NPR is Commercial Radio

When you think of advertising at National PUBLIC Radio you think of unobtrusive announcements. Commercial businesses donate money in exchange for a short mention. This type of promotion can have a informative air. When done properly, these promotions can be valuable to communities. Unfortunately many national and local NPR stations are playing full on ads. They have a much more commercial feel than they used to.

Have you noticed this change? Hundreds of other people have. They’ve complained to the NPR Ombudsman about Wal-Mart ads on NPR. Wal-Mart is the anti-sponsor for traditional NPR listeners. The problem is not the fact that Wal-Mart advertises itself on NPR but that they’re using the radio network to repair their image because of illegal labor practice, etc.

An article on the front page of the Friday, March 17, Wall Street Journal called As Sponsorship Sales Blossom, Public Radio Walks a Fine Line lays out the details of a big change in fund raising at NPR. (I actually read it in the paper version.)

It appears a study conducted for NPR found that listeners hate pledge drives. (Surprise! Me too.) This and a serious decrease in Federal funding, neo-cons trying to destroy the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB funds NPR), and the dot com bubble burst pushed NPR to raise money more like a commercial radio station. NPR and it’s affiliate stations are non-profits… remember!?!

I’m all for non-profits finding new ways to be self sustaining but NPR has gone to far. If NPR wants to retain their non-profit tax free status they shouldn’t be selling commercials like for-profit media.

What can NPR do to raise money and be non-commercial?

1) First realize the telephone pledge drive is dead. Get used to it. Abandon it once and for all. Quite trying to reinvent it. Have a funny mock funeral for it on air. It’ll be fun.

2) Get *really* creative about fundraising. Find new ways to engage your listeners. Give them a REAL sense of community. Make them coop owners of your station(s)/Network. (ex. REI, Weaver Street Market (Carrboro, NC), etc.)

3) Create attractive online community sites like flickr, digg, or del.icio.us. Social networking powered fundraising is where it’s at. Without a feeling of community listeners won’t give. I know many NPR listeners aren’t computer geeks. But online communities will only grow and can support you financially.

4) Hire a consultant that understands network centric advocacy. Invigorate your grassroots. Run your organizations bottom up. Not top down. Think flash mob fundraising.

5) Renew your commitment to being a non-profit community organization. Create a LARGE PR campaign to shout it loud and proud. “We are a not-for-profit community station!”

6) Publicly renounce commercial and political ads. Cancel your contracts with Wal-Mart. Tell your listeners. Create a public campaign to match the money commercial sponsors used to give you.

Try these suggestions out NPR. We love what you do – most of the time – and need your style of news now more than ever!