NPR Math

New Math and the Loss of Drivetime NPR

Thanks for your concern about the loss of Morning Edition (ME) and All Things Considered (ATC). We miss them too!

Short story:

Our cost for ME & ATC was headed up unsustainably. We’ve transitioned to new programming now rather than risk taking pledges for shows that we know we can’t keep.

Full story:

You recognize that NPR charges local stations for most shows. Top-notch programming just can’t happen with national underwriter support alone, and so NPR tries to calculate the value these shows bring to each station and its capacity to pay. They recently changed the math. Any change was bound to increase fees for some stations and decrease fees for others. They wouldn’t want us to share the details of their fee calculation, but after a phase-in period, our fee would go up by $70,393 to keep ME & ATC. (See the screen capture from our bill above. Yes, that’s nearly 60% more than before.) No new programming to entice this additional support from listeners.

WORSE: Each dollar we raise from listeners raises our fee further, so we’d actually need to get $89,047 in pledges to cover the original $70,000 increase.  An average new member pledge for us is $103. Your calculator will tell you that we would need 864 additional members just to keep ME & ATC. No new programming to entice them, and none of their dollars would be left to cover costs of any other shows they may wish to fund! We have always felt that our listeners are the most generous Kansans, and they indicate that their charitable dollars are already spent elsewhere. If you’ve ever heard one of our fundraisers, you recognize that this sort of extra giving capacity does not exist. We were clear with our listeners that more response would be necessary. As a community, listeners chose to let this programming lapse rather than increase response.

So, rather than risk someone pledging for a “current” show we newly know we can’t keep, we took the affirmative step to find great new programming at these hours. Our programming remains objectively strong and, inarguably, an extraordinary community service. It’s just not branded “NPR.” We hope you will recognize that our local staff shares your love of NPR, but too few Kansans agreed with you and us that it is worth the extraordinary response required.

A poll taken by YouGov and The Economist indicates that Americans in general, and Kansans in particular, find the BBC to be more trustworthy than other news sources.

When we first chose NPR there were 4 TV channels, no internet and one public radio station on the dial. Part of our mission was to enhance the diversity of speech in Kansas, so losing NPR back then would have been terrible. Now our program choices on FM are more of a matter of public convenience.  As you’ve heard NPR hosts say thousands of times in recent years, you can “ask your smart speaker to play NPR…” and there’s the NPR phone app…and another app called NPR One, and hundreds of other NPR station streams accessible the same way. This online access is another reason why we could never find 864 new supporters to help keep it on FM.

As noted above, any change to NPR’s math was bound to create winners and losers. Radio Kansas is not rich in much, but we’re rich in friends, and it’s the support of friends that drives the new formula.. We asked NPR to consider that their fee formula may not even capture the value it intends for a station like ours, and we offered an alternative calculation which was rejected. You can imagine how messy it would get if they unraveled the rules for just a few unusual stations, so we respect their authority in the matter and their decision. We’ll look forward to your feedback to make our new schedule even better!