Statement of NPR President & CEO Before US Senate Committee on Appropriations

Apr 10, 2012

Statement of Gary Knell, President and CEO, National Public Radio, Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. House Committee on Appropriations in March, 2012.

Dear Chairman Rehberg, Congresswoman DeLauro and Members of the Subcommittee,

Thank you for this opportunity to urge the Subcommittee’s support for a federal investment in America’s distinctive public broadcasting system. Public broadcasting’s continuing service to communities in every corner of America is dependent on a diversified revenue base, including federal funding. For less money per American per year than a single cup of coffee, public broadcasting stations have become local community cornerstones that reflect local values and are built upon local control and local programming decisions. And this outstanding locally focused public service is widely supported by Americans from all walks of life.

As the President and CEO of NPR, I offer this testimony on behalf of the public radio system, a uniquely American public service, non-for-profit media enterprise that includes NPR, our more than 950 public radio station partners, other producers and distributors of public radio programming including American Public Media (APM), Public Radio International (PRI), the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), and many stations, both large and small, that create and distribute content through the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS). With your continued support for an annual federal appropriation of $445 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, (CPB), every American will continue to have free access to the best in educational, news, information and cultural programming.

Funding provided by Congress to the CPB supports the entire foundation of a system that has been one of America’s most successful models of a community-centric grant program. The revenue base provided by Congress enables stations to raise $6 for every federal grant dollar. And for every $1 that public radio stations invest in NPR programming, they are able to raise $3 locally from audiences and local businesses. This enables local stations to invest more deeply in their own local news and cultural programming. The essential federal investment enables the American public to receive an enduring and daily return on investment that is heard, seen, read and experienced in public radio broadcasts, apps, podcasts, and on online.


Local is the cornerstone and watchword of public radio as stations connect with their communities and localize civil and civic discussions on reporting from around the world. Public radio stations are independently owned and operated, and are licensed to colleges, universities, community foundations, and other non-profit organizations. Stations serve their local communities by determining their own schedules. They are managed locally by professionals who are accountable to community leaders and listeners who represent the diverse backgrounds of that community. Decisions about programming and services are made by people who live within the local community. That’s the way it used to be throughout much of the broadcast industry, and we think it’s the way it should be. Public radio stations set their own policies, make their own program decisions, and answer questions when their local listeners call or write. They respond to their listeners and respond to their needs because an actively-engaged audience in public radio’s calling card. Most of our system’s revenue is audience-sensitive, coming either from individual local contributors or from local businesses and foundations that support the work of our stations.

Consider these recent statistics … Roughly 38 million Americans listen to public radio each week, more than the total combined circulation of the country’s top 64 newspapers, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Additionally, some 20 million visitors a month find public radio’s digital platforms, with some 30 million podcast downloads occurring each month. According to the Pew Research Center, NPR and public radio are the only news sources to see a meaningful increase in audience trust over the last 12 years.

As the country’s largest non-profit news organization, public radio is uniquely positioned to respond to the ever evolving nature of delivering news, music and cultural affairs programming. Our network of local public radio stations reaches diverse communities, from the largest urban areas to the smallest rural enclaves. Public radio programming is rooted in the fundamentals of accuracy, transparency, independence, balance, and fairness that foster understanding for millions of Americans seeking information, context and insight.

As a network of stations that produce local news and cultural programming and, with regional, national and international reporting capabilities that NPR, APM and others contribute, we are making a difference in the world beginning in each community you represent. On average, 44% of daily programming is locally produced by station staff, 28% is produced by NPR, and 28% comes from other public radio station producers and national distributors. Throughout the public radio station community, local and regional talk shows are mainstays of daily programming. Recent surveys show that the number of public radio stations carrying local news/talk programming rose from 595 to 681 stations, with hours aired each week increasing by more than ten percent. On average, 1,400 programming segments produced by local public radio stations were included in programming distributed nationally by NPR.

