Behind the curtain of public radio
April 5, 2005 10:49 PM   Subscribe

It's All Pledge Drives Considered. This is Coordinated Fundraising Week, where stations pull Ken Jennings out of a hat and go for all the gimmicks in the book, while your favorite shows subtly change formats. All this, by the way, mainly to reach the so-called "Cheap 90" percent of people that listen but don't contribute. Because we couldn't do it without you!
posted by calwatch (52 comments total)
You can't? Cause I've been listening for years and I never gave you money.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:44 PM on April 5, 2005

Did NPR always have these annoying pledge drives or was government funding ever enough to sustain operations? Also, a girlfriend once recommend I read a Newsweek/Time/some/weekly piece called "National Profitable Radio" wherein they run the numbers and show NPR is doing really quite well for itself and perhaps doesn't need these massive pledge drives all the time. Did anyone else read it?
posted by trinarian at 11:47 PM on April 5, 2005

It's disturbing that Public Radio has to focus so much energy on these shenanigans just to eat. A station here got so obnoxious with their pledge pitches that I tuned them out. (We have three Public Radio stations in the area)
posted by airguitar at 11:48 PM on April 5, 2005

wherein they run the numbers and show NPR is doing really quite well for itself and perhaps doesn't need these massive pledge drives all the time...
"CORRECTION: 'Current' regrets describing the offices of NPR Ventures as 'plush' in the March 25 issue. Although there is a couch in the reception area that could be described as plush, on closer examination the offices proved to be just ordinary."
posted by airguitar at 11:53 PM on April 5, 2005

Ur...isn't this dated?

The two NPR stations in our area had their pledge drives - coordinated, with all the bells and whistles, LAST week.

While some stations end their drives early when they hit their goals (ours did), all of the drives presumably started last week, no?
posted by booklemur at 12:38 AM on April 6, 2005

Actually, coordinated fundraising week is THIS week. This is when they have the special "Pitch Break Channel" where they bring Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg back from the dead to do pitches, Terry Gross breaks format to give the soft sell, etc. Mainly smaller stations participate in the CFW, but some bigger ones do too.
posted by calwatch at 12:59 AM on April 6, 2005

I wish I could somehow convey in text the rising and falling and puts-you-to-sleep cadence of the standard NPR host.

Media should never take itself seriously, but radio especially shouldn't.
posted by blacklite at 1:11 AM on April 6, 2005

I miss Linda Werthheimer. She should be hosting ATC instead of Mee-chele Norris. But it doesn't matter cuz I don't get radio reception in my apartment anyway.
posted by TheIrreverend at 1:13 AM on April 6, 2005

NPR is the quintessential liberal progressive corporate stand-in. They're taking the place of actual progressive programming. They masquerade as brainy, alternative, left-leaning news producers while instead providing snappy and jingle-rich newstertainment that panders to the status-quo. Real investigative and independent news and entertainment outfits have a harder time breaking in because NPR so dominates the market, and has its listenership so buffaloed.

They had me for a long time. But then I started wondering when they let the Bush-Gore supreme court case go with juuust enough play to make listeners feel informed during their busy lives. And then I watched them for 4 years playing softball with that the Bush administration was doing with the country.

If was as if they were saying, hey, we got our hamburger lady money, so we're not feeling the pinch enough to, you know, get pissed off about much. And I listened to SF's local Forum show as it tanked--TANKED--giving a free pass or a cursory glance at scandal after scandal, running shows on rose pruning while Iraq burns and American joblessness skyrockets.

NPR is what the neocons hate about middle-class liberals. They're so comfortable and self-content that they lack guts. The neocon movement has some of the vilest people alive, but all of them have guts. They have brass huevos to bust in here and tear down our constitution and start pushing our armies around. We liberals are going to knit our brows and wring our hands while they take the bank and torch our wilderness.

NPR represents why we lost 2004, to put a finer point on it. They carried with status quo feed with little liberal touches, rationalizing that the truly progressive thing to do is give both sides equal say. So the new head of EPA wants to end the ban on nuclear testing within 50 miles of low-income housing... NPR will give 10 minutes to pro and 10 minutes to con and dust off their hands.

Gutless corporate cop-lovers.
posted by squirrel at 1:15 AM on April 6, 2005

Gutless corporate cop-lovers.

