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Posted on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 5:52 a.m.

As funding battles loom, WUOM, WEMU taking part in grass-roots effort to inform lawmakers about the value of public media

By Roger LeLievre

Efforts to reduce — or as is now the case, eliminate — federal funding for public broadcasting are nothing new. However, current proposals to zero out the $425 million in federal support public broadcasting was expecting this year have public media outlets scrambling to rally listeners against the effort.

Michigan Radio, the public broadcasting station associated with the University of Michigan, and WEMU, Eastern Michigan University’s public radio station, are both doing as much as possible to make listeners aware of what the elimination of public funding could mean to them.

WEMU (89.1-FM) and WUOM (91.7-FM) are among stations nationwide participating in the grass-roots effort “170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting,” designed to inform members of Congress that 170 million Americans use public media every month and persuade them that it's too valuable to be defunded.

The stations are urging listeners to visit the Web site, sign up, and contact their legislators to make their feelings known.

“It’s just something that we want the public to be aware of and know they can take action,” said WEMU General Manager Molly Motherwell. “We’re not telling them what to do; we’re an information organization. not an advocacy organization. But we do have to tell people what will happen if this funding goes away.”

At WEMU and WUOM, an end to federal support would likely lead to cuts in programming and staff.

“It’s 20 percent of our budget, but it’s a very significant 20 percent,” Motherwell said. “It pays for one full-time person ... and it pays for two-thirds of our network programming. If we were to lose that, probably what would happen is we would have to wipe out all of our locally produced music programs on the weekends and in the evenings, because the majority of our listening is between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays. ... We would lose a lot of our unique flavor because of it. We probably would have to reduce our news staff.”

National programs, such as “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!,” “All Things Considered” and “This American Life” would probably suffer as well.

Money already paid to stations for 2011 would also have to be returned if funding is eliminated, she added.

The circumstances are similar at Michigan Radio, which receives eight percent of its annual budget from the federal government via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, an amount that’s equivalent to the station’s entire annual news budget.

Steve Schram, director of broadcasting at Michigan Radio, said that if all federal funding ended, Michigan Radio would first approach its listeners for increased financial support.

“We would need to communicate that to our audience and find out if they are in a position to fill that gap, and if we were successful there wouldn’t have to be any changes,” he said. “But if not, we would have to make some adjustments in our operation. We certainly would want to go last to our content and our product, but because a large part of that (funding) goes to our programming and news departments, that’s what we’d do.”

Annual federal funding amounts to $1.35 per American and is leveraged by local stations to raise six times that amount from other sources, including local fundraising drives, Schram added.

Although both agree that $425 million is a lot of money, that sum needs to be viewed in context with other government spending.

“Some of the statistics we’ve been getting out of this is the $425 million allocated to public broadcasting this year, radio and TV, is equal to 10 feet of an aircraft carrier, or less than a single day in Iraq. The AIG bailout alone would have funded public broadcasting for 155 years,” said Motherwell.

Although federal funding for public media has been targeted before, circumstances are different this time, she said.

“We were not in a major recession the last time (public media funding) came under fire,” she said. “We didn’t have this 24-hour news cycle. We didn’t have this huge activist contingent newly elected determined to cut spending no matter what. There’s a lot of factors we were not dealing with the last time.

"We did have an activist contingent elected in 1995 as well, but they weren't blogging, Facebooking, or tweeting non-stop back then. People had time to stop and think about issues and form their own conclusions," Motherwell added.

She said way the Juan Williams firing was handled last year (the NPR correspondent was let go after expressing unease about seeing Muslims on airplanes) gave the right an excuse to really go after public broadcasting. “I’m not sure it would have been as targeted without it,” Motherwell said.

According to Association for Public Television Stations, there are now six bills in Congress to either defund or reduce public broadcasting support. On Saturday, the House voted to eliminate all funding for the CPB, with backers saying it's a necessary cut to balance the federal budget and it reflects the will of the people.

“PBS may produce worthwhile content,” U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said recently in a press release. “That is not the issue. The issue is that we cannot subsidize organizations that can stand on their own two feet in the day of trillion-dollar deficits.”

DeMint said his legislation to strip federal funds public media stems from its firing of Williams.

