What are the advantages of NPR?

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Noncommercial US public radio broadcaster National Public Radio (NPR) doesn’t get the same level of vitriol from conservatives as its television counterpart, PBS. However, NPR still occasionally sees a spike in criticism.

One recent example was the hashtag “defund NPR” trending on Twitter. Never mind most of NPR’s funding comes from corporate grants, individual member stations’ dues, and listener contributions, as NPR’s own finances chart shows:

NPR revenue, FY 2019
Chart by NPR.

NPR gets less than 1% of its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (who also fund PBS) and from the federal government. However, state and local governments might contribute some funds to individual NPR stations.

Looking at my local NPR station, KUOW, its funding sources for 2019 are as follows:

  • Individual listener donations: 68%
  • Business donations: 24%
  • CPB and University of Washington support: 6%
  • Interest/dividends, ancillary revenue, donated services/supplies: 2%

KUOW is owned by the University of Washington.

Advantages of NPR

NPR made their own infographic last year, touting its number of listeners, podcasts, etc. as of February 2019:

NPR numbers infographic (February 2019)
Infographic by NPR.

I can think of some other positive aspects of NPR, especially over its commercial radio counterparts.

Podcasts

In recent years, NPR’s gained a heavy presence in the world of podcasts. As of 2019, NPR was the most popular podcast source; commercial radio conglomerate iHeartRadio came in second place.

NPR also has a fairly diverse range of podcasts. One example is “Code Switch,” a weekly podcast that discusses how the media handles issues concerning people of color, such as the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

News quality

NPR’s well known for the quality of its journalism. The broadcaster’s famous for its morning and afternoon news shows “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” (Slightly off-topic, but I notice the former’s recently changed its theme song from the one it’d had for many years.)

NPR also relies on the UK’s BBC for some of its news programming and reporting.

Noncommercial

As said earlier, NPR is a noncommercial broadcaster, relying on listener and corporate donations for most of its funds. Thus, “defunding” NPR would require convincing donors it’s not worth it… and given the alternative is the awfulness that is most commercial radio, good luck with that.

Not having commercials (pledge drives aside) makes for a less annoying listening experience. Less worry about commercial viability might also allow for some of NPR’s more esoteric programming, as listed below.

Variety of programming

Unlike most commercial radio, NPR has a fairly broad variety of programming. Other than its news and talk shows, NPR is probably the only source of radio quiz shows in the US, airing “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and “Ask Me Another.” There’s also its afternoon and early evening financial program “Marketplace.” NPR also carries some programs from the BBC and Canada’s CBC.

Finally, NPR also offers some music programming that isn’t as commonly found on commercial broadcasters, such as jazz or world music.


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