NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio

By Tomasek, Kathryn | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), September 2007 | Go to article overview
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NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio


Tomasek, Kathryn, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio Michael P. McCauley. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Before Jon Stewart's The Daily Show became the news source of choice for a certain segment of the US population, National Public Radio (NPR) offered a significant alternative to mainstream network news. It provided reporters and listeners the opportunity to move beyond sound bites in a format that allowed time for in-depth coverage of stories. Many Americans now spend morning or evening drive time listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered, and for some, Saturday dinners are incomplete without A Prairie Home Companion. The institutional developments behind the shows that have become cultural mainstays for their audience are the subject taken up by McCauley, who worked in both commercial news radio and public radio in the 1980s.

He traces the origins of NPR in noncommercial radio, which emerged from educational broadcasting based in colleges and universities in the 1920s. Funding from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations led to the growth of educational broadcasting on both radio and television in the 1950s and 1960s, and Congress supported such broadcasting with the Educational Television Facilities Act of 1962. Organized efforts to build public broadcasting networks followed with funding from the Carnegie Corporation, and the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Almost cut out of the bill, public radio developed as the poor relation of public television. NPR was incorporated in 1970, and All Things Considered first aired in 1971.

After tracing the technological and legislative origins of NPR, McCauley provides an exhaustive description of the evolution of public radio in the United States by focusing on the administrators who have influenced its goals. This top-down view highlights competition between the marketoriented model of public radio developed in the Midwest under the leadership of Minnesota Public Radio's Bill Kling and the station manager governance that characterized the organization of NPR in the 1970s.

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