National Public Radio

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NPR redirects here. For other meanings of NPR, see NPR (disambiguation).

National Public Radio (NPR) is an independent, private, not-for-profit corporation that sells programming to member radio stations; together they are a loosely organized public radio network in the United States. NPR was created in 1970, following the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967 which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and also led to the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service. The network was founded on February 24, 1970, with 90 public radio stations as charter members.

Like its competitors, American Public Media and Public Radio International, NPR produces and distributes news and cultural programming. Its member stations are not required to broadcast all of these programs and most broadcast programs from many different sources. Its flagship programs are two drive time news broadcasts, Morning Edition, and the afternoon All Things Considered; both are carried by nearly all NPR affiliates and in 2002 were the second- and third-most popular radio programs in the country. Morning Edition has been the network's most popular program since 1979.



NPR makes some of its funding information public. According to the most recent 2005 financial statement, currently NPR makes just over half of its money from the fees and dues it charges member stations to receive programming. About 2% of NPR's funding comes from bidding to government grants and programs (chiefly the Corporation for Public Broadcasting); the remainder comes from member station dues, foundation grants, and corporate underwriting.

Over the years, the portion of the total NPR budget that comes from government has been decreasing. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the government. Steps were being taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but a major funding crisis in 1983, which almost led to the demise of the network, brought about more rapid shifts in NPR's funding setup. More money to fund the NPR network was raised from listeners, charitable foundations and corporations, and less from the government.

In 1995, two "well-meaning but misguided students" (in the official words of the University of Northern Colorado) started an e-mail petition claiming that [on] NPR's Morning Edition, Nina Tottenberg (sic) said that if the Supreme Court supports Congress, it will, in effect, be the end of the National Public Radio (NPR)... Although the funding crisis passed, the chain letter continues to circulate on the Internet. (See NPR's statement on the petition.)

NPR member stations also receive private and government funding, but are famous for raising money through on-air pledge drives, during which programming is interrupted and listeners are encouraged to donate money to keep the station on the air.

In contrast to commercial radio, NPR carries no advertising, but has brief statements from major donors. These statements are called underwriting spots, not commercials, and are bound by FCC restrictions that commercials are not; they cannot advocate a product or contain any "call to action". Critics of NPR contend that the difference is exaggerated. Since NPR is not dependent on advertising revenue, it is largely free of the ratings-driven decision making of commercial media. The result is programming that is considered less sensationalistic than commercial media.

On November 6, 2003, NPR was given $200 million from the estate of the late Joan B. Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's Corporation. In 2003 the annual budget of NPR was $101 million. In 2004 that number increased by over 50% to $153 million due to the Kroc gift. That number has since dropped to a $120 million budget in 2005.

Production facilities and listenership

NPR's major production facilities have been based in Washington, D.C. since its creation. On November 2, 2002, a West Coast production facility, dubbed NPR West, opened in Culver City, California. NPR opened NPR West to improve its coverage of the western United States, to expand its production capabilities (shows produced there include News & Notes with Ed Gordon and Day to Day), and to create a fully functional backup production facility capable of keeping NPR on the air in the event of a catastrophe in Washington, D.C.

According to a 2003 Washington Monthly story, about 20 million listeners tune into NPR each week. On average they are 50 years old and earn an annual income of $78,000. Its audience is predominantly white; only about 10% are either African American or Hispanic. Many of its listeners consider NPR to be at the apex of journalistic integrity, while critics argue that it is not fully representative of the nation's diversity.

From 1999 through 2004, listenership has increased by about 66%. This increase may have been the result of one of a number of factors, including audience interest in coverage of September 11, the following military actions, and a general lack of interest in other terrestrial radio outlets. NPR attracted these new listeners at the same time that the size of the overall radio audience in the United States was decreasing rapidly as people abandoned the medium in favor of iPods (and similar devices) and satellite radio.

In recent years, NPR has made some changes to appeal to younger listeners and to minority groups. From 2002 until 2004, Tavis Smiley hosted a show targeted towards African Americans, but left the network, claiming that the organization did not provide enough support to make his production truly successful. NPR stations have long been known for carrying classical music, but the amount of classical programming carried on NPR stations and other public radio outlets in the U.S. has been declining. Many stations have shifted toward carrying more news, while others have shifted to feature more contemporary music that attracts a younger audience.


Programs produced by NPR

News and public affairs programs

NPR produces a morning and an afternoon news program, both of which also have weekend editions with different hosts. It also produces hourly news briefs around the clock. NPR formerly distributed the World Radio Network, a daily compilation of news reports from international radio news, but no longer does so.

Cultural programming

Programs distributed by NPR

Popular shows distributed by NPR include Terry Gross's interview show Fresh Air and WBUR's Car Talk, starring Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers (a.k.a. Tom and Ray Magliozzi).

Public radio programs not affiliated with NPR

Individual NPR stations can broadcast programming from sources that have no formal affiliation with NPR.

Many shows produced or distributed by Public Radio International, such as This American Life and Whad'Ya Know?, are broadcast by NPR member stations, although the shows are not affiliated with NPR. Other popular shows, like A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace, are produced by American Public Media, long known as Minnesota Public Radio.


Like many other media outlets, NPR is periodically accused of having a detectable political and/or socio-cultural bias, although the nature of the accusations vary depending on the political ideology of the individual issuing them.

Some conservatives have alleged that the network tailors its content to the preferences of an audience drawn from a liberal "educated elite." While members of NPR's audience are more likely to be white and college educated than those who listen to other radio outlets, observers dispute the claim of a liberal bias. (See [1].)

Left-wing activists have alleged that NPR caters to its corporate funders and shies away from controversial topics. They may believe that NPR avoids the sort of journalism that would embarrass the likes of Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, or Wal-Mart, since these companies are among the largest single private donors to NPR programming. According to these critics, examples of articles that would embarrass funders could include problems with genetically modified organisms, the politics of food production and farming, labor union activism in Wal-Mart stores, and urban sprawl.

African-American community activists have criticized NPR for not being responsive to their interests and those of other minority ethnic groups. Tavis Smiley, a well-known black talk show host, resigned from NPR claiming that NPR did not effectively promote his program to minority communities. In addition, he received complaints from listeners stating that his sound was too harsh and grating for public radio.

Some critics simply believe that NPR programming, and the programming of its public radio competitors, is too monotonous to be listenable. American pop culture is fond of referring to the allegedly dull nature of NPR shows. For example, The Simpsons parodied Garrison Keillor's comedic monologues on his show, A Prairie Home Companion, with a character who dressed in a bow tie, spoke at length in a monotone and expected the audience to laugh at jokes that were not funny. [2] Saturday Night Live had a recurring segment called The Delicious Dish, a parody of public radio weekend programs. The hosts (played by Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon) speak in monotonous tones and are unenthusiastic and uninterested in the topics.

Unlike other radio networks, such as CBC/Radio-Canada, NPR does not produce local or regional content. Instead, each member station must create local news and other programming. This approach means that there is a great variety in the format of member station broadcasts. While this variety may reflect the diversity of the communities in which NPR stations are found, it may come at a sacrifice to uniform quality across the network.

See also

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