"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree," Sen. James DeMint, R-S.C., said. "The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today's issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda."

The key to fighting funding elimination lies with listeners, said Motherwell.

“We’ve been told public broadcasting needs to have a strong showing of support in the House in order to ensure a decent outcome when it comes to negotiating with the Senate,” Motherwell said. “Right now, reaching members of the House is critical as they start to put their proposals through. In Washtenaw County we have one of the authors of the Public Broadcasting Act (John Dingell), so we know we have strong support here. But there are many areas that WEMU reaches that are not represented by Congressman Dingell and we are trying to reach out to our listeners in those areas and urge them to contact their representatives and let them know.”

Schram is pleased listeners are speaking up. “Michigan Radio was the top referring public radio station in the country (two weeks ago) in terms of people visiting ( and making a decision to make their voice heard — around 1,000,” he said.

“Elected representatives need to hear from the constituents and understand this is not something they are willing to budge on,” Motherwell added.

Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for



Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Typo correction; "Anyone who thinks they're "abused" by government taking $1.35 of their tax payments to support public broadcasting is... just a failure at - math - and comparative logic." typed "match" in error. Sorry.


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 5:26 p.m.

Notice how conservatives "neatly skirt" the cost comparisons, ignoring the fact that they approve taxes to pay for $243 Billion per year war which was declared w/o provocation by George W. Bush against Iraq. Conservatives ignore the fact that the U.S. maintains a military which is three times the cost of China's (which has 3 times the US population). Conservatives "go robo" when it comes to recognizing that advertising - dependent TV and radio have "content" which is hopelessly STUPID and without character. Yet they continue their eternal capitalist zombie chorus. Underlying all of this is the fact that political parties are utterly dependent on the advertising industry JUST TO EXIST. How "unbiased" is that?? TripleVSix says he "looks forward" to efforts to refute his statement saying that public broadcasting produces "biased content" -- of course he's depending on everyone being stupid enough to "miss" the fact that ALL private corporation produced radio and tv is TOTALLY biased. There you have it, TripleVSix: your claim has been totally refuted. (or is it as you right wingers say, "refudiated"? ha-ha!) Anyone who thinks they're "abused" by government taking $1.35 of their tax payments to support public broadcasting is... just a failure at match and comparative logic. Typically overlooked:the UK has all tax-funded programming. Everyone who buys a tv or radio pays an added fee (a tax) which is used to support: some of the finest programming in the world. Oh, but our British ally is "socialist" and "socialism is evil and doesn't work." -- HAH!! Also overlooked: quite a few major companies have created foundations which contribute millions to public broadcasting - for science and cultural programs. These companies DO NOT AGREE with the political zombies, be they right or left. PBS opponents: just chew on your personal grudges and le


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

"TripleVSix says he 'looks forward' to efforts to refute his statement saying that public broadcasting produces 'biased content' -- of course he's depending on everyone being stupid enough to 'miss' the fact that ALL private corporation produced radio and tv is TOTALLY biased." The objection is to public money being used in a bias manner. "Typically overlooked:the UK has all tax-funded programming." Typically overlooked: this isn't the UK.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:34 p.m.

Good lord the crazies have left the asylum for the day. I doubt that most of the people who post here are even part of the community.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 8:24 p.m.

WEMU is the last locally focused radio station in the area. While WUOM has some local content, they are more of a buy canned content and run it all day long station. That being said, I listen to many of the programs they run too. With the exception of WCSX all others are ClearChannel, programmed stuff which plays anywhere and gives not one whit about what is happening locally. The amount of money "saved" by cutting funding to these stations is not going to make one bit of difference in the deficit, it is decimal dust. What it will do is kill at least one if not both of these stations. Maybe you don't listen to them and you prefer radio that is interrupted very 18 minutes with penis enhancement ads, followed by how men can avoid paying alimony ads, but that is not what I want to listen to. And yes, I do contribute to WEMU twice a year during the fund drive. The firing of Juan Williams was extremely poorly handled and very unfortunate because it gave the DeMints on capital hill a clucking, finger wagging, shaming point from which to posture. The main reason they want funding cut is not to save money, make no mistake about that. It is to shut the people up who call them to task when they start warning Americans about death panels. As soon as Murdoch owns all the rest of broadcast news media outlets, we can all look like those gray people in the 1984 Apple computer ad. No need to to tune in, unless it is to shout amen and hallelujah at the radio as more and more crazy, inaccurate, mean spirited stuff is spewed out into the ether.


