The Private Business of Public Radio


| November 16, 2001


The Private Business of Public Radio

National Public Radio doesn't generate much revenue compared to commercial radio's behemoth Clear Channel -- NPR earning $144 million to Clear Channel's $4 billion -- but that hasn't stopped the nonprofit from expanding its network to over 620 stations. Within the last five years, commercial radio's audiences have dwindled, while NPR's audience has grown 10 percent to 16.4 million listeners.

Part of NPR's success, Patrick J. Kiger reports in Washington Business Forward, can be attributed to federal regulations prohibiting advertisements on its broadcasts and popular programs like All Things Considered and Car Talk.

Even though NPR has carved its niche in the radio market with quirky and intelligent programming, it's not without competition from other public radio networks. One of those rivals is Minnesota Public Radio -- home of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion show. A regional network of 29 stations in Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio evolved into a national broadcasting power in January 2000, when it bought a Los Angeles-area public radio station. The purchase made Minnesota Public Radio a direct competitor of KCRW, the city's main NPR affiliate.

Although Minnesota Public Radio airs NPR programs, and vice versa, 'the networks are frankly in tremendous competition with each other,' said Ruth Seymour, general manager of KCRW in The New York Times. This summer, NPR sold $12 million in California state development bonds to set up its first facility on the West Coast. Kevin Klose, NPR president and CEO, denies the expansion was an effort to match Minnesota Public Radio's move to the West Coast.
--Kate Garsombke
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