I give NPR about as much respect as I do CNN and NY Times.

When they hire Gingrich and Juan Williams, they are pandering to the wealthy, pseudoleft suburbanites who call in pledges commuting home in their BMWs. No coverage on the lies about the war. No investigative coverage about our civil rights, separation of powers, and educational system being dismantled.

Comfortable news bites, fed like single grapes to comfortable people. Fuck NPR.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:39 AM on April 6, 2005

As long as they keep making "This American Life" i'm gonna keep my membership, but i wish they hadn't stopped production on "Pop Vultures". All the news stuff usually bores me, but occasionally the news programs do a really good arts/culture story.
posted by CaptMcalister at 1:46 AM on April 6, 2005

A few years ago I drove across the country, with only an AM/FM radio to keep me company. The vast, vast majority of radio stations in the US play crap songs, especially when you get to rural areas. "Classic" rock was about as good as the music got. But, in most places I could tune in NPR.

HOWEVER, lucky for me my trip coincided with Pledge Week, so instead of regular shows I listened to hour after hour of begging for money. More power to 'em, I like NPR and sometimes feel guilty for not donating, but Christ what bad timing for that trip.
posted by zardoz at 2:00 AM on April 6, 2005

squirrel: I kind of agree with you, but I think you're looking at it wrong. They don't replace progressive programming; they are simply what inevitably happens to progressive programming when it grows to national size. *Real* progressive media, in *any* media form as far as I know, has never managed to grow larger than a local area.

I also don't know about NPR preventing real progressive media from getting in -- I think it's once again the difficulty of growing that large and maintaining some kind of progressive stance. I don't think it's NPR's fault, and I'm really glad NPR exists, because although it ain't perfect, it's better than some alternatives.

And NPR also isn't at fault for liberal laziness, even though it might be considered to "cater" to it. You're 100% right about the neocons IMHO. The "thus far and no further" attitude toward social change ("I'll give my $10/mo to my liberal charities, but aw, none of my Diesel clothes would look good at the demo") among left-leaning intellectuals has been killing us for decades. I don't have a solution for that one, so I left the country --
posted by sninky-chan at 2:47 AM on April 6, 2005

squirrel: Your second to last paragraph was brilliant, if misdirected. Your caricature of the complacent yet occasionally whiny liberal is dead on. NPR isn't to blame though. Take NPR for what it is, and not what you want it to be. It's not IndyMedia Radio. It's not the liberal counterpart to AM agitprop. NPR, instead, stands as the closest and most respectable form of true journalism I've ever seen in America. It caters to rational independent thought without spoon feeding the "proper" opinion like IndyMedia or Rush Limbaugh would. Presenting a national public debate, giving each mainstream* side equal time with their strongest minds, is about as principled as journalism comes. One would assume that in issues as "nuclear testing within 50 miles of low-income housing," that the side with the best argument would clearly win in front of millions of listeners. Why would you want to stifle that? Where else would you find that debate? Crossfire? Hannity and Colmes?

* this is where I find the weakness in the debate format: the assumption that one of two mainstream sides of an issue have it right, or worse yet, the truth is always in the middle.
posted by trinarian at 3:50 AM on April 6, 2005

trinarian -

That's a pretty good summation of why I listen to NPR; it has better news reporting than the AM station in Philadelphia, and actually has analysis of what's going on. Plus, aside from the pledge drives, it only has the non-ads; those are annoying as hell, but less so than actual commercials, which irk me to no end. I'm a member of both WHYY and WXPN (a great indie music station that happens to be NPR) in Philly, and as far as I know they both promised no pledge drives for quite a while, so I should be in the clear.
posted by graymouser at 3:59 AM on April 6, 2005

Trinarian: I agree. NPR is NOT liberal and never has been. As a matter of fact, after years of being an NPR junky I've stopped listening because of how middle-of-the-road NPR is overall.

NPR generally tries so hard to remain unbiased, some of which can be blamed on the perceived liberal leanings, that it comes across as trying too hard. No truly tough questions. No pushing the envelope or digging for the truth.

Should NPR be 'more liberal', though? I don't know and I don't really think that it can be in the current climate, especially if the interview shows want to continue having guests of all political [mainstream] stripes. They have also managed to avoid the attention of the religious right, unlike PBS. Perhaps it's simply a question of survival.
posted by melt away at 4:42 AM on April 6, 2005

NPR is doing really quite well for itself and perhaps doesn't need these massive pledge drives all the time.

