Whether it’s watching Antiques Road Show on a Monday night or turning the dial to 89.3, 170 million Americans tune in to public broadcasting every month.
But that programming may change as Congress attempts to reduce the nation’s $1.6 trillion annual deficit.
The U.S. House has approved a bill that would include eliminating all federal funding for national public radio and television — and would mean Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television would lose about $4 million and $2 million a year, respectively.
The $430 million cut to public broadcasting was part of a bill that would trim $60 billion from the nation’s annual deficit. The bill would decrease wasteful spending and create jobs, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a press conference last week.
“We need to stop Washington’s spending binge,” Boehner said. “The legacy of the stimulus spending binge is clear — it failed. And Americans are still asking the same question: ‘Where are the jobs?'”
While the country needs to confront its deficit, eliminating funding to public broadcasting – which makes up .001 percent of the federal budget — is not the way to do it, said Jeff Nelson, managing director of public strategies at MPR.
Both MPR and TPT said the cuts would be a hard hit, but smaller stations around the country would suffer the most.
If some stations fold, the ones that remain will bear the brunt of the financial burden, TPT President and CEO Jim Pagliarini said.
“I guarantee you that if funding is eliminated, it will send off a ripple effect across the country,” he said. “The whole economy of the system would be thrown off.”
Mark Wheat was the first DJ hired at 89.3 The Current. Now on his sixth year playing local music for MPR listeners, he experienced a record-breaking member drive, which he attributes partly to the discussion about possible funding cuts.
The Current had more than 17,100 new and renewing members in one week, Wheat said. “It was a great response because the news about the cuts hadn’t been out for that long.”
Those members gave a little more than $1.7 million in total – not enough to make up for a loss of federal funding.
Many listeners who stepped up during this member drive were young former students, Wheat said.
Chelsey Sleznikow, a University of Minnesota sophomore, is not only an avid listener of MPR but also a sustaining member.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how much they benefit from it,” Sleznikow, who’s majoring in global studies, said. “People also need to realize that it’s obviously not a totally free service.”
For MPR and TPT, the goal is to keep the federal funding by encouraging listeners to contact their U.S. representatives.
“We’re really trying to focus on getting the 170 million people that tune in every month to get engaged and call Congress, and hopefully that’s going to help change what’s happening in Washington,” Nelson said.
For Wheat and other MPR employees, it’s too soon to be thinking of what would get the boot if funding were to disappear.
“It’s like if there’s a hurricane coming,” The Current DJ Mary Lucia said. “We don’t know when it’s coming or where it’s coming from, but if we knew we were in its path, we’d be sandbagging.”