Minnesota Public Radio: punching above its weight

You want a great illustration of just how great a business Bill Kling has built at MPR? Check out this chart of public-radio organization size in the Top 25 markets. (Click image for a bigger version.) It’s from Kling’s recent presentation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, via Karen Everhart, who covered the presentation for the public-broadcasting trade site Current.org:

Not only is MPR more than twice as big as New York’s WNYC (take that, Yankee fans!), no other market is within $56 million of MPR’s $76 million radio operating expense.

It’s pretty easy to read this success two ways. You could take the view of Strib board chair Mike Sweeney, who argues that MPR’s accomplishment means it should get off the taxpayer teat. (By the way, the Strib continued its war on taxpayer-supported radio this morning by reprinting this St. Cloud Times op-ed, even though the target isn’t an MPR station.) Kling, I suspect, would argue taxpayers should be proud they’ve helped finance a nation-leading operation.

I don’t want to ignore the thrust of Everhart’s article: Kling’s call for public broadcasting leaders to “build larger and stronger local stations, free of the universities and other institutions that own most of them.” MPR, of course, has absorbed stations like St. Olaf’s WCAL (see conflict note here), and operates Pasadena Area Community College’s KPCC in California.

It sounds like Kling is extending his local “newspapers are dying, we’re next” argument nationwide, and is a little peeved that his smaller cousins don’t have more dough to buy MPR’s national shows:

“Without redress, these weaknesses ensure that public radio cannot accept the mantle being handed to it and that many think it should embrace,” Kling wrote. “Moreover, as the retail face of national producers for most content, the underperformance of local stations not only deprives those communities of an ideal alternative news model for each community — it is also the primary cause of the financial weakness of national producers where few national programs, from Morning Edition to Marketplace to The World, can break even from station carriage fees and related underwriting.”

Kling also took a shot at organizations with TV components. According to Everhart: “In the case of joint licensees, [Kling] wrote, radio revenues are too often siphoned off to subsidize pubTV operations, preventing the radio outlet from reaching its full potential.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Betty Tisel on 11/25/2009 - 11:14 am.

    OMG. Thanks for publishing this eye-opening, jaw-dropping chart. I am almost speechless.

  2. Submitted by William Souder on 11/25/2009 - 01:12 pm.

    Perhaps Ms. Tisel failed to scroll over to the Operating Expense column, which IS pretty jaw-dropping and eye-opening.

  3. Submitted by Doug Seitz on 11/25/2009 - 01:31 pm.

    I hesitate to admit it, but I listen to MPR stations and am not a member. My reasons are several.

    1) MPR is primarily about growth and does not put the community first. It resisted the licensing of KFAI and, from what I gather, MinnPost, as it refused to let it be an MPR sponsor. My thinking is, MPR fears competition for membership dollars. Whether the community would do better with competing medias is beside the point.

    2) As long as MPR seeks taxpayer money, I feel I am supporting MPR. The day when, as a start up, it needed taxpayer money is long past. Now it is taking money from groups that really do need it.

    3) The money I have available for donations is better spent on struggling non-profits and food banks. To give it to a well-funded organization that is primarily about growth seems misguided and elitist.

    Sorry, Mr. Kling, but you seem to be doing just fine without me.

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/25/2009 - 04:16 pm.

    The whole ideal of public radio has been community radio stations providing local talent and local input. What MPR has done is prostitute that whole process to allow an empire building on the public dime.

  5. Submitted by William Lindeke on 11/25/2009 - 06:36 pm.

    Whoop dee doo. Why should I care if they no longer report on Minnesota issues? How often does Kerri Miller take up anything local?

    (I can’t stomach Gary Eichten, so don’t even go there.)

  6. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/25/2009 - 09:37 pm.

    When the Twins play the Yankees, I’m not only a hanky-waving homer for the Twins, I can’t imagine how anyone, anywhere actually roots for the Yankees.

    Comparing MPR and WNYC, it looks to me like *we* are the Yankees. I feel ashamed.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/26/2009 - 09:05 am.

    The larger MPR gets, the more invested in the status quo it becomes. The more invested in the status quo it becomes, the less interesting and challenging it’s programing becomes. The danger as it grows is that it will mimic the corporate media it pretends to be an alternative to. I used to listen to MPR regularly, I’ve gotten bored with it that I can hardly listen to it anymore. Even when they talk about what should be an interesting issue they find the lamest people on the planet to have as guests. Why are we listenng to these lame press club speeches week after week? What makes them think that politicians are actually going to explain anything? There’s no flexibility, and no imagination. The only thing I listen to anymore is Science Friday, and half the time I forget to listen to that. Uggg.

  8. Submitted by Frank Neubecker on 11/27/2009 - 12:55 pm.

    Proud to be a member of the BEST public radio station in the nation! The three places I get my news are MPR, Washington Monthly, and of course MinnPost! Here’s hoping we can build the Post into the same type of reporting powerhouse!

  9. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 12/01/2009 - 10:43 am.

    Some odd comments on here- particularly that MPR doesn’t put community first, and that they don’t report on Minnesota issues.

    Regarding community issues- they sponsor local events- be they speakers, panel discussions, debates, etc. I don’t see this coming from other news outlets, certainly not from the local network tv affiliates, when I decide to sit through their 30 minute broadcast to get 2 minutes of news.

    As far as not reporting on MN issues, wow, that’s out there. In my 8 minute drive in to work today I heard the gubernatorial hopefuls discuss changes to state tax policy in fairly good detail, a topic I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. From local public health officials (coincidentally, also highly regarded nationally) discussing H1N, to the current state fiscal problems, to local arts, local issues are constantly being discussed.

    I’m quite happy with MPR, and will continue to support it, although I can see the point that in tough times, steering giving towards more urgent needs is emminently reasonable.

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