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CPB, NPR, WRTI: Connecting the Dots to Understand Public Radio Funding

What is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? (CPB)
What is National Public Radio? (NPR)
How are they related to WRTI?

Are you under the impression that CPB and NPR are synonymous? They're not. Do you think that WRTI and other local public radio stations receive their funding from NPR? They don't. Many people find all of this confusing...especially in light of the attention public radio funding has been receiving in the media during the last few months. No worries. We're here to connect the dots.

What is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? (CPB)

CPB, a private not-for-profit corporation established by Congress in 1968, is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services. CPB provides essential operational support for nearly 1,300 locally owned and operated public radio and television stations, which reach virtually every household in the country.

How does it work? The federal government provides CPB with a yearly allocation of federal funds. In 2010, $422 million was distributed in this way:

$210,262,500 - Direct grants to 350 local public television stations

$65,415,000 - Direct grants to 800 local public radio stations, (including WRTI)

$71,587,500 - Television programming grants

$28,535,000 - Radio programming, national program production, acquisition grants

$25,200,000 - System support (Federally mandated expenses for licenses, royalties, etc.)

$21,000,000 - CPB Administration (Federally mandated percentage - one of the most efficient organizations of its size)

As you can see, the lion's share of the CPB allocation - $275 million - goes directly to local public radio and television stations. Here at WRTI, we receive approximately $300,000, or 6% of our budget, from CPB. Much less money - approximately $28 million - goes to a combination of independent public radio producers, local radio station producers, and national radio program producers, such as NPR, American Public Media (APM), Public Radio International (PRI), and other national broadcast networks and producers.

It's important to note that CPB is mandated to spend 6% of its funds on projects that benefit the entire public broadcasting community, which is referred to as "system support." Currently, system support includes negotiating and paying music royalties on behalf of all public broadcasting; for WRTI, this is particularly significant since we're an all-music station. System support also includes funding research to explore audience needs and technological opportunities.

How does National Public Radio (NPR) fit into the picture?

NPR is erroneously thought of, by many people, as a radio station or as a network of public radio stations that directly receives federal funding on behalf of all of the stations that broadcast its content.

In fact, NPR is not a radio station at all. It's "an independent, self-supporting media organization, and a membership organization of separately licensed and operated public radio stations across the United States." NPR is a national provider of radio programming content - and receives only a small amount of direct funding from CPB for special projects.

NPR offers up a menu of shows that local radio stations can select and purchase for their programming lineup. Most of the shows are produced by NPR. Two other national content providers are also in the mix: Public Radio International (PRI) and American Public Media (APM). NPR also offers syndicated shows by local public radio stations. For example, World Cafe is produced here in Philadelphia at WXPN, and is available to public radio stations across the country that purchase it via NPR.

As a local public radio station, WRTI pays a small membership fee to NPR to have access to its programming, and then, like selecting from an a la carte menu, we pay for each show or service that we broadcast. National content that WRTI purchases includes NPR News, From the Top and Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz from NPR; Riverwalk Jazz from PRI; and HD-2 programs from a variety of smaller content providers throughout the country.

WRTI currently pays approximately $50,000 a year to NPR for both news and cultural programming. The rest of our CPB grant pays for program acquisition from other content providers, and also covers costs for producing local programming here at the station every day.

Just like WRTI, all public radio stations purchase programs from content providers in response to audience demand for those programs, and to maximize audience service. Stations are not mandated to purchase this programming, but over time have realized that national content providers can aggregate resources and more efficiently produce and deliver certain types of programming that would otherwise be impossible for stations to produce locally.

An example of this type of efficiency is the production of weekly music programs that bring concerts from all over the country (and world) to a national audience. A single station could never record and produce broadcasts from all over the county; but because of national content providers, regardless of market size, audiences can hear performances from coast to coast and all points in between. This supports the artists, the venues, the stations, the content providers, and - most importantly - it serves YOU, our audience.

Still have questions? Please feel free to contact Bill Johnson, WRTI Station Manager at 215-204-9335 or Bill@wrti.org. He'll clear up any confusion that may be lingering. But we hope that you now have a better understanding - and a clearer picture - of how public radio funding works and the connection between CPB, NPR, and WRTI.

For more information about exactly what CPB funds, and why, click here to visit their website

170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting is an advocacy group in support of public media. Click here to visit their website

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