I guess that's why KERA here in Dallas-Fort Worth laid off 23% of their work force and sold off a station in recent years.
posted by Doohickie at 4:43 AM on April 6, 2005

NPR is news. It shouldn't be liberal or anything else. It should report, and you decide.

My favorite NPR station plays music that I love, including local acts that wouldn't get airtime anywhere else, and I'm happy to give them (generous) financial support.

And during pledge week, I play CDs in the car.
posted by tizzie at 5:27 AM on April 6, 2005

graymouser: WHYY, broadcast over the net, is currently saving me from my local pledge week. Thanks Philly! :-)

(Yes, I gave to Maine Public Radio already. I don't need to listen to the begging. You guys have good NPR down in Philly though.)

Also, it's worth pointing out that NPR and local NPR stations are separate enities. When your station begs you for money, part of it is for paying NPR for programming and part of it is for paying local staff and covering physical plant costs. None of it goes directly to great big evil NPR -- programming is purchased or created according to the decisions of local program directors.
posted by rusty at 5:28 AM on April 6, 2005

I'm looking forward to hearing about what squirrel (teacher) and alexreynolds (labmonkey) are doing to bring about the revolution.
posted by docgonzo at 6:02 AM on April 6, 2005

Squirrel expresses my feelings about NPR pretty well. When federal funding cuts were threatened, a couple of my friends urged me to contribute to save NPR . My response was that NPR was old and complacent and set in it's ways and I hoped that it actually would fail so that some bright and energetic upstarts could take its place. They began to lose me during the run-up to and the reality of the first Iraq invasion when even their opinion people seemed to go along to get along. However, NPR is the only source I know of with so many international correspondents. I appreciate that coverage.
posted by Hobgoblin at 6:05 AM on April 6, 2005

posted by Armitage Shanks at 6:19 AM on April 6, 2005

When your station begs you for money, part of it is for paying NPR for programming and part of it is for paying local staff and covering physical plant costs.

NPR changed their cost structure in such a way that the rates some affiliates pay has increased dramatically. As it was explained on KERA, their rates went up a lot (like 20 or 50%), and if they would have been made to pay the increase in one year, they couldn't have handled it. So they worked out a deal where each year they pay more until, at the end of several years, they are paying what NPR is demanding.

Since then, KERA seems to be fundraising more frequently. So maybe NPR is the bad guy here; I don't know. In their defense, though, they've been caught by the bad economy like many other non-profits (corporate support is down) as well as a reduction in government support.

I use fundraising periods to get caught up on my CD collection and/or change over to WRR classical for a while.
posted by Doohickie at 6:31 AM on April 6, 2005

When pledge time rolls around I just mail Peter Sagal five bucks and a note suggesting he buy himself something pretty.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:36 AM on April 6, 2005

One point about NPR: it's government-owned, and may be set in its ways, but you really have to consider it opposite the alternatives. The alternatives aren't left-leaning radio; they're sensationalist corporate-owned outfits and hate talk radio. It could be better, but it's not like there's a leftist radio station to replace it (unless you have Air America, but those of us in the independent Left aren't big on that either).

Philly listeners are lucky, in that WXPN and WHYY don't do pledge drives together, so you can always listen to some good programming.
posted by graymouser at 6:50 AM on April 6, 2005

squirrel, Please stop using "neocon" until you learn what it means.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2005

I think the thing for me is that... even at NPR's WORST it is still a whole lot better than anything else on the radio... even when i am suffering through something so uninteresting to me, like "marketwatch" i still think it beats any other talk/news radio with 5 minutes of commercials for 5 minutes of content... or listening to the same 10 songs over and over again on "music" stations...

having said that, i no longer contribute to NPR, as last year there was the promise of a free burrito coupon that enticed me to donate... sadly, those jerks at WBEZ never made good on that promise...
posted by cusack at 7:11 AM on April 6, 2005

As an aside, NPR is a collection of journalists. I will admit they run the full range from drama-whores to full blown journalists, but none the less they are journalists. This means they are to interpret the situation without their opinion interfering.

