But how will NPR and NPR member stations survive? Public radio's extinction would suit me fine, but I understand that many listeners would be lost without it. So here's my plan: The stations should proceed in the direction they've been traveling since the 1980s, only move faster to become more like the commercial operations they already resemble. Kill those annoying underwriter announcements and replace them with real advertisements for real money.
If the taint of pure commerce is too great for public radio to tolerate (and I don't think it is), stations could go to work and build an endowment on the back of the only real asset they have: their spectrum, a scarce and valuable resource that they are rich with. In 2005, when PBS found itself mired in a political fistfight similar to the Juan Williams affair, I suggested that Congress and the FCC allow public TV stations to declare independence and "privatize and dezone" their slices of spectrum, as Peter Huber puts it. It was a good idea that's only gotten better. Let public radio stations sell, trade, or repurpose their spectrum and use the proceeds to build endowments to support programing. If the stations are still keen on airing NPR shows, let them use the endowments to pay NPR program fees and dues.
It's fine with me if the network and its stations continue their usual whoring for money—endless pledge drives, taking contributions from George Soros, soliciting sponsorships and foundation support, and all the rest.
My plan won't necessarily re-create NPR and its stations as they are today. But I can promise this: They'll be better, because they'll finally be independent.
NPR already has an endowment. It stood at $205 million in 2009. Nice start, NPR! Usually when I write about nonprofit media, I hear from Vivian Schiller. But she's a little busy right now, so I'll have to make due with correspondence from readers who think like Schiller. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Endow my Twitter feed with your subscriptions. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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