This is a city that loves its public media. Nearly every cab driver around town seems to listen to All Things Considered on repeat, and in addition to KUOW and KEXP, we also have KNKX, the newly independent radio station that plays bird songs every morning, classical music station KING, and public television station KCTS 9. But last weekend, The New York Times reported that failed steak salesman and current US president Donald Trump—a man with less political experience than a high school class president—had drafted a “hit list” of programs to defund, including Americorps, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which distributes federal funds to over 1,400 locally-owned public radio and television stations across the U.S.
That’s right, folks: He’s coming for our tote-bags.
According to Adam Ragusea, host of The Pub (a podcast about public broadcasting), public media isn’t just a city thing—and that might just be what saves it.
“As much as party activists hate NPR and Bill Moyers,” Ragusea says, “the fact is that terrestrial public broadcasting remains an essential public service for rural people and old people, otherwise known as Republican voters.”
He’s right. I grew up in a rural North Carolina, where the only listening options were the local NPR station and Jesus radio. It’s where I got all of my news then, and today, public broadcasting stations are still the only locally-owned-and-operated media outlets at all in many areas of the country. We need public radio—but the red states do, too.
Trump is hardly the first conservative (if that’s even what he is) to target public media. Richard Nixon proposed slashing the CPB’s budget by half back in 1969, but the corporation was saved when Mr. Rogers traded his cardigan for a suit and testified before the Senate about the value of its programming. It happened again in 1994, when Newt Gingrich was gunning for the CPB’s funding and public media supporters dragged Kermit and Big Bird to the steps of Congress in protest. This time, however, the threat seems more real: Over 26 million people tune in to NPR stations each week. Of course, Trump hates it.
Besides the fact that an independent public media is vital for both American life and This American Life, cutting funding for the CPB is also a terrible way to save money. The CPB takes in about $445 million a year—or 0.01 percent of the total budget. This costs American taxpayers a whopping $1.35 per year. That, of course, won’t stop Trump from chopping it. Gotta pay for those flights to Mar-a-Lago somehow.
Local radio stations are tight-lipped about what the future means for them under Trump, but Rob Dunlop, president and CEO of KCTS, says, “We are fortunate to have strong community support for KCTS 9. That said, the loss of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is significant enough that we would need to find additional support from other sources.” But, he adds, “we have no fact-based information on the President’s plans with regard to CPB and do not wish to react to speculation.”
Even if the CPB is axed, local NPR stations will probably be fine: Unlike the president, the people who run NPR stations are smart, and they’ve diversified their funding over the years. According to the most recent tax filings, less than 6 percent of KUOW’s annual budget comes from the feds. At KNKX, it’s about 7 percent. Of course, now that Trump has found out that the CPB exists and decided to kill it, that revenue will have to come from somewhere else, which could mean an increase in corporate sponsorships, or—god forbid—longer pledge drives.
Want to support public media? Donate to you favorite local station and add “Don’t defund the CPB” to the list of things you call your representative about. Terry Gross will thank you.