Firms take 'stock' in National Public Radio

National Public Radio is seeking ''stockholders.'' Faced with federal budget cuts, National Public Radio (NPR) is buttonholing corporate and foundation executives to try to fill a fiscal void being left by congressional budget committees. The pitch to the organizations: Buy ''shares'' in NPR.

Contributors will not actually share ownership of NPR, nor will they set programming policy. Rather, they will receive more frequent on-the-air recognition in exchange for their ''purchase.''

NPR president Frank Mankiewicz, who stopped here recently on a national sales tour, appears to have an attractive product. His figures show a stunning 40 percent leap in NPR listeners - from a weekly cumulative audience of just over 5 million people in spring of 1980 to just over 7 million people only one year later.

Previously, NPR asked corporations to underwrite costs for a single show. In exchange, the firms received an on-the-air credit. The current campaign, however , is aimed at attracting private dollars to offset the cost of the entire range of NPR programming, not just one particular progam.

In return for buying one program ''share'' - for $250,000 - a corporation will receive on-the-air credit 12 times a week. Half-shares and quarter-shares, with correspondingly fewer credits, also can be bought. In the two weeks since the campaign began, says Mr. Mankiewicz, 21/4 shares worth $4.25 million have been sold - 13 percent of NPR's first-year sales goal of 17 shares.

Under President Reagan's fiscal 1982 budget, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) received $172 million, $36 million of which is earmarked for public radio. Of that $36 million, $19 million goes directly to the 259 NPR-member stations scattered across the country. Another $14.5 million goes to NPR, which is responsible for originating many of the programs heard on local public radio stations. The remainder is used for research and other purposes.

NPR, says Mankiewicz, expects that the amounted budgeted for the CPB will drop as low as $100 million by 1986, with a corresponding drop in public radio funding to $20 million. By gradually stepping up efforts to attract private money, NPR hopes to raise as much as $19 million for national programming by 1986. At that point, says Mankiewicz, NPR would not need any government aid and could turn over the entire projected $20 million in federal funds to local public radio stations.

NPR also is planning several profitmaking ventures that involve using its satellite to broadcast signals for commercial networks and selling cassettes of NPR programs to educational institutions. By 1986, hopes Mankiewicz, NPR will raise half of its funds from these business activities, with the other half coming from the sale of ''shares.''

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