The network continues to enhance programming, even in the face of a potential funding loss.
By MARTIN MILLER
LOS ANGELES TIMES
LOS ANGELES -- Even as Congress debates funding for National Public Radio, the network's top officials said this week they are pressing ahead with plans to strengthen the franchise's technology and news-gathering abilities.
Within the coming months, the network expects to launch new multicasts and further enhance its burgeoning satellite and podcasting capabilities, while also continuing an ongoing three-year, $15 million expansion of its news division. NPR's audience has doubled over the last seven years and now reaches an estimated 26.1 million listeners every week.
The new technologies "are going to change the way people listen to radio," said Ken Stern, NPR's executive vice president, who, along with Kevin Klose, the network's president, was in Los Angeles this week for planning conferences. The executives met with local journalists Thursday night.
On the cutting edge
NPR officials said they are paying special attention to podcasting and will be looking for new ways to promote it. Viewed as the "TiVo-ization" of radio for its ability to enable listeners with portable devices to hear programming on their own schedule, podcasting has been a particularly big hit on NPR member station KCRW of Santa Monica. Earlier this summer when Apple Computer Inc. offered an updated version of its music software, iTunes, that featured KCRW programming, their downloads skyrocketed from about 3,500 a day to 100,000.
Ideas for future growth were derailed last month when the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding by about $200 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, from which NPR receives about 2 percent of its annual budget of approximately $118 million. The proposed cutbacks would have been especially hard on public radio stations that serve rural areas, said NPR officials.
Along with the proposed cutbacks came accusations from CPB Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson that public television and radio exhibit a liberal bias. But NPR officials rejected that charge and reaffirmed their commitment to fair and balanced news coverage.
"Some like to polarize us into red and blue states," said Klose. "We don't accept that proposition at NPR."
A positive outlook
Subsequent votes within both houses of Congress have made drastic cuts appear far less likely. This week, a key Senate subcommittee approved restoring funding to near its original level -- an action that represents about $111 million more than was approved last month by the House.
The two congressional bodies are expected to work out the funding differences between the two measures by late summer or early fall, but NPR officials are optimistic they will keep all, or almost all, of their funding. Their confidence is due in part to an outpouring of popular support for the network that followed the proposed cuts.