It's not talk radio and NPR should not be compared with any right or left versions of what is out there. I do expect them to do more interesting (aka deeper) reporting than any of the major outlets because they are not tied to Corps who can cut their funding. Next time you listen to some of the talk radio, think about what is their opinion versus what is journalism.

With that in mind, I think they are the best thing going. Perfect, hell no. But are they attempting that balance, I think so.

The moment they take sides against Bush, or anyone else, NPR stops getting my money. I think they could be harder on Bush, no doubt, but I think they also could have been harder on Clinton on about a dozen different things.

I hate the fund-raising and could not imagine having to do it for my living. I would think they loath it, but I would be hardpressed to hear an "Eat Beef" ad on NPR when they are the only ones doing reporting on Mad Cow, America, Canada, etc. as an example.

Besides, This American Life, Car Talk, All Things Considered, Market Place, etc. etc. Where else can this be found.

I miss Minnesota Public Radio terribly, but it's okay in CT and I always have the Internet to scope out shows I want to hear.
posted by fluffycreature at 7:11 AM on April 6, 2005

Yeah! Fuck NPR! Michael Savage rules!

/extreme sarcasm off

No really, what public stations (radio and TV) should maybe consider doing to increase pledges: go off the air for an entire week, broadcasting nothing but a phone number of where to donate. When people are forced to look at their alternatives, which is 99% crap, they might feel more compelled to pitch in.

It works for other stations - if say, Time Warner drops a sports or news channel from its cable lineup, you get all sorts of people calling in to complain. Same thing could happen when you cut off This American Life junkies or All Things Considered fanatics. Any way you look at it, it'd be an improvement over a week of Riverdance and Dr. Wayne Dyer any day.
posted by fungible at 7:16 AM on April 6, 2005

Not only is public radio comparatively better than the alternatives, it is occasionally (or often) great by absolute standards. Since I’ve been a financial supporter for many years, I’m a bit aggravated by those of you who brag about free-riding. As they say repeatedly during the fund drives: only a fraction of regular listeners are supporters. Have some fucking self control. If you’ve rationalized to yourself that public radio isn’t worth supporting, then don’t listen to it. Otherwise, you could at least send me a thank you note. Would you like me to pay your cable bill too?
posted by found missing at 7:33 AM on April 6, 2005

good idea fungible. What frustrates me most about pledge drives (and this is as someone who does donate) is how much less of the normal programming I get to hear. There are plenty of times during normal programming that they could broadcast a phone number and a short message, but as it is, I think they've already stepped a little towards your suggestion of cutting off normal programming and replacing it with begging.

So, it's not 100% begging, but it probably wouldn't hurt much more than it already does.

My suggestion? Stop with the pledge-drives... spread out the requests over the entire year, but make them MUCH less annoying. Pledge-drive week only serves to remind me that I should donate, but once I do, the begging doesn't stop. I'd much prefer a quick announcement once every two or three days, after which I'm returned to normal programming.

does anyone know where to get the 3-color NPR logo stickers/window-clings for cars?
posted by odinsdream at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2005

I used to be a pledge-making NPR listener.

At some point, I lost patience for the fundraising drives -- even though they only happen seasonally, it really felt like they happened every other week. I got an IPod, I started getting This American Life over the web, and I haven't looked back. Once I get a system going for organizing non-music recording on my computer, I'll get a donation over to help support TAL and other such shows, but I'll not be listening over the airwaves anymore.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:56 AM on April 6, 2005

Thank you, Found Missing.

How shall we arrange the payment of my cable bill? You want to send me the money? Or will you mail them a check with my account number on it? Let me know.
posted by jaded at 8:10 AM on April 6, 2005

maybe that looked funnier in preview
posted by found missing at 8:33 AM on April 6, 2005

I give money to NPR... will you still pay my cable bill, or is your offer only open to NPR sponges?
posted by hob at 8:52 AM on April 6, 2005

To a few respondents who inferred from my post that I blame NPR for what has become of the progressive left, I don't. I depict them as representing, not causing, what has gone wrong for us.

S@L, thanks for stopping by. I would swoon to see a posting of yours in which you were critical of your own political post. Until you develop the capacity for self-criticism, take it on the arches.

