Surely NPR Would Never Let It Happen

by John Hood

I continue to be puzzled by one of the most familiar arguments for continuing federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting: that without tax dollars, some public stations in small radio markets with scant fundraising prospects would go dark.

Voluntary donations and private underwriting have long made up a majority of the revenue of National Public Radio and most of its local affiliates. According to NPR, member stations get an average of 10 percent of their funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But the number is much higher for stations in rural areas and small towns. Even if they would be popular enough among listeners to motivate giving, the argument goes, some of these stations lack the scale necessary to pay their bills through local giving alone.

But surely the noble, progressively minded folks at NPR would never let these stations go dark. Why would affiliates in large or affluent markets be allowed to keep all the money they raise for local use? I assume that in the absence of government funding, NPR would adjust its programming charges in a way that would essentially redistribute income from these markets to the smaller, poorer ones, thus ensuring truly national coverage for its programming and a basic “safety net” of news, talk, and quirky music shows for all Americans.

I’m convinced that the noble, progressively minded donors to stations in New York, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Chapel Hill, Austin, and other communities would welcome the opportunity to share their good fortune with their disadvantaged counterparts.

No problem.