Federal Funding and Chicago Public Media

Here is some background of the appropriation from the federal government to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), as well as some information on how that funding impacts Chicago Public Media.

Federal Support of Public Broadcasting

• Public Radio (established in 1945) and Public Television (established in 1949) originally were codified by the federal government by FCC spectrum-reserves only.  No charter was established, no center of operations. The stations received no federal funding.  This explains why many of this country’s oldest stations are associated with land-grant colleges and universities, which had the ability to subsidize these stations on a local and state level.

• The practice of providing an annual federal appropriation began in 1968 with the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1968.

• The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created in this same legislation to distribute the funds.  This “extra layer” was created to satisfy concerns that federal dollars directly transferred to radio and television stations from Congress would ultimately lead to the federal government having content control over stations.

• CPB is a non-profit corporation whose sole function is appropriation distribution.  The board of CPB is appointed by the administration and confirmed by Congress.

• The federal appropriation is designed to support public radio and television station licensees.  While a small amount of money (no more than one-third) is reserved each year for program-specific support that can be awarded to stations, producers, and national producing organizations in a competitive process, at least two thirds of the appropriation goes to stations as general operating support.

• National producers such as NPR and PRI are ineligible for such operating support and, therefore, do not rely on CPB funding for operations at all. They occasionally receive relatively small program-specific grants from CPB after prevailing in a competitive process with other applicants.

• Unlike the UK and other countries, public television and radio in the US has always been completely de-centralized. There is no real “network” in public radio or public television. PBS is a distribution company and NPR is a producer and a distributor of programming. PBS and NPR (and other big distributors) are owned and managed separately from all public television and radio stations that purchase their products. Furthermore, there is no requirement or directive to purchase nationally distributed program products.

• This smaller pool of program-specific funds assiss public radio and television stations, as well as independent producers and production houses in testing new initiatives. Specific grants have helped in the technical upgrades of stations as well as the development of new technology services, such as interactive platforms.  In the past, these targeted grants—separate from the larger annual CPB appropriation for operating support—have helped WBEZ start Third Coast International Audio Festival, This American Life, Odyssey, and special series and projects like “Changing Gears.”

• The annual operating funds—the lion’s share of the appropriation— particularly benefits television stations.  By policy, public television stations receive 75% of the annual operating appropriation from CPB.  Public radio stations split the remaining 26%.

• Naturally, stations use operating funds every year to buy programs from national distributors such as NPR and PRI.  But stations are not obligated to use the money that way.

• On February 14th, the Administration proposed $472 million for CPB in FY 2012 out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion, or  0.0131%  of the total budget).

• Chicago Public Media received $1.2 million from CPB in FY2010 in the form of an operating grant (Community Service Grant). Between 2009-2010, we also received one-time program-specific grants of close to $800,000 for an array of initiatives including Vocalo and support for the digital conversion of one of our signals, among several.

• Not all stations will be affected similarly.  The highest pressure will be on small market and medium market radio stations or smaller stations in larger cities, where CPB’s operating grant accounts for 20-30% of their annual operating funds.

References for more information:
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Bloomberg: Challenging Obama, House GOP calls for deep cuts
NY Daily News: Save Big Bird, Nova, Jim Lehrer: Congress must not pull the plug on PBS and NPR
The Washington Post: The argument for funding public media

If you'd like to contact your representative:
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)
Senator Dan Coats (R-IN)

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI)

Find your Representative from the House