corporate-sponsored goods and services, either directly or through stories chosen for coverage by NPR, hasn’t the fine line between commercial and non-commercial media already been crossed? 

To avoid being labeled negative by posing a valid complaint without a solution, let me take a page from the mega-rich Getty Trust. It funds a museum, publishing company, and many other benevolent socially responsible endeavors without following an either overtly or covertly commercial model. 

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What I would like to do, similar to what people are now trying to do to overturn the Citizens United case in favor of a truly publicly-funded electoral system, is to do the same with NPR and other “society loyal” non-profits that the Getty Trust has done. But I would not ask the government to come up with the funding. 

I would seek to endow NPR with a large enough principal sum of money so that the return from conservative neutral investments would be sufficient to cover NPR's annual expenses. This is exactly what the Getty Trust's initial endowment of the museum and other endeavors did which is now able to cover all of its present and future annual expenses. 

Think about it. What would you be willing to give on a one-time basis if you knew that you would never again have to listen to another fund drive or somebody begging for that old car, truck, motorcycle...or bus in your driveway?


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 13 Issue 76

Pub: Sep 18, 2015


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