Is there trouble ahead for NPR?

NPR is hurting financially. According to its new chief executive, Gary Knell, it has seen a sharp downturn in corporate “underwriting” and thus finds itself facing an annual operating deficit. Actually, NPR has operated at a deficit in three of the last four years. However, the hole is growing deeper this year.

In addition, NPR’s audience is no longer expanding. In fact, ratings fell by a little more than 1 percent last, the first decline in a decade. The loss of listeners occurred even though the number of stations carrying NPR programs grew by about 2 percent.

Once every upscale white liberal in America with a radio is tuned in, growth becomes difficult for an operation as doctrinaire as NPR.

NPR has attempted to make inroads with African-Americans through programs specifically targeted at this group. But one of these shows, “News and Notes,” has already been dropped in an attempt to save costs. Another such show, “Tell Me More,” reportedly may suffer the same fate.

Apparently, as Walter Mondale might say, NPR wants to balance its budget on the backs of African-Americans.

Some in Congress would like to balance the budget. Thus, NPR must worry that Congress will cut, or even end, its funding. Sen. Jim DeMint is leading a drive to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funnels money from taxpayers to public radio and television stations. NPR gets about 2 percent of its funding directly from Congress, and its affiliate stations rely on federal money for about 15 percent of their budgets. These affiliates then pay fees to NPR that make up about 45 percent of NPR’s budget.

Clearly, then, the defunding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would deal a blow to NPR at a time when it can ill-afford the setback.

Conservatives have been trying to end federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for years, to no avail. But given our national fiscal crises, and depending on how the election goes this fall, defunding may not be out of the question.


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