Found Missing, please tell me that you're not obsessing over NPR freeloaders. ;^)
posted by squirrel at 8:55 AM on April 6, 2005

If you listen to NPR, you should pony up. The ride isn't free, and complaining about having to endure the fundraising prgramming while failing to donate is just obnoxious.
posted by cows of industry at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2005

Fundraising premiums: Mugs, tote-bags, and NPR sponges.
posted by found missing at 8:58 AM on April 6, 2005

About five years ago or so, I remember a series of scandals where public radio and TV stations shared their donor lists with Democratic candidates, who then used the lists for fundraising. That sort of thing made me wary about pledging. Does anyone know if that is still going on, or if there is an NPR-wide privacy policy in place?
posted by profwhat at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2005

One point about NPR: it's government-owned, and may be set in its ways, but you really have to consider it opposite the alternatives.

Actually, that's one opinion, one exhortation and one mistake: NPR is "a private, not-for-profit" corporation, according to wikipedia.
posted by docgonzo at 9:03 AM on April 6, 2005

What squirrel said. I've been a long time Public Radio contributor. But I'm sitting this one out. The jab about lacking balls is dead on. It's just minimum required, pandering to what self proclaimed liberals wish they were - active, progressive, and vocal. When they jumped on the Terri Schiavo bandwagon that was the final nail in the infotainment coffin for me. If they wanted to get my respect they should have avoided giving me minute by minute accounts of the sidewalk in front of her hospital.

To top that off, out local station (KPBS - San Diego) has abandoned almost all of their local programming.

If Public Radio wants my money they'll need to be a little more liberal, a little more local, and a lot more alternative.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:05 AM on April 6, 2005

docgonzo - Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. I should've said, perhaps, government-funded, but now it's just in part.

That liberal/left can something be when they accept donations from Wal-Mart and do non-ads for said corporation?
posted by graymouser at 9:18 AM on April 6, 2005

Cokie Roberts is HOT! Maybe they should set up a Public Radio kissing booth.
posted by spock at 11:04 AM on April 6, 2005 is an indication of somebody REALLY not understanding this internet thing.
posted by spock at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2005

Did anybody mention WNYC?? They have a webstream too.

And yes, I donate: $120 every year. NPR might not be perfect, but it's better than anything else on the air (besides Howard Stern, that is).
posted by exhilaration at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2005

Thank you found missing and exhilaration and whoever else donates in my staid. I'm a really poor college student now, but I'll donate one day. Soon. I hope.
posted by trinarian at 1:47 PM on April 6, 2005

trinarian: For me, no thanks is needed—in spite of my earlier sarcastic comment. I was in your situation and now I'm fortunate to be able to pass it on.
posted by found missing at 2:44 PM on April 6, 2005

Truly alternative/liberal/leftist radio: Pacifica Radio. (With more professionalism and a little less craziness than IndyMedia.) There's a list of local Pacifica stations available at their site. One of the two I've listened to, WPFW, also happens to be the best jazz station in Washington, DC (and best jazz mix I've heard on the 'net, but I haven't looked hard...)

That being said, I also give money to my local NPR station, KALW; not because I like NPR-central programming, but because they air good non-NPR stuff like Philosophy Talk, Le Show, and This American Life (which is a PRI, not an NPR, show). And they broadcast many good hours of BBC News.
posted by mistersix at 2:59 PM on April 6, 2005

KALW rocks. Don't forget "Minds over Matter"!
posted by macrone at 3:48 PM on April 6, 2005

WKNO down Memphis way. That's a 150 miles from me and I can only pick it up in my car, but I send them money anyway. Another much closer NPR station (KRCU) plays classical music from 9 Am to 4 PM thru the week. I sure wish they would trade formats.
posted by wrapper at 5:38 PM on April 6, 2005

I'm looking forward to hearing about what squirrel (teacher) and alexreynolds (labmonkey) are doing to bring about the revolution.

Hah! Start your own revolution. I'm saving my pledge money for my plane ticket outta here when NPR's pseudoleft bullshit gets too thick.
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:19 PM on April 6, 2005

I miss Linda Werthheimer. She should be hosting ATC instead of Mee-chele Norris.

This floated over the DACS today:


ATC co-host Michele Norris explains, in a high-energy essay, why NPR is so
meaningful in her life. It's very smart and fun, like Michele!

"High energy" and "fun" are not words that I would use to describe Michele Norris.
posted by calwatch at 8:16 PM on April 6, 2005

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