NPR President Kevin Klose Remarks:
Public Radio Conference
May 16, 2002
Itís a pleasure to be here with you.
You know, itís a great moment here and itís also a moment of challenge. I know I donít have to tell you that. When we began looking at the issue of the University Licensees, the first thing that leaped out at me is that almost two-thirds of the member stations in the NPR community are licenses held by colleges, universities and boards of Education.
So we are naturally interested in looking around our own environment. How are we helping to strengthen the relationships between the stations and University administrators?
I think that Jackie's (Nixon) statistics on who our listeners are and what their shared values are, are also very important. But there are a few things she didnít tell. Weíve done a lot of focus groups with these individuals and we can tell you almost to the percentage point what these people do with their lives. How many of them for example, are cat owners? Five percent of all people who listen to NPR own cats! And 3% do yoga at least once a week or admit to it! Iíve done my own personal survey.
We said earlier today that audiences to public radio in this country are climbing through the roof. In the 3Ĺ years Iíve been at NPR, itís been an almost straight up progression. When I got to NPR at the end of 1998 the Arbitron weekly CUME for NPR programming was about 13 million -- and today itís 20 million.
So thatís a 50% percent gain in about 3 Ĺ years. It has nothing specifically to do with the fact weíre doing anything different at NPR -- Itís what has happened on the commercial side. Itís that everybody else is doing something different. They are going further and further down-scale -- shallower, narrower, courser values in every respect.
That "infection" has essentially brought audience to every one of our member stations. Because you all present something which is essentially counter intuitive -- you present a series of values that people in a civil society are instinctively looking for. The values of the great humanitarian -- the value of continuous education, of serious engagement, of ideas and a commitment to the interplay in the kind of fabric of both spoken word and music.
And indeed, something else which each of you has paid a great deal of attention to since the 11th of September. And that is the value of silence on the radio. To allow people time to reflect, to think. What am I doing here right now? What do I need right now? I need a moment of peace. You might be barreling down the highway at 80 miles an hour, but the fact that this constant companion, this radio station which has been with you maybe from the beginning of that day -- is now giving you pause and is with you.
Most of the stations started out essentially as nonprofessional stations or stations which were adjuncts of Audio Visual, or of communications departments, or schools of communication that were developing and beginning to take on a kind of weight and academic presence which they perhaps hadnít enjoyed in the 1940ís or 1950ís or 1960ís. As the stations became more professional one could say that there might be less roles for the students in the stations.
I've actually been on campuses where the NPR station is here and across the hall is the student radio station and thereís almost no contact between the two. That makes for a very good station but also can start to create a kind of polemic or dialectic that says, "what is this thing to the rest of us in terms of its educational value?" But, Jackieís study showed that people, especially the listeners, associate public radio with the educational institution in part itís because of the amalgamation of the ideas
This is the second part of the down part that we have to look at -- Administrations find themselves looking for resources or are stressed or pinched because state governments are having their own economic reversals. They may start looking at their public radio station --- that it is not a profit center for the university nor will it ever be and that it tends to keep its own gains to itself because it needs the money. Administrators may be thinking, "How do we understand what our relationship truly is to this entity which might exist right across the corridor from our own student station?"
So part of what we face is to forge the deepest possible links to the schools of communications, to the journalism faculties and to people who are doing such things that seem disparate and perhaps not directly connected; people who are in the music department or the school of music or doing performance and people who are in the creative arts in many ways.
Stations have told me over and over since 9/11 --- NPR has been so important for us because NPR is in Afghanistan and at ground zero. NPR provides such valuable programming. But what can WE do? Whereís OUR piece of this story? Iíve said to them over and over again: Go find your poets. Go find your bards. Go find your writers. Go find where people are gathering and listen to what theyíre saying. What are they attempting to say in their creative arts, in the arts of poetry, of fiction, of nonfiction -- of essay writing, of coffee shop back and forth. Try to find out what it is that has changed the diction in this country and put that on the air. Interview those people. You will find those people over and over again at student unions. You will find them in faculty dining rooms and youíll find them in classrooms.
