Public Radio's Advertising Creep

"As its federal funding came under threat," U.S. National Public Radio increased its ad sales. "Public-radio stations now count 18% of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal government." Corporate "underwriters" include Clear Channel Communications, Starbucks and Wal-Mart Stores. "More on-air sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than lumped at the end of each show," reports Sarah McBride. "And more minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible." The trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but "weren't bothered by" fundraising by direct mail or on-air underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener concerns "about corporate influence on programming as well as the number of messages" are increasing.


The Detroit Free Press reports on [ an extreme case of advertiser pressure] at public radio stations:

Prosecutors charged three former employees of Michigan Public Media with illegally accepting golf club memberships, Persian rugs, airline tickets and massages in exchange for on-air considerations at the state's top public radio station. Each of the men -- current WDET-FM general manager Michael Coleman, Jeremy Nordquist and Justin Ebright -- was charged by Washtenaw County prosecutors in Ann Arbor with embezzlement of under $20,000 while working at Michigan Public Media-controlled WUOM-FM (91.7).

Are you really still taking comments on this, 5 years on?

I DO have something to say about this. I'm surprised I find so little on it in a Google search.

This has been bothering me for some time now. I would listen to repeated claims on my local station, KPCC (Pasadena, CA), that "we do not do advertising," and then within minutes, would hear something which sounded suspiciously, exactly like advertising, including company name repeated several times, products named and described, and described as "something listeners would find useful, attractive or desirable" or something like that, i.e. a sales pitch. In fact, it sounded just like any other advertising, except perhaps slightly more reserved, and in a cultivated radio voice.

I called the program manager at KPCC about this several times, and he was gracious, but finally excused what his station was doing because he said, the ads were NOT ads because "they did not include any call to action," i.e. did not actually ask that listeners come out and buy the product. Well, I've been watching, and since that time have discovered that MOST of what is certainly advertising does not make that call, either.

The whole point is, besides the annoyance factor of having a sales pitch in one's ear everywhere we go, is that Public Media are supposed to represent the public interest. When it accepts money for advertising, it becomes subject to pressure from advertisers, typically to air certain kinds of shows and analysts, and to not air others, and I firmly believe that that effect is being realized.

I'm a bit rusty, but I can say that while I hear interviews with representatives of corporate business, Corporatist government officials and representatives of the local Sheriff's office on a regular basis, I have much less often heard interviews with leftist political theorists (I never heard Michael Parenti, or Amy Goodman on KPCC!), representatives of unions and of the Working Classes, and advocates for, for example, the legalization of marijuana, which is a populist interest, and which the local Sheriff speaks out against on a regular basis.

And while there is a program call "Marketplace" on KPCC, I know of no programming which specifically treats the interests of the PEOPLE per se, i.e. the Working Classes, as opposed to those of the Corporate Classes and the relatively rich. This is NOT what I (used to) expect from PUBLIC radio! This is NOT what "public" radio was intended to do, and I believe that inroads by business interests is in large part to blame.

Then there is the issue of who is on the boards of trustees of these so-called "public" stations. They are almost exclusively, or in most cases, exclusively, corporate executives! How can Public Radio serve the needs of the community and the WORKING public, when it is run entirely by people who are primarily and even exclusively interested in corporate business and profits? That is a conflict of interest of the most extreme kind, which dictates what public radio is or can be.

I believe that Public Radio is, as a direct result of these factors, little more than a Red Herring for populist, Working Class interests, i.e. it makes most people think that the interests of working people are being served, as well as possible, when in fact they are NOT.

I totally reject the fluff and right-wing-masquerading-as-populist programming that Public Radio offers. What they call leftist is little farther left than the middle, and it does far better service to the right than it does to leftist concerns. I believe that so-called Public Radio is a big, slick LIE.