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Brought to You by the Letters C...P...and B

By Ken Baker, Radio Kansas Manager


(Editor's Note, 5/25/17: The budget proposed for the new fiscal year cuts 93.3% from the CPB budget, leaving just enough money to shut down the organization and leaving no money to distribute to communities for local station support. The information about agencies in this article is all still accurate.)

You may have heard about plans in Washington to eliminate federal funding for public broadcasting. In the debate you'll frequently hear references to "PBS" or "CPB" and of course "NPR," but how does this alphabet soup of networks and agencies stew together? It's actually pretty simple once you understand all the nouns.

First of all, it's worth understanding the stakes: Your part of Kansas gets over $200,000 per year to ensure that you have access to public radio. That's the seed money that helps ensure there's a public station on the dial and covers some basic costs. Some of this money is offered as a match to your local dollars, and it's your dollars that determine which programs we offer!

CPB is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB gets from the federal government - and in recent years has distributed to stations like ours - about $1.33 per American as that seed money for both public radio and public TV. Roughly speaking, the dollar goes to TV and the 33-cents goes to local public radio. TV's just more expensive to do.

PBS is the Public Broadcasting Service. People use the term to describe both TV and radio, but PBS actually has nothing to do with radio. It is the TV network, providing programming, organizational support and other services to locally owned and operated public television stations.

Some people believe that we are related to public TV, and if you pledge to KPTS or KOOD or KTWU some of that money supports public radio. That is not the case! Your generous pledge for TV's Masterpiece does nothing to help us bring you Morning Edition. The opposite is also true. Even if you're generous to Radio Kansas, public TV needs to hear from you, too!

This misconception—that another pledge made elsewhere is funding my NPR show—this is the number one budgetary challenge for public radio. It's not that too few people listen to our specialized programming. It's not that too few people let us know they love our shows...it's that too many people believe they are currently members, when they just don't happen to be. About 40% of the people who write or call—and mention that they're current members—they are mistaken! I can't find them in our membership files at all or it's been years since they were a contributing member! Fundraisers become difficult if we're talking to thousands of people who love our service...they agree with everything we say about the value...and they don't call because they're just sure they're already helping.

Back to our alphabet: NPR is the network for public radio. We pay a basic fee to NPR to benefit from that organizational support like music rights and other legal reporting requirements. Separate from that basic fee is the subscription cost for each of the NPR shows you enjoy. Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! all come from NPR and each has its own fee. This is why it's so important that you let us know which specific shows are essential.

We purchase other programs and features from American Public Media (APM), PRI (Public Radio International) and from Chicago's WFMT Fine Arts Radio Network. HCC is Hutchinson Community College. We're not owned nor operated in any way by NPR, we're owned by a local community college. Most NPR stations are owned by universities with much larger budgets to operate their stations as an outreach effort for the institution. Radio Kansas is operated as a public service, and you—as a member of the public—help determine what constitutes this service. We get about 1/4th as much of our budget from HCC as a university might be able to contribute, which is why we are more reliant on your participation and why we are so responsive to your wishes.

Other entities to know include Sesame Workshop, which used to be CTW, the Children's Television Workshop. They are a producer and program supplier to PBS, but they are not owned nor controlled by PBS. Then there's the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, which produces many of the TV programs we see here in the states. Canada has the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I hope you feel a bit more prepared to discuss public broadcasting funding when it comes up in your local coffee group or community meeting. Our charter as a public broadcaster limits what I can legally say on the air. If you have questions I hope you'll drop me an e-mail or give me a call. Once we clear up the misconceptions people almost always choose to help. If there's something that would convince your friends, let me know.