Reader: Colorado Public Radio, big market systems should be taken off federal dole

Public-radio funding survived its latest flirtation with elimination at the federal level. But that doesn't mean all problems have been solved according to one reader, who weighed in on a Comment of the Day post from last month in which another commenter suggested that Colorado Public Radio could survive cuts, but not other, smaller public stations.

Confluence Park writes:

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The day of reckoning is upon the true public radio listener. 44 years ago, the concept started.

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 was funded so non-commercial stations could serve unserved audiences, while providing educational and/or cultural programming not available to the public elsewhere. Regarding the need for that kind of system today, we have been in a transition from the days when AM radio was king (and FM was in its programming infancy) and when there were only several tv channels in each market. With today's satellite radio and multiple tv channels available, the essential nature of the Public Broadcasting Act has therefore (I'll be the first to say it) DIMINISHED in importance, but only in larger markets.

I think that most major market Public Radio stations should have been taken off the Government dole a decade ago. Most of them have bought into the homogenized marketing end of broadcasting, hence they don't need additional public assistance aside from their local/regional focus group-driven fund raising efforts. Continued CPB funding for them would be acceptable, if the "big boys" were producing something worthwhile for national distribution. WNYC's "The Take Away" fills that bill, and there are a few other exceptions, but most large stations only consume the programming available on the satellite.

In Colorado, the extra CPB money provided to Colorado Public Radio/CPR gave them the freedom to make some terrible choices -- They actively pursued the buy-outs of:

-- KCSU (and at the time also CSU properties KTSC, Pueblo and KDUR, Durango) in 1993; -- KUNC for $1.2 Million, more than 10 years ago; -- KUVO for $2 Million in 2001, then $6 Million in 2004, and -- KRCC in the early 2000's, for an unknown amount

in all instances, CPR was rebuffed (in KUNC's case because people like former Beirut hostage Tom Sutherland stepped in to help KUNC remain independent). CPR did, however, obtain COMMUNITY ASSET KPRN, Grand Junction (in a highly orchestrated take-over of the station) in 1991 and stripped all local programming presence -- save for local business underwriting announcements and weather drop-ins...... Since then, CPR bought 1340 AM in Denver and 1490 AM in Boulder, and the 2,000 watt 88.1 FM signal ... all of which were over-priced in a then "buyer's market" --- leaving CPR with 12 million dollars of debt. To me the CPR lip service given to community service, and their financial blunders while under the delirious notion of self-importance, are the best reasons anyone could have to end CPB funding.

The same fun and games are not found at public stations which really need the assistance. They are the Rural Stations, or lower-budgeted urban stations which operate with far more volunteer energy and possess an often "rough around the edges" sound and presence. They could not put together a serious marketing strategy if they wanted to. They are the type of stations which hold the best promise for the up and coming generations to develop programming and the skills needed to produce relevant programming for local and national distribution..... The only way that can happen is if such stations receive CPB funding on a greater scale than today's pittance, which could be achieved by ending funding for stations with a budget of a Million Dollars or more (or name a figure of your choosing).

There's plenty of gray in Public Radio, in what seems like a black and white situation. I don't expect the people frothing at the mouth in Congress to take the time to sort all of this out. And it's too bad, because even with radio's fading importance I see another chunk of the nation's soul fading away with the loss of CPB...while we wait for everyone to become connected to the next big thing. I still don't see that happening anytime soon, at least for two more Presidential elections.

I'm also skeptical of the time line and the arrival of this BRAVE NEW WORLD to appear for two reasons: 1) with the economy the way it is, and 2) with OWNERSHIP of current and potentially future platforms for distribution winding up in fewer and fewer hands. Again, I don't see Congress addressing this either. They are quite happy with Clear Channel, Infinity, and other soul-less entities owning ALL of the best radio signals in every market. Changing ownership rules would sure make ending CPB a whole lot easier to swallow.

On the points raised in the previous paragraph, I hope you are addressing them in your on-going conversations with the office of the Senator from Colorado.

For more memorable takes, visit our Comment of the Day archive.

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