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 5:22 a.m.

"WEMU is the last locally focused radio station in the area." WAAM, WLBY, WTKA, and WWWW all have local content. And they don't go begging at the public trough.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

"I don't understand how this means the taxpayers should fund programming you'd like to listen to." Because there is more actual news (my opinion of course) which is produced by these organizations than there is funded by the stations who are supported by stations who run ads for how men can avoid alimony.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:39 p.m.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report is an interesting read, and it does say that nothing should be off the table, but I will lobby for things I find valuable, just as you will lobby to kill things you do not. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:35 p.m.

What do you support cutting besides funding for public broadcasting? Farm subsidies? Tax incentives to Oil and Coal companies who make SO much money that they can certainly make it without corporate welfare (and don't trot out that 'it will kill jobs gem' which simply means we're not willing to invest from the bottom line back into the company, we'd rather skim that for ourselves and our shareholders) Until there is actual tax reform, and changes are made to the way Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are funded, all the rest of this is simply noise and an excuse to grind axes. So let's get to the tough stuff and stop the shame game.

Frank D

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:18 p.m.

&quot;The amount of money saved by cutting funding to (fill in the blank) is not going to make one bit of difference in the deficit&quot; is such a poor argument for justifying unnecessary spending. Every special cause can make this lame excuse. If that happens, we will never balance our national budget.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:09 p.m.

&quot; Maybe you don't listen to them and you prefer radio that is interrupted very 18 minutes with penis enhancement ads, followed by how men can avoid paying alimony ads, but that is not what I want to listen to&quot;. I don't understand how this means the taxpayers should fund programming you'd like to listen to.

Frank D

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

The federal government shouldn't be providing funding for &quot;Michigan&quot; Public Radio in the first place. Everyone's got to take a haircut. Suck it up. Yes, contact your representative and tell them to do their job and stop funding programs that are out of their jurisdiction. While they're at it, they can stop sending our money to other countries like Egypt, Israel, etc.

Stephen Landes

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

From the article, &quot;Although both agree that $425 million is a lot of money, that sum needs to be viewed in context with other government spending.&quot; Wrong. We should not look at any particular spending in relative terms -- waste is waste whether it is 10% of the budget or 1/100th%. The old adage that if one tales care of the pennies the dollars will follow applies. In your personal budget you don't worry about what to do with a huge mortgage payment while continuing to eat in restaurants every night.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

I'm a big fan of both radio stations, but I've always been troubled by tax dollars supporting them. I don't think that's where our tax dollars should be going.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

If they're that valuable, it's because many people find value in them, so NPR and PBS should have no problem getting their support. NPR and PBS have received at least two decades of criticism about taking public money while at the same time producing biased content, and if they haven't got the message yet it's their own fault. They have had plenty of opportunity to shape up and start making use of public money in responsible manner, but have chosen not to do so. (I'm looking forward to the entertaining efforts to refute my statement about the biased content.)


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Do you watch PBS stations or listen to Public Radio? I am betting no. The &quot;they are a bunch of biased liberals wasting our money&quot; line comes right from the people they have called to task for things like shameful treatment of returning veterans at Walter Reed Hospital - yup, that was certainly a liberal biased story alright. None of the &quot;owned&quot; outlets touched that story until it was too hot to ignore. That is what they can and do do on a regular basis.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 1:27 p.m.

Cannot wait to hear people's reasoning to keep funding public broadcasting, these entities need to be self supporting and do what every other company does across the USA, hire sales folks and sell advertsing. I for one believe supporting public broadcasting is a perfect example of wasteful spending.

Top Cat

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

There was a time in the America, not that long ago, when television and radio were dominated by CBS, NBC and ABC. The purpose and justifiction for subsidies to the public media at that time was to offer an alternative. Media is no longer dominated by three networks and there is no further need to fund public radio and television. Let them compete in the national and local markets for their money. Let them go elsewhere for support to their political agenda.