View Full Version : Re-Inventing National Public Radio & the Public Broadcasting Network

Carnac the Magnificent!
06-07-2001, 08:33 AM
During a fundraising drive for a local PBS station, I got to wondering about the following:

Why do PBS and NPR need lots of fully-staffed stations nationwide? Wouldn't it be more cost-efficient to centralize administrative staffs, production teams, talent, etc--and make the broadcast signal (and programming) available through tiny relay stations nationwide? (Or on cable or satellite?)

In other words, why have large, expensive operations in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco , etc, when, say, the Chicago station could produce the entirety of the programming, and then make a huge selection of programs available to all mini-stations for broadcast? The Discovery channel does this in Washington, D.C. I believe, and its operation is most impressive.

Same thing for NPR stations. Some might object to the absence of local content, but the national station could still provide it.

Let's try to keep this fact-based so the moderators don't kick this over to IMHO.

06-07-2001, 08:42 AM
Just of the top of my head:

Local content cannot be provided by a national organization. It's a contradiction in terms. The local stations serve their local communities with staff on the ground who know the area.

The local stations provide much of the nationally syndicated programs. From my local station, WBUR in Boston, we get Car Talk, the Connection, and several other programs. Local stations are breeding grounds for inventive new formats and programs.

WBUR also broadcasts the BBC, which other markets may not want or support. This allows diversity, since all the markets are clearly not the same.

You think fundraising for a national network would be easy? Most individuals would have less of an identification with a national network than a local one. I know I would be less inclined to contribute to a national station than my local one.

Carnac the Magnificent!
06-07-2001, 08:57 AM
Interesting comments but, I doubt most viewers of PBS, in particular, would rate local-content programs at the top of their viewing habits. Nor do I see local content and centralization as necessarily contradictory. Creative solutions exist, perhaps including the establishment of a small core of stringers. In addition, novel programming can be generated at a centralized location--or outsourced. The solution would be in attracting talent. Discovery does an outstanding job.

As for selection of programs, make everything available over several channels to most every market, thus increasing selection--especially for those in outlying areas--while lowering overall costs.

PBS creates some excellent programming, but its monopoly is long over and today faces stiff competition from cable programs/channels than are leaner, exceptionally creative, and privately funded.

06-07-2001, 09:43 AM
Silence Devil! It's my contention that the rise of national radio consultants such as Burkhart/Abrams who minimized any input on the part of local jocks and/or programmers started commercial radio on the descent to hell, aided and abetted by deregulation and the rise of conglomerates like Clear Channel and Susquehenna Broadcasting. Once you have centralized programming you'll have bureaucrats chasing the almighty dollar and your beloved local NPR station will be playing that stupid Crazy Town song, just like every other station in town.

Carnac the Magnificent!
06-07-2001, 09:52 AM
Since I'm obviously thinking off the top of my head, let me give you my vision, and tell me if it could be made to work: make most (or all) of PBS programming available to as many people as possible, on several channels, while streamlining the operation through centralization.

A cable or satellite delivery system would make this a lot easier, though I suppose PBS is supposed to be for the common man (you know, the common man without cable or a satellite dish on his roof.)

06-07-2001, 10:27 AM
why have large, expensive operations in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco , etc, when, say, the Chicago station could produce the entirety of the programming
With one large studio like that controlling all content, what would be the motivation for the employees to produce quality programming ?
Why would anyone want to donate money to their local station in order to hear content that is local to e.g. Chicago ?
Centralization sounds like a fine plan for profit based radio, where a few individuals want to get their message out to as many people as possible, but it really does horrible things to the potential for diverse and relevant programming when one "central office" makes all the decisions about what the country will hear on the radio.

06-07-2001, 11:22 AM
I work at KCTS, the Seattle PBS station. We broadcast over a very wide area (Washington State, British Columbia, and through the miracle of satellites, most of the rest of Canada), but we still listen to the viewers when it comes to programming decisions.

For instance, one of our most successful recent programs was about Vancouver Island and Victoria, British Columbia. Under your plan, this show would never have been produced. Even if it was, it would never be aired, since no one outside our area would be interested.

In essence, public broadcasting is there to make available the programming that is worthwhile, but not commercially so. Your idea is all about making it into a commercial-style operation.

06-07-2001, 11:34 AM
Remember too, there are several others besides NPR (National Public Radio)
PRI - Public Radio International (http://www.pri.org/PublicSite/home.html)
MPR - Minnesota Public Radio (http://www.mpr.org/)
Peachstate Public Radio (changing their name to: ) - Georgia Public Broadcasting (http://www.pspr.org/)
FPR - Florida Public Radio (http://www.fsu.edu/~wfsu_fm/fpr/fpr.html)
to name a very few.

Many of which produce their own programming (FPR does Capitol Report during the Tallahassee legislative session and throughout the year - keeps me and others informed on propposed bills and amendments affecting me directly in Florida, whereas I would have less interest in what's happening in the Wyoming (http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/wpr/) legislature.

PBS is the big unmbrella. I can get 5.5 Public Radio Stations in my area:
WMFE (90.7) - Orlando - classical
WUCF (89.9) - Orlando - college station) - jazz
WPRK (91.5) - Winter Park/Orlando (college station) [sort of NPR - carries some synicated programs carried by the other two)
WUSF (89.7) - Tampa (on a good day) - classical and others
WUFT (89.1) - Gainesville (on a really good day) - classical
WFIT (89.5) - Brevard County (on a really great day) - college station - jazz

I have my choice of different programming at different times of the day. Feel like something local? I have the "Arts Connection" on WMFE - a station out of Chicago isn't going to tell me where I can audtion for an upcoming musical, or hear an interview with the choreographer with the Southern Ballet Theatre.

Am I nostalgic? 7:00 on Sunday Mornings, I can hear "With Heart and Voice (http://wxxi.org/whv/)" and Richard Gladwell (listened to him when I lived in Rochester, NY (WXXI (http://www.wxxi.org/)). No one produces a similar program down here in Orlando: the local station carries it.

Is Chicago going to produce "Simon Pontin's Salmagundy (http://wxxi.org/salmagundy/)" (eclectic programming) or "Fascinatin' Rhythm (http://wxxi.org/rhythm/)" (Stephen Foster to Stephen Sondheim) or "Orgelwerke with Bonnie Beth Derby" (pipe organ music)? Not likely. Which of these programs is more important, come funding cuts? By allowing leeway at the local level, we have a lot more choices.

Did I miss a program? I can pick it up elsewhere. Some of the local stations rebroadcast different shows, and do carry crossover programming. I like having different choices.

A centralized Public Broadcasting conglomerate wouldn't work. Too few programs, too few choices.

(Code fixed - Jill)

[Edited by JillGat on 06-07-2001 at 05:12 PM]

Spavined Gelding
06-07-2001, 05:42 PM
A fair amount of the NPR programing is, or started as, local programing. Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, This American Life, W'a Do Y'a Know, Thistle and Shamrock and Mountain State Radio and a bunch of others are obvious examples. Without local programing the big network loses innovation and fails in one of its principal missions-for each station to serve it own community. Without local programing NPR might well become Radio Free Sweden, running a selection of academic lectures on current affairs and long hair music. Without local programing there is a danger that there will be loss of variety and vitality. A centralized NPR could be just as intellectually bankrupt as the selection of Windbag Talk Radio, Top-40 Music and Really Awful Country that makes up the rest of the radio spectrum. National Public TV is at risk of falling into that boring pattern because of the expense of TV broadcasting. Radio is still relatively inexpensive. NPR works pretty well. It's not broken. Why fix it?