Threatened With Federal Defunding, Public Airwaves Gain Audience

(CN) – If not for threats to its federal funding, public broadcasting would have been having a great year as the Pew Foundation reported Monday that millions more people tuning in fueled increasing revenue at radio and TV stations.

Though the pollster is non-partisan, its data rebuke President Donald Trump’s attempt to starve the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of government funds that it has received since an act of Congress created it half a century ago.

Enacted in 1967, the Public Broadcasting Act will be marking its 50th anniversary in November with much to celebrate: The top 20 National Public Radio affiliates gained a million new weekly listeners on average last year, rising from about 9 million in 2015 to 10 million in 2016, according to Pew.

Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship program, NewsHour, had 1 million viewers last year, a 22 percent spike over what Nielsen found in 2015.

These gains have boosted public broadcasting balance sheets: NPR saw its total operating revenue rise 9 percent last year to $213 million. Public Radio International, its smaller Minnesota-based competitor, reported a sharper 26 percent jump in its revenue to $22 million.

Bucking this trend, American Public Media revenue fell 6 percent to $126 million last year.

Pew detected a 2 percent rise in the individual members – 2.1 million people – who contributed to one of 125 licensed stations last year.

Yet the mood inside public radio offices across the country is somber these days. PBS’s chief executive warned earlier this month that Trump’s threatened cuts will shutter stations.

“PBS will not go away, but a number of our stations will,” CEO Paula Kerger said at a TV critics’ meeting on Aug. 1, as reported by the Associated Press.

“There’s no Plan B for that,” she added.

Trump’s budget eliminates all $485 million that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives from the government, prompting Politico to ask “Can Big Bird survive Trump?”

NPR reached a deal last month with its SAG-AFTRA members that included salary increases to avoid a walkout that would have involved more than half of its staff.

PBS and NPR did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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