A Message From Our General Manager
For fiscal year 2018 the Trump administration proposes to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a government-financed organization that helps support public TV and Radio in the United States. Ironically, it was 50 years ago that the CPB was established with the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. When then President Lyndon Johnson signed the act, he stated “It announces to the world that our nation wants more than just material wealth; our nation wants more than a chicken in every pot. We in America have an appetite for excellence, too. While we work every day to produce new goods and to create new wealth, we want most of all to enrich man’s spirit. That is the purpose of this act.”
In the fifty years since the Public Broadcasting Act was signed, much has changed in media. With de-regulation and relaxing of ownership rules, most of the commercial media has been consolidated. Nearly all the commercial radio and TV stations in America are now owned by a few very large publicly traded companies based in far-flung places. Wall Street has become much more important to those companies than Main Street. The 1987 repeal of the fairness doctrine meant broadcasters were no longer required to offer “equal time” to the opposing side of an argument or issue. That gave rise to the un-relenting and un-apologetically unbalanced talk shows that now dominate commercial news/talk radio and television.
Federal funding provides essential support for public broadcasting’s mission to ensure universal access to high-quality, non-commercial programming that educates, informs, enlightens and enriches the public with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children and people of color.
Journalists at public radio stations and NPR are doing stories that matter. At Capital Public Radio, we’ve recently established new dedicated reporting beats for environment, health, and food and sustainability. Those reporters do long-form deep dive, enterprise reporting that the commercial stations just don’t do. We also have the only full time reporters that cover the state capitol. No other commercial radio or TV station in the entire state of California has even one reporter covering the state capitol. And we have two. And we’ve launched Politifact California, a fact checking service that rates the accuracy of claims by public officials and holds them accountable for what they say.
Capital Public Radio has a full-time documentary unit that produces award-winning investigative reporting on issues like undocumented immigration, the high school dropout crisis in the Central Valley, diabetes in communities of color, food insecurity in the farm to fork capitol, and in 2017, a full year focus on affordable housing. No other radio or TV station in this area approaches the kind of public service journalism being produced every day at your local public radio station.
Funding from CPB represents about $700,000 per year for Capital Public Radio, about 7% of our operating budget. Most of that funding is used to purchase national programming from producers like NPR, American Public Media, and Public Radio International. The vast majority of our revenue comes directly from our listeners and business supporters. If federal funding does indeed go away, we’ll survive. At least initially. But many public stations across the country rely much more heavily on that federal funding. In many smaller and more rural communities, they may lose their only source of reliable free over-the air local and national news. And if those stations can no longer afford to purchase programs from NPR, the surviving stations will inevitably have to pay more to maintain and deliver the same level of programming. And that could create a death spiral for the entire public radio system.
The same week that the Trump Administration announced their preliminary budget, NPR announced that its audience has reached an all-time high. Public Radio reaches more than 41 million people a week. Over 500,000 per week here in the Greater Sacramento Area. The public is consuming public radio at the highest rate in history.
The public broadcasting system is a widely-distributed group of locally owned and operated stations with a deep commitment to balance, fairness, and public affairs. Beholden to no one but the local communities we serve. The total funding appropriation for CPB is $445 million per year. That’s less than .01 percent of the federal budget…about $1.35 per person in the U.S. That’s a lot of money, but local stations raise over $6 for every dollar they receive from CPB, Capital Public Radio raises $13 for every dollar we receive. That’s a very efficient investment for the citizenry.
It has taken fifty years to build this incredibly efficient and important institution of public trust. Is this the time to dismantle it? All things considered?