President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate millions of dollars in federal funding for PBS and NPR stations in North Carolina.
Trump wants to eliminate all funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which received $445 million in the current fiscal year.
Most of that money doesn’t go directly to produce popular shows like All Things Considered, This American Life and Sesame Street. Instead, it’s sent to local public broadcasting stations that pay fees to air the nationally syndicated programs.
More than $6 million goes to TV and radio stations in North Carolina, in most cases accounting for 7 to 22 percent of the stations’ operating budgets.
Congress will write the federal budget, and it’s unclear whether Trump’s public broadcasting cuts have enough support there to be included. National Public Radio has launched an online petition drive lobbying members of Congress to keep supporting the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, noting that it amounts to just $1.35 per person annually.
WUNC, the primary NPR station serving the Triangle on 91.5 FM, received about $800,000 in federal funding last year, about 7 percent of the station’s budget. Part of that is grant funding that supports special reports on education and military affairs, program director David Brower said.
“We take every dollar that CPB contributes and leverage that in our community by matching it with $6 to $10 of local support,” he said. “That’s a really good public-private partnership.”
Last year, WUNC raised $6.5 million from nearly 39,000 donors, financial statements show. It draws the highest number of listeners of any Triangle radio station, according to Nielsen Audio ratings from January.
But White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argues the cuts to public broadcasting are needed to pay for military spending and other essential items.
“Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” Mulvaney said during a recent interview with MSNBC. “The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
Jill McGuire, acting general manager of Public Radio East in New Bern, says some rural NPR stations might have to shut down without federal funding. “The direct impact for Corporation for Public Broadcasting cuts is going to be felt first and foremost by these small rural stations,” McGuire said.
If stations shut down, the national networks will see drops in revenue to support programming – forcing them to raise fees on affiliate stations or cut costs.
If Trump’s plan to eliminate all public broadcasting funding is in the final budget, Brower said, “of course we would work very hard to preserve all the resources we provide to the community. ... We’d have to make tough choices and hard cuts.”
Public Radio East, which serves areas from Raleigh east to Greenville and Atlantic Beach, gets $129,000 per year from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – about 12 percent of its total operating budget. That amount has been decreasing each year with cuts from Congress, McGuire said.
“Our goal is to be self-sufficient” and rely entirely on donations from listeners, businesses and community foundations, she said. “We are already talking about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and how important it is for listeners to step up and become members” during fund drives.
Public Radio East has been able to increase its local support, but the station has also cut back on staffing to make ends meet, with some employees now doing multiple jobs. “You don’t want to mess with your product, so we do everything to protect the programming,” McGuire said.
UNC-TV, the statewide network that airs PBS programming and local shows, received $3.5 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, about 12 percent of its $29 million annual budget. State government chips in about $9 million, while donations account for $11 million.
“We have strong support for our service throughout all levels of government,” UNC-TV spokeswoman Tivi Jones said in an email. “As the budget process continues, we remain confident that Congress will decide to continue to support the valuable educational programs and services that all North Carolinians and Americans enjoy and expect from public media.”
WSHA 88.9 FM, a jazz and news station based at Shaw University in Raleigh, could see the biggest impact from cuts, with 22 percent of its budget, or $148,000, coming from the federal government. A smaller share of WSHA’s budget comes from donations, $71,000, and the rest comes from the university and in the form of rental income from companies that use space on its broadcast tower, according to its latest financial statement.
WSHA manager Nicole Gye’Nyame did not respond to inquiries about the proposed budget cuts.
Federal support for local public broadcasting stations
Here’s how much the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides to several noncommercial stations in North Carolina, according to the most recent financial statements available online:
UNC-TV (PBS): $3.5 million, or 12 percent of the station’s budget
WUNC (91.5 FM): $800,000, or 7 percent of the station’s budget
WSHA (88.9 FM): $148,000, or 22 percent of the station’s budget
WCPE (89.7 FM): No federal funding
WNCU (90.7 FM): $133,000, or 14 percent of the station’s budget
Public Radio East (90.3 FM): $129,000, or 12 percent of the station’s budget