Our discussion began with a brief history of public radio. With the onset of war in 1917, the US Navy put a freeze on civilian broadcasting. However, several universities were able to continue experimentation that resulted in unsophisticated programming and a mentality to just see “what worked.” Educational missions carved a path for noncommercial broadcasting during the commercial grab for radio licenses in the late 1920s. Educational broadcasters won a significant victory in 1941 when the FCC reserved a portion of the FM band for noncommercial use. The fifties brought a new technology – television. Radio had a difficulty competing with the visual media, but noncommercial had a particularly difficult time protecting its frequencies.
The Public Broadcasting Act of 1927 provided for ways to build a national financial and distribution infrastructure that noncommercial radio had lacked. Radio was so eclipsed by the 1960s that it was nearly left out of the legislation. The Act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to serve as a financial center. Its mission is to “facilitate the development of, and ensure universal access to, noncommercial high-quality programming and telecommunication services.”
The Corporation established National Public Radio (NPR) in 1970. It responded to questions of interconnection, production of programs, and the operation of satellite systems. It is funded in part by the CPB, member station dues, foundation grants, and corporate underwriting.
Continued competition from new media and a continued struggle for funding is the future of public radio. Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma in which he “describes companies whose successes and capabilities can actually become obstacles in the face of changing markets and technologies” can help understand the future. In order for public radio to survive, it needs to be able to “identify, develop and successfully market emerging technologies.” In short, public radio, and public broadcasting for that matter, needs to evaluate market demands and be timely and unique in its endeavors. Many will seek to answer questions regarding the influence of the CPB on programming content as well as the purpose of public radio with new technological advances.