Donating to Public Radio
November 25, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

So I've been donating to public radio about as long as I've been listening to it. But as I'm getting ready for end of year donations, I realized I listen to podcasts instead of the radio now. So should that affect how I give?

A couple of the shows I like are produced locally by WBEZ. Others come from a variety of different stations -- though all of them that are broadcast get broadcast by WBEZ. But WBEZ also makes and purchases plenty of radio I'm not interested in listening to. So should I continue my previous donation just to my local station? Or should I give directly to the shows that I like? Does the money actually go to This American Life or Radio Lab when I donate to those shows? Is it a bad idea to target a show with a donation (like donating to the Red Cross for the current disaster instead of for any disaster) instead of the people responsible for producing shows?
posted by garlic to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: But WBEZ also makes and purchases plenty of radio I'm not interested in listening to.

As it has always been, before and after your move to podcasts.

So should I continue my previous donation just to my local station?

Yes. Your support allows the station to, in turn, purchase shows you want, which puts money in the hands of the people making those shows, so they can continue to do so (including providing podcasts). If you send a check, you can include a note listing the shows you enjoy.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:53 PM on November 25, 2013

Best answer: Your local radio station has an ethical responsibility to tell you, the listener, if a program they carry is paid a carriage fee. Prairie Home Companion, for example, has a carriage fee. Interfaith Voices, the show I used to produce does not. Shows that do not get carriage fees must rely on individual donors and grant support but cannot ask for funding on the air. It can take some investigation to find out if a show is independently produced and to become a donor, but communications directly with a producer can make the listening experience more meaningful.
posted by parmanparman at 1:00 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Does the money actually go to This American Life or Radio Lab when I donate to those shows? Is it a bad idea to target a show with a donation (like donating to the Red Cross for the current disaster instead of for any disaster) instead of the people responsible for producing shows?

No, the money does not go directly to any particular show, and if you specify that you want it to, you are (a) creating work for the already overworked admin people, and (b) creating a possible funding problem. The example they used when training us on fundraising (many years ago, admittedly) was "Don't ever talk about 'your money helps us buy microphones and CD players,' because if a pledge comes in with that spelled out explicitly, then we have to use it for that, and there's the chance we will end up with more microphones than we need, because we have to follow the donor's earmark."

As for should you support the station that makes the podcast? Absolutely. The process and production facilities are the same as any other show you enjoy, they're just being delivered to you in a different way.
posted by jbickers at 1:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I co-host and co-produce a public radio show that does not charge carriage fees and receives no money from NPR but does ask for listeners to donate. However, we are *not* able to ask for money over the broadcast airwaves (because no station will let individual shows ask for money in competition with the station itself). We can ask only in our online channels, via social media, and via email. So it's chagrinning when someone says they gave to a station because they love our show: we don't see any of that. Not a cent.

If the shows you listen to online (podcast, Stitcher, SoundCloud, etc.) ask for direct donations, then please donate to them directly. This includes shows that may also receive funding from radio stations, like when This American Life asks.

If you listen to public radio stations that ask you for donations, then please donate to them, too.

It is important to donate in *both* places if you use both.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

Donate to both. Become a member in your local public radio station (if only to help pay for the bandwidth you use to download the shows they produced at WBEZ) and also support your favorite independent podcasting concerns.

Me, I donate to both WHYY *and* I believe in their missions even if I don't listen to every show they make. Don't earmark the funds. Let them decide how best to serve the community at large. It's not just for you. Sometimes a program that serves under represented minorities needs money and no one supports it as widely as This American Life, but it should exist even if you're not a listener. Support the mission of non-commercial public media. It's important now more than ever.
posted by inturnaround at 1:41 PM on November 25, 2013

Best answer: I am not an expert on funding, and I am not telling you what to do.

However, I always stress to people who ask me about this that this is a complex ecosystem, and while you're asking the right questions, remember that even money you do not target to something may reach it anyway.

Example: I work on a podcast that's created at NPR HQ, that's not carried on stations at this point at all. It might seem, if you give to your local station, like you're not supporting it. But: your local station may pay NPR for programming, and the fact that your local station is paying NPR for All Things Considered is part of why there are resources for me to make a show with, and why there are producers and people who love radio who have helped to nurture and support the show I work on, and, in fact, why I have a job. In other words, if you are in that ecosystem, you are helping.

That does not mean I'm disagreeing in any way with the advice to support shows that specifically ask for it if you like, no matter who produces or distributes them (whether it's PRI or NPR or whoever); it only means that if you are in the ecosystem giving money, you are helping, and you are helping lots of parts of that system that might not be obvious. Your local station is your designated entry point for (not all! but some!) programming that you may be listening to as a podcast. Your local station is how you connect