Roughly 90 percent of stations produce local newscasts, airing both newscast and non-newscast content primarily on weekday drive time, especially morning drive-time. About half of all stations carry local news content during the weekends. Most stations – 74 percent - are producing stories other than newscasts each week to insert into Morning Edition and All Things Considered locally; and, most news stations – 88 percent - are producing and inserting stories, with a majority of these stations inserting five or more stories per week. Stations devote the most local news coverage and their reporters’ specific beat assignments to state-local-politics, schools and education, arts and cultural events, environmental, health, and business issues. News format stations provide added coverage on local politics, education, and business, whereas music stations focus on arts and cultural affairs events.


Public radio also provides an important and growing contribution to America’s music culture and America’s music economy. Some 480 public radio stations offer a mixed news and music programming format, with another 180 stations engaged entirely in music. Every year, public radio stations host and broadcast more than 3,000 in-studio and community-based performances. And every year, public radio stations broadcast more than 4.8 million hours of music programming. More than a third of all public-radio listening is to music.

Classical, jazz, folk, independent, blue grass, world and eclectic are music formats offered by public radio stations in cities large and small, and all are being eliminated as economically unsustainable in the commercial market. As a result, in dozens of communities nationwide, the local public radio station is the only free and universally available source of music from these genres. This preservation role is complemented by the important promotional role public radio stations play in music today. Local stations actively highlight in-studio performances by emerging artists and local music events spanning all music genres. Audiences increasingly are turning to their local public radio stations as trusted sources for information on new artists and events.


By ensuring that public radio is widely available throughout the country, federal funding helps ensure that citizens have access to emergency and public safety information during national or local disasters. Public radio is a communications lifeline during times of emergencies, especially when the power grid is down. 98% of the U.S. population has access to a public radio signal. There are an estimated 800-900 million radios in the U.S and more than 38 million people listen to public radio each week. Radio is the most effective medium for informing a community of weather forecasts, traffic issues, services available, evacuations, and other emergency conditions. Everyone has access to a radio; they are portable and battery operated. In Indian Country, radio stations provide essential life saving information in many Native communities that do not have available or effective 911 services and have limited or no telephone access or broadband (one third have no telephone and less than 10% have internet access).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) routinely advises the public to make sure that radios with batteries are on hand when major storms approach. When people are instructed to evacuate due to local crisis situations such as hurricanes, flooding, tornados, wildfires, ice storms, earthquakes and terrorist attacks, car radios become a primary instrument for receiving information about the emergency situation including evacuation routes and evacuation center locations. Effective emergency warnings allow people to take actions that save lives, reduce damage, and reduce human suffering.

Dedicated public radio personnel have worked and continued broadcasting through multiple crises such as the 9-11 attacks, hurricanes Andrew, Hannah, Katrina, Rita and Gustav, blackouts, wildfires, ice storms, earthquakes and floods. During the 9-11 tragedy, WNYC 93.9 FM / 820 AM served as a 24/7 lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people, while in the days that followed station personnel provided a calm and recognizable voice that helped survivors cope. The station kept reporting even while its FM transmitter located on the World Trade Center was destroyed in the first attack.


Many public radio stations also provide critical services to disabled Americans. Radio reading services in every major market in the United States provide millions of visually impaired persons the ability to function more independently in their communities. Our nation’s elderly and military veteran’s returning home injured or disabled from foreign combat duty depend on these broadcasts for their only access to current print-based news and information.

Everyone with a visual impairment, physical disability or learning disability has a right to equal access to all forms of information available to the general public. Audio information services provide access to printed information for individuals who cannot read conventional print because of blindness or any other visual, physical or learning disability. Many audio information services provide service to institutions as well as to individuals, such as hospital rooms, assisted living facilities, low vision clinics, senior centers and other institutional care facilities where qualified listeners may reside or frequent.


At a time when the federal government is running a large deficit, every program and function of the government deserves to be scrutinized. A review of federal funding to public broadcasting is fair and to be expected. But the truth remains that the federal investment in the public radio and public broadcasting system provides one of the most effective returns of any program authorized by Congress. For a modest federal investment of just $1.39 per person per year, the country is provided with exceptional journalism and culturally-enriching programming that elevates the national dialogue and leads to a more informed citizenry.

In closing Chairman Rehberg and Congresswoman DeLauro, I encourage you, Members of the Subcommittee and your staffs will visit and tour your local public radio stations to view first-hand how federal dollars are at work locally serving your constituents.