Iím not talking about the sort of official notion that the University needs access to our airways, although they do. I learned that my first visit to a campus. I went to Fordham University and Ralph Jenningsí station. It was a sleety, rainy day -- I think late November or early December a couple of years ago. We toured this amazing radio station which is, if I may use the word "squirreled away", in a series of administrative hallways, corridors and cubby holes at Fordham. And they do this amazing presentation of original thinking about contemporary music. And at the end of it at this rising arc of drama, Ralph took me to see the President of Fordham, Monsignor OíHare. The President asked me if we could help him with their antenna. They have a new antenna at Fordham and are trying to get it up to its full height. It has already been signed off by the FCC and everybody else. But there are some powerful neighbors who think it shouldnít be as high as it wants to be. The Monsignor said the higher he got, the closer he got to the person who really wants people listening to his Sundayís sermon! And so from that time on I recognize the need to maintain a special relationship with people who lead universities.
We need to talk about some of the issues that challenge us in this relationship. The U:SA is a cooperative alliance. We hold the possibilities of exploring these realities and these relationships. Weíre recognizing that these challenges and realities are out there Ė weíre not shying away from them. But the question is: How do we go to them? How do we first throw a light on them? If there is stress in the relationship, then we must deal with it.
We should go right to the administration and present to them in an open way the incredible values that public radio has. We must project the values -- the great humanitarian values -- of every University and College in this country. The radio station is in fact, in more direct contact with local communities than other university departments. YOU know this, but often your administration doesnít know it!
The radio station is in more direct contact with the reality of the community -- in its everyday lives and every respect in terms of news, in terms of artistic presentation, in terms of contact with the values that are infused in the community. Oftentimes, the campus is too involved in its own issues. But the radio station is there in the community in a very powerful way, not only on-air, but through stationsí websites as well. The station is an adjunct to the reality and power of the University.
In addition, there is another issue that Dr. Keiser and I have discussed: The digital divide in America. I sometimes think itís between the radio station and the engineering department! We must recognize that the dweebs and the turbo nerds in the engineering school across campus are figuring out what the next thing is going to be thatís going to connect everything with blinding speed and versatility.
Often the stations struggle just to get the home page up everyday and get it refreshed once a week. But over there across the campus are the same people struggling with new technology. They are descendents of the same engineers who in the 1920ís at places like WILL at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, were taking a vacuum tube, which weighed 80 or 90 pounds and putting new radio stations on the air. This heavy tube back then had its own cart and theyíd use it to put the station on the air for 2 hours and when the station went off the air, theyíd take it over to the lab and experiment on it.
Theyíd put a microscope on it and a stethoscope, just to figure out how the darn thing worked. The kids on these campuses today are the descendants of those people who helped create public radio. Those kids back then were involved because of their interest in it. They created the first FM radio station in the world in the engineering labs at Champagne-Urbana.
Those men and women who are going to have lives in the new world of the digital age may be helpful to stations in a new way. They may be a conduit to intellectual interactions and creativity that we can all explore together.
These are just a few of my thoughts, but these breakout sessions are so brief and I know weíre all anxious to hear from Dr. Curris. But I specifically wanted to say that when a University comes up to the question of looking at its relationship to the station, there are so many positives and so much potential of going forward. Itís beyond my comprehension that a University such as John Hopkins would think of selling its own license and getting rid of its station.
Now John Hopkins is a unique place. It has its own sense of what its future will be. For me, the power of the public radio station to the University is essentially without limit. Itís enormously powerful. Itís present Ė itís everyday, itís every minute of every day and because it has the identity unmistakably of the institution which holds the license, it is in fact, an illumination of the nature of how civil society really works. It is a voluntary, public service -- essentially a nonprofit universe -- of values and ideas that touch people everyday. I think we must make that statement to University administrators beset with their own budget issues, beset with their concerns about whether this or that faculty is getting all the resources it needs; beset with their efforts to raise endowments or expand endowment or launch new overdue capital and building and modernization programs.
The radio station is a huge reality in peoplesí lives and the administrators with all that is around them can be brought to this knowledge in a very positive and flexible way.
Finally my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org .
There are people in this room who know I love to visit stations and I would be very happy to meet with faculty, advisors, boards of community supporters with administrators and anyone else that would be useful to you. I think itís terribly important and I donít shy from this. I think itís a huge piece of who we are in this extraordinary society of ours. Thank you very much.