Public radio deserves funding

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 6:01 PM

The spending bill now moving through Congress would zero out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — not trim it or cut back, eliminate it — and put community radio station KSJD at risk.

This is not about the deficit. This is a political swing at a perceived “liberal medium,” and a false economy that could hamper the ability of rural residents to be informed and involved in what’s happening around them.

The stereotype might be that the CPB caters to latte-sipping liberals in Nancy Pelosi’s district or New York’s Upper East Side. But the truth is that more than half of all Americans tune in to some kind of public broadcasting every month, and a great many of them are in small towns and rural areas, because it is the only broadcast programming relevant to their lives.

For-profit radio typically offers pop music — or countrified pop — and is often not even locally programed. Content put together in who-knows-where is repeated by automated stations.

Public radio typically falls into one of three categories: tribal, college or community. Southwest Colorado’s five stations are all those. KSJD, in Cortez, is a community station that stemmed from a college connection. KSUT, in Ignacio, is a community station with tribal roots and translators around the Four Corners. Its sister station, KUTE, is tribal and serves the Southern Ute nation. Durango’s KDUR is based at Fort Lewis College, while Silverton’s KSJC is a model of low-powered community radio.

Memberships, community support and local businesses’ underwriting are the lifeblood of those stations, but CPB funding helps. KSJD receives about a third of its funding from CPB, and that funding is essential because of the restrictions the federal government has placed on the amount of advertising a public radio station can broadcast.

Public radio, with messages from underwriters limited to just a few minutes per hour (compared to 22 minutes per hour of advertising for commercial radio), is all about local connections. The underwriters are local businesses. The staff and volunteers sitting in are community members. The listeners calling in to fun draisers to join, contribute, challenge others or renew their memberships are often people you know. Why? Because the content is either local or is chosen for its relevance to local listeners.

KSJD is community radio in the truest sense. Fifty local volunteer programmers produce a large percentage of its content, presenting a wide range of programs targeted not to some hypothetical demographic but to real people who live and work here. KSJD broadcasts the only daily programming on the air serving the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The station informs listeners about local issues and events and places broader issues in a local context. It also provides the only radio coverage of state-level politics in this area. That should be worth a lot to local citizens.

KSJD is also investing in downtown Cortez with its Cornerstone project, in the bank building on the northeast corner of Main and Market. The stability afforded by CPB funding has enabled the station to contribute to the momentum of downtown redevelopment.

Public radio is part of our communities. It informs us and entertains us, but it also includes us. It should be supported in part by our taxes.