“Necessity is the mother of invention.”  (Old proverb)

It’s not easy to see right now, but perhaps the drama surrounding National Public Radio and the potential elimination of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ultimately leads to a healthier public radio. 

“Adversity reveals genius; prosperity conceals it.”  (Horace)

For many years I have seen faults in the public radio infrastructure.  However, when the economy was charging ahead and NPR received major gifts such as the $200 million from Joan Kroc, trying to convince those in charge was pointless.

“It may be freedom rather than necessity that is the mother of invention.” (Eva Hoffman)

Freedom to NPR and the entire public radio sector means a release from self-imposed constraints and greater self-sustainability. 

Rebuilding NPR

As one who has worked in public radio across five decades, I have strong opinions on how public radio can not only survive but grow in the face of tremendous pressure.  I’ve come up with five “tough love” institutional changes that would alter the course of public radio for the better.  The two changes that follow are the two “biggest picture” changes needed, and will likely not be well-received by many in public radio. 

1.   The CPB should cease funding public radio operations that air duplicated syndicated content in the same market.  It’s not uncommon to hear NPR News programming on two or three different stations in the same market.  This practice must stop.  In doing so, the NPR News station in that market will grow, and the other stations that previously aired NPR News will find new formats for new audiences to grow public radio. 

2.   NPR should not be owned by its member stations anymore.  This will not be popular among NPR member stations, but the fact remains that a network owned by its local affiliate stations is dysfunctional at best.  When local NPR “member stations” co-signed a loan in the 1980s to save a young NPR from extinction, it was a last-ditch effort.  A quarter century later this relationship shackles a mature NPR from doing what’s best for NPR and the member stations from doing what’s best for the member stations.  The uneasy relationship is unhealthy for both sides.  NPR and its member stations should not be in the same boat together for their own good and the good of the entire sector.

Am I crazy?  Good or bad, please let me know what you think by submitting a comment. 

My next blog entry will include three more changes that public radio must consider to grow.