National Public Radio

NPR logo
NPR logo
NPR redirects here. For other meanings of NPR, see NPR (disambiguation).

National Public Radio (NPR) is a private, not-for-profit corporation that sells programming to member radio stations; together they are a loosely organized public radio network in the United States. NPR was created in 1970, following the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967 which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and also led to the creation of the Public Broadcasting Service. The network was founded on February 24, 1970, with 90 public radio stations as charter members.

Like its competitors, American Public Media and Public Radio International, NPR produces and distributes news and cultural programming. Its member stations are not required to broadcast all of these programs and most broadcast programs from many different sources. Its flagship programs are two drive time news broadcasts, Morning Edition, and the afternoon All Things Considered; both are carried by nearly all NPR affiliates and in 2002 were the second- and third-most popular radio programs in the country. Morning Edition has been the network's most popular program since 1989.



NPR makes some of their funding information public ( According to the NPR Ombudsman (, currently NPR makes just over half of its money from the fees it charges member stations to receive programming. About 2% of NPR's funding comes from bidding to government grants and programs (chiefly the Corporation for Public Broadcasting); the remainder comes from corporate underwriting.

Over the years, the portion of the total NPR budget that comes from government has been decreasing. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the government. Steps were being taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but a major funding crisis in 1983, which almost led to the demise of the network, brought about more rapid shifts in NPR's funding setup. More money to fund the NPR network was raised from listeners, charitable foundations and corporations, and less from the government.

In 1995, two "well-meaning but misguided students" (in the official words ( of the University of Northern Colorado) started an e-mail petition claiming that [on] NPR's Morning Edition, Nina Tottenberg said that if the Supreme Court supports Congress, it will, in effect, be the end of the National Public Radio (NPR)... Although the funding crisis passed, the chain letter continues to circulate on the Internet. (See NPR's statement ( on the petition.)

NPR member stations also receive private and government funding, but are famous for raising money through on-air pledge drives, during which programming is interrupted and listeners are encouraged to donate money to keep the station on the air.

In contrast to commercial radio, NPR carries no advertising, but has brief statements from major donors. These statements are called underwriting spots, not commercials, and are bound by FCC restrictions that commercials are not; they cannot advocate a product or contain any "call to action". Critics of NPR contend that the difference is exaggerated. Since NPR is not dependent on advertising revenue, it is largely free of the ratings-driven decision making of commercial media. The result is programming that is considered less sensationalistic than commercial media.

On November 6, 2003, NPR was given $200 million from the estate of the late Joan B. Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds Corporation. In 2003 the annual budget of NPR was $100 million.

Production facilities and listenership

NPR's major production facilities have been based in Washington, D.C., since its creation. On November 2, 2002, a west coast production facility, dubbed NPR West, was opened in Culver City, California. NPR opened NPR West to improve its coverage of the western United States, to expand its production capabilities (shows produced there include News & Notes with Ed Gordon and Day to Day), and to create a fully functional backup production facility capable of keeping NPR on the air in the event of a catastrophe in Washington, D.C.

According to a 2003 Washington Monthly story, about 20 million listeners tune into NPR each week. On average they are 50 years old and earn an annual income of $78,000. About 10% are either African American or Hispanic. Many of its listeners consider NPR to be at the apex of journalistic integrity, while others claim that it has a liberal bias, lacks diversity, and depends on government funding.

From 1999 through 2004, listenership has increased by about 2/3. This is believed to be due to multiple factors, ranging from national and international events (September 11 and the following military actions being the most significant), to a general lack of interest in other terrestrial radio outlets. In the same time period, overall radio listenership in the United States dropped to the level it was in 1994 as people abandoned the medium in favor of iPods (and similar devices) and satellite radio.

Some efforts have been made to appeal to younger listeners and to minority groups. In 2002, Tavis Smiley hosted a show on NPR for a few years in order to appeal to African Americans, though he eventually left the network in 2004. NPR stations have long been known for carrying classical music, but the amount of classical programming carried on NPR stations and other public radio outlets in the U.S. has been declining. Many stations have shifted toward carrying more news, while others have shifted to feature more contemporary music that attracts a younger audience.


Programs produced by NPR

News and public affairs programs

NPR produces a morning and an afternoon news program, both of which also have weekend editions with different hosts. It also produces hourly news briefs around the clock. NPR formerly distributed the World Radio Network, a daily compilation of news reports from international radio news, but no longer does so.

Cultural programming

Programs distributed by NPR

Popular shows distributed by NPR include Terry Gross's interview show Fresh Air and WBUR's Car Talk, starring Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers (a.k.a. Tom and Ray Magliozzi).

Public radio programs not affiliated with NPR

Individual NPR stations can broadcast programming from sources that have no formal affiliation with NPR.

Many shows produced or distributed by Public Radio International, such as This American Life and Whad'Ya Know?, are broadcast by NPR member stations, although the shows are not affiliated with NPR. Other popular shows, like A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace, are produced by American Public Media.


Some conservatives have criticized NPR, alleging that the programs are biased towards left-wing politics and cater to an audience composed primarily of liberal, "educated elite" listeners. However, this accusation has been disputed by the FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) organization [1] (

Another criticism of NPR (and public radio in general) is that it is boring. This is shown in pop culture; for example, The Simpsons has made fun of American Public Media's Garrison Keillor "humorous" program as not being funny. [2] ( Saturday Night Live had a recurring segment called The Delicious Dish, a parody of public radio cooking shows. The hosts speak in a monotonous voice and sound disinterested in the topic.

Unlike CBC and Radio-Canada, NPR stations do not operate at the state level. This leads to a somewhat fragmented radio network. In Canada, CBC's regional level of organization does lead to some network synergy in programming and content, a network synergy NPR will probably never achieve. On the other hand, this structure provides more opportunities for diversity in local-interest programming and cultural content.

Criticism for NPR comes from the African-American community. Tavis Smiley, a well-known black talk show host, resigned from NPR claiming that NPR did not effectively promote his program to minority communities. In addition, he received complaints from listeners stating that his sound was too harsh and grating for public radio.

See also

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