Public radio by any other name

There's more to public radio than NPR

Ever get confused about the public radio food chain? Don’t fret, you’re hardly alone. Even people who work in public radio are confused.

Many think of National Public Radio and public radio synonymously — even though there’s a whole other distributor/network out there, Public Radio Intl. NPR, still the diamond on top of the pyramid, does it all, from studio production of radio programs to the syndication of shows. Signature shows such as “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “Fresh Air” have helped set the overall authoritative tone of public radio.

PRI doesn’t do on-site production, but rather partners and invests in programming. Its main function is distribution, although the audio publisher is spending more time developing original shows with its partners.

One such program is PRI’s “The World,” co-produced with BBC World Service and WGBH Boston.

In recent weeks, PRI also has picked up “Studio 360,” a weekly culture and arts mag hosted by former Inside.com editor Kurt Andersen. Program is produced by WYNC New York.

About half of NPR’s yearly budget comes from member station dues and programming fees; most of the rest comes from congloms and private foundations. NPR’s 2001 budget is $94 million, compared to $92 million in fiscal 2000 and $86 million in fiscal 1999.

To put this in perspective, its annual budget is less than what Disney just spent to make its latest high-profile movie “Pearl Harbor.”

PRI derives its coin in the same manner as NPR. The latest budget figures available show that PRI’s fiscal 1999 budget was just shy of $20 million.

The only direct government funding NPR and PRI receive is for specific projects, such as satellite services or the L.A. production center. It’s stations that receive the bulk of government money, much of which is funneled through the Corp. for Public Broadcasting. NPR and PRI ultimately benefit, however, when paid by stations for programming.

There’s competition between NPR and PRI, but it’s rarely vicious. PRI’s distribution line is clogged with faves, such as “This American Life” with Ira Glass, produced by WBEZ public radio in Chicago, and “Sound & Spirit,” produced by Boston’s WGBH.

PRI also distribs “A Prairie Home Companion With Garrison Keillor,” “Marketplace,” and “The Savvy Traveler.”

This trio of popular shows are exec produced by Minnesota Public Radio, which brings up another point: through the years, regional public radio stations have built up mini-nets. Minnesota Public Radio is the prime example. In fact, MPR is the second largest producer of original programming next to NPR.