Federal Funding Cut Would Hit Local Programming Hardest at St. Louis Public Radio

Tim Eby
Tim Eby
By now you've heard how a hidden-video sting released this week caught an NPR executive calling the Tea Party racist and Republicans anti-intellectual.

The tape has only added to calls from right-wing legislators to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides money to PBS, NPR and local community radio. (Last month such a bill passed the House; similar legislation has yet to be considered in the Senate.)

Here in St. Louis, the CPB provides KWMU 90.7 (a.k.a. St. Louis Public Radio) with $360,000 annually, which accounts for seven percent of the local NPR affiliate's operating budget.

This afternoon, Daily RFT talked to KWMU general manager Tim Eby about how his station could be impacted by the hidden-video sting and the possible elimination of federal support.

Daily RFT: Seven percent of your budget doesn't sound that significant -- or does it?

Tim Eby: Well, it helps pay for several staff members. But where this could really hurt the most is smaller NPR stations in rural markets. NPR is built around an idea of universal service -- providing free over-the-air service to as much of the nation as possible. And it's those rural areas that generally don't have as many outside funding sources.

What about here in St. Louis what would be hit?

I'd like to think that we'd do whatever we can to keep staff, but the biggest dent would probably be in our local news coverage and other local broadcasting such as the St. Louis Symphony on Saturday nights.

You have a pledge drive coming up next week. Are you concerned that some donors will be turned off by the revelations made in the hidden-camera video?

I don't know. I try to be optimistic. The fact of the matter is that our membership has increased dramatically from 13,000 members giving $2 million annually in 2008 to 19,000 members giving $2.5 million today. They provide over half our budget.

Given the increase in private support at KWMU do you think that the NPR exec filmed in the under-cover video was right when he said that NPR would be better without CPB funding?

No. I do not. And it gets back to the universal coverage. That's the hallmark of the federal funding.

Have you received many calls from listeners and/or members about this week's hidden-camera flap?

Actually it's been pretty quiet. We heard a lot more over the Juan Williams firing last fall.   

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