Public radio does some amazing things. This American Life. Fresh Air. Car Talk. And this from NPR Kids:
Public radio started on January 13th, 1910. From Smithsonian Magazine:
On January 13, 1910, tenor Enrico Caruso prepared to perform an entirely new activity: sing opera over the airwaves, broadcasting his voice from the Metropolitan Opera House to locations throughout New York City. Inventor Lee deForest had suspended microphones above the Opera House stage and in the wings and set up a transmitter and antenna. A flip of a switch magically sent forth sound.
The evening would usher out an old era—one of dot-dash telegraphs, of evening newspapers, of silent films, and of soap box corner announcements. In its place, radio communications would provide instant, long-distance wireless communication. In 2009, America celebrated the 40th anniversary of the creation of National Public Radio; thanks to deForest, 2010 marks the centennial of the true birth of the era of public broadcasting.
The Great Depression forced a lull in radio development, but still, by 1931, radio’s “Golden Age” had begun. Half of America’s homes had radios. Mothers listened in the morning, children after school, and fathers with their families during prime time broadcasts. Isolated rural citizens could listen to sermons and gospel music from their farmhouse kitchens. In 1932, the nation awaited updates about the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby. From their kitchen tables, starting on March 12, 1933, families could hear Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Sunday evening “Fireside Chats.”
[In the 60s] interest grew in the idea of publicly funded broadcasting. President Lyndon Johnson had supported the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television, which researched this question. When the committee recommended federal funding for television alone, several radio professionals agitated for the inclusion of “and radio” in the forthcoming bill. Indeed, Johnson’s 1967 Public Broadcasting Act established the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which, in turn, created National Public Radio in 1969.
Over the next 40 years, NPR accumulated member stations nationwide. Commercial broadcasting also continued to flourish. Talk radio began to dominate the AM broadcast band, with music shifting to the clear FM band. In 1987, the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Fairness Doctrine, a 1949 policy that required broadcasters to show both sides of controversial issues; the repeal continues to buoy AM talk radio today. Eventually, the AM and FM bands were joined by XM and other satellite radio services, extending the medium’s reach in the 21st century.
And here are some facts from the Pew Institute:
Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations comprise the U.S. public media system. On the audio side, organizations such as NPR, American Public Media (APM) and Public Radio International (PRI) produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. Individual stations, such as New York’s WNYC and Chicago’s WBEZ, produce nationally syndicated original journalism as well. On the television side, PBS NewsHour produces an evening newscast that airs on local PBS stations around the country. The organization has a digital operation as well. On the whole, the news offerings of U.S. public broadcasters have been marked by relative financial stability and, in the past year, audience growth. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below.
The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 10 million in 2016, up from about 9 million in 2015.
NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. Both the NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, and the newer NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, have shown steady growth across devices in the average number of total completed sessions each month.