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How to Get Rid of NPR. For Good.

Gary North
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Oct. 25, 2010

I had never heard of Juan Williams before he became a celebrity for having been fired without a hearing by NPR. Mr. Williams made an injudicious remark about feeling nervous when on a plane with Muslims.

Within hours, he had a multimillion dollar contract with Fox News. That was a slow response compared with the speed of conservatives in Congress demanding that the Federal government de-fund NPR.

Let me say, loud and clear, I am all for de-funding NPR. I also in favor of de-funding just about everything else. I am like one of Pavlov's dogs. I start to salivate whenever I hear the word "de-fund." But conservatives miss the mark when they call on Congress to de-fund NPR. This is the wrong way to handle the NPR problem. It would only marginally affect NPR, which gets almost no direct funding from the Federal government.

I have a much more comprehensive goal. I want NPR off the air, not merely hampered slightly. I know how to do it . . . without liberals being able to scream "censorship!"

I want to cut off all of the subsidies. Take away these subsidies, and NPR becomes extinct.

THE SUBSIDIES

The direct subsidy from the Federal government is low. This summary appears in the Washington Post.

The firing brought swift condemnation Thursday from many quarters, but especially from conservatives, who have long accused NPR of liberal bias and have called for an end to federal subsidies of public broadcasting. The federal government provides roughly 15 percent of the revenue of public radio and TV stations, although less than 2 percent of NPR's annual budget is directly subsidized by tax monies. The rest comes from corporate underwriting, foundation grants and programming fees from hundreds of NPR member stations. These stations, in turn, receive direct financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the entity set up by Congress in 1967 to pass federal funds to stations.

This is not the subsidy that matters. Another one does. The Federal government under the Roosevelt Administration allocated 88.1 megahertz to 91.9 megahertz to non-profit broadcasting. This spectrum was deliberately removed from visibly commercial use. Radio stations broadcasting in this spectrum may not sell advertising time.

These stations were not worth much money until the 1960s, when Japanese transistor radios got cheap enough to create a large audience for FM radio. FM signals are cleaner than AM radio. They are high fidelity. They soon became stereo.

Any station operating in this spectrum receives a subsidy. The value of this subsidy is whatever money the station would bring at an open auction. If these frequencies were sold off, once and for all, to investors, not one of these stations would be able to buy back its frequency. Commercial stations that most people want to listen to would buy them.

These stations are used mainly by college radio stations and Christian stations. At least one college station in every region broadcasts NPR in the afternoon.

The only way that NPR stays on the air is through this ancient subsidy. Without it, NPR would go off the air. For good.

NPR officially stands for National Public Radio. Unofficially, it stands for Narcolepsy-Producing Radio. It is liberal, and it is boring. (But I repeat myself.)

NPR's audience is the antithesis of Rush Limbaugh's audience. Rush sells advertising. He is rich. NPR does not sell advertising. It is on the government's dole: directly but mostly indirectly.

If the government auctioned off the spectrum, NPR would go, Christian pop music would go, jazz would go, bluegrass would go, and classical music would go. But the Web provides all of the music you want, mostly for free. So does Sirius. So does cable. So, NPR would go. For good.

NPR gets a third government subsidy: from tax-funded colleges. Few stations other than colleges host NPR. Because most of these stations are owned by colleges are taxpayer-funded, this subsidy to NPR is indirect. Because they are educational, colleges get priority from the FCC when it comes time to renew their licenses. This subsidy is never discussed by those who complain about the direct Federal subsidies to NPR. In an open auction, the colleges would lose their privileged status as owners of spectrum. College radio would be gone. So, NPR would be gone. For good.

Over 40 years ago, I was a disk jockey at a college radio station: KUCR. Every 30 minutes, by law, I had to interrupt the music and announce the station's call letters and location. I adopted this slogan: "Bottom of the dial. Bottom of the pile. KUCR. Riverside." That pretty much said it. It was good fun for me. It was good fun for anyone locally who liked bluegrass. But it was not the best use of the spectrum. That was because no competitive bids were allowed. They still aren't.

The government should not be in the cultural uplift business, even though I dearly believe that bluegrass is uplifting culturally -- surely much more than NPR is. The government should not be in the spectrum business at all. It should divest itself of this moral, cultural, political, and legal burden by auctioning off the spectrum it controls, once and for all, to the highest bidders. Then the Federal Communications Commission can join NPR in the elephant burial grounds.

That's my solution to NPR. Sell the spectrum to the highest bidders. Then send my tax refund check to Gary North, P. O. Box 2779, Dallas, Georgia.

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