Awful but Necessary: Public Radio Membership Drives

Photo courtesy of Todd Huffman, some rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Todd Huffman. Some rights reserved.

Posted by Austin Cannon 

I grew up with public radio. In our house, we would always have 89.3 KCUR, Kansas City’s local National Public Radio (NPR) station, playing during breakfast and while dinner was being prepared. Personal favorites include A Prairie Home Companion, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, Car Talk (“don’t drive like my brother”) and, of course, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

I don’t listen as mush as I should when I’m at school, but I usually turn it on a couple of times a week. In late September and April, the inevitable happens. The membership drive.

No no no no. Instead of listening Steve Inskeep’s familiar voice, I get some guy from a local bank begging for money. Ugh. Twice a year, each NPR member station has to conduct a membership drive. This involves local personalities going on the air and promising all the tote bags you can handle in exchange for a donation. NPR is funded by the public. It depends largely on donations from its listeners.

This article from Slate is four years old, but it still holds true. Even though it might be pledge week, I still can’t manage to change the station.

The article gives 10 ways public radio gets listeners to donate. The most intriguing, to me, is number six.

Even with recent staff cuts, NPR still provides some truly excellent journalism. Morning Edition and All Things Considered give listeners the news every half hour It’s five quick minutes that give you a quick highlight of what to look out for during the day.

So, yeah. The membership drives are particularly insufferable, but they are completely necessary. Public radio proves that good journalism is a two-way street, relying both on the stations and the listeners.

Do you listen to NPR? Why do you think listeners are so attached to it? Can publicly funded news survive? 


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