Public radio signals for help to keep Congress from pulling the plug
For Bob Edwards, timing is everything. As host of public radio's "Morning Edition" news show, he juggles the minutes from the moment he rolls out of bed at 1:45 a.m. until he hits the airwaves at 6 .Skip to next paragraph
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In the office by 3 a.m., he writes, tapes introductions, and researches through the wee hours.
But just as his show is attracting more listeners than ever before -- about 500,000 on an average morning -- its time may be running out.
National Public Radio (NPR), producer of "Morning Edition" as well as the popular "All Things Considered" program in the afternoon, is looking over its shoulder at proposed federal budget cuts that would dig deeply into its funding and possibly eliminate these and other programs on public radio.
At the same time, a battle over the advance-funding mechanism, which many say is the network's only protection against political interference, is being fought on Capitol Hill.
"I think it's unfortunate," says NPR president Frank Mankiewicz, "that just as the investment Congress has made over the last 10 years is bearing fruit, OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] is coming along with an ill-informed and ill-advised analysis of public broadcasting which threatens to cut our funding in such a disorderly fashion."
The budget proposal suggests deep cuts in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the umbrella organization that funnels money to public radio and television.Mr. Mankiewicz says public radio can tighten its belt along with everyone else, if need be, but he objects to OMB's methods.
"The OMB would like to cut the budget wherever they can," says Mankiewicz. "But they don't understand this case."
The confusion, he says, is over already approved funds for 1982 and 1983 which Reagan budget-cutters want to pare down. To do this, Congress would have to rescind the earlier appropriations. Opponents of the move say that by setting up appropriations two years in advance, public broadcasting is "insulated" from a fluctuating political climate.
"If recision goes through in the way OMB has proposed it," says Mankiewicz, "it would destroy NPR -- we'd have to close up."
The recision would cut Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds for 1982 and 1983 from $172 million for both years to $129 million and $120 million, respectively. In 1984, funding would drop to $110 million, then to $100 million in 1985 and 1986.
Mankiewicz points out that the OMB-Suggested cuts are aimed at national programming, while leaving direct support to local stations mostly intact. This is fine for television, says Mankiewicz, because much of it is proudced by local stations and then nationally distributed.
NPR, on the other hand, produces the bulk of public radio's national programming from their studios in Washington. Federal support for this programming amounted to about $14.5 million this year, an amount Mankiewicz likes to compare with what the Army spends on marching bands.
Public radio stations around the country, to varying degrees, count on the NPR-produced shows for about 25 percent of their programming. Many of the 243 public stations say that shows like "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" are their prime audience-getters.
"If worse comes to worse, and I lose that program [All Things Considered]," says Carl Matthusen, station manager at KMCR-FM in Phoenix, "I have no possibility of producing something comparable on a local level, and I lose that as a draw for listeners and the money from those listeners."
But many observers say recision is losing the fight in the halls of Congress. The Senate Budget Committee voted unanimously against recision in March. But the issue must still be considered in the House and Senate Appropriations committees.