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Michael Swartz / May 12, 2021

NPR Marks 50 Years Promoting Big Government

The big question: Why does left-wing propaganda still get taxpayer dollars?

For the last half-century, a small but significant slice of the federal tax revenue pie has been shuttled to National Public Radio. Even so, as the Media Research Center’s Tim Graham quipped last week, “National Public Radio is celebrating its 50th anniversary … in a classic way: asking its fans for money.” From its non-coverage of the “pure distraction” of the Hunter Biden story last October to working to “undermine everything we believe in,” NPR is a favorite — and deserving — target of conservative scorn.

As a part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (along with the PBS television network), NPR stations tend to sacrifice wide general appeal and specialize in broadcasting more eclectic musical genres such as jazz, classical, and world music, along with long-running programs like “All Things Considered” and (formerly) “A Prairie Home Companion.” Furthermore, many NPR stations are affiliated with colleges, which leads into one key complaint from those interested in smaller government: The strong tilt to the left promoted by the NPR news and programming is also the educational field for up-and-coming broadcasters. If there’s one thing the newbies learn, it’s that even when conservatives get a voice on NPR, it’s usually as part of a panel where they are significantly outnumbered.

While the prospect is a pipe dream under the Biden administration, one could ask: What would happen if NPR suddenly lost federal funding? At this point, technically nothing, because direct federal funding is but a fraction of National Public Radio revenues. As they tell it, “A large portion of NPR’s revenue comes from dues and fees paid by our Member stations and underwriting from corporate sponsors. Other sources of revenue include institutional grants, individual contributions and fees paid by users of the Public Radio Satellite System.” All told, that amounts to about three-fourths of support. However, the local stations tend to be a pass-through for federally subsidized CPB funds, and that’s 34% of NPR’s revenue.

So it’s losing local station support that worries NPR the most, as the network explains:

Public radio stations receive annual grants directly from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) that make up an important part of a diverse revenue mix that includes listener support, corporate sponsorship and grants. Stations, in turn, draw on this mix of public and privately sourced revenue to pay NPR and other public radio producers for their programming.

These station programming fees comprise a significant portion of NPR’s largest source of revenue. The loss of federal funding would undermine the stations’ ability to pay NPR for programming, thereby weakening the institution.

Yet according to NPR’s own data, the federal government accounts for only about 12% of local station revenue, although that varies greatly by station. Stations in urban markets tend to be less dependent on Uncle Sam than NPR outlets in rural America and red states, where listenership is lower. But all those stations pay some amount of dues to NPR, depending on listenership, and purchase its programming, completing the pass-through of federal revenues accrued by the local stations back to the NPR mothership.

Frankly, if local affiliates could beg a little harder with hat in hand, they probably could survive without federal government support thanks to passionate fans, local and state government grants, and deeper corporate sponsorship. If they’re already at 88%, just working a bit harder can make up the gap, right? That’s what we in our humble shop do — and we don’t need (or take) a penny from the federal government.

Over the years, NPR has positioned itself as a supposedly unbiased alternative to conservative news/talk radio. Perhaps these talkingheads may believe their own rhetoric in a world where the mainstream media is solidly in the tank for big government, but in reality they’re nowhere near the middle of the road. If there’s reform to be had, it could start with offending the woke and deciding the Biden administration is ripe for real investigative journalism. But we won’t hold our breath on that one.

Back in the old pre-digital tuner days, when there was still an FM dial and band, you could usually find an NPR station somewhere on the left side. Some things never change, even if they should. There’s no need in this nation and no constitutional authority for taxpayers to subsidize left-wing propaganda, especially when the mainstream media marketplace is already full of corporate Democrats.

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