(By Mike Savage) The business model for public radio is under pressure. A drop in sponsor revenue has led to layoffs and furloughs at public radio stations across the country. Small and rural stations operate on the thinnest of margins in the best of times. Now our industry faces the fallout of lost sponsorship and changes in listening habits from car to home and back again.
NPR has made significant progress in adjusting its business model from generating the majority of its revenue from station dues to now realizing most of its revenue from digital and network sponsorship. Podcasting is becoming a bigger driver or content and revenue and NPR’s groundbreaking local/national podcast model, Consider This, allows local stations to sell the podcast and open up a new market for them.
However, most small and rural public radio stations are not part of this new frontier. With the loss of the Federal Public Telecommunications Funding Program (PTFP) in 2010, rural station budgets have strained to cover costs of transmission networks. In addition, inconsistent high speed internet coverage has throttled attempts by some small stations to reach listeners though apps and online.
As a director on the NPR Board, I have pushed hard to represent the needs of these smaller stations in our system. Local content on local radio is what binds communities together. As NPR moves forward to attempt to better represent America on its board, in its staffing and through careful sourcing, we must not lose sight of what defines NPR and member stations; serving the public with noncommercial public service journalism as a trusted utility across the entire country regardless of market size.
Mike Savage is the Director and General Manager for WEKU in Lexington, KY. He is one of 12 station managers elected to serve on the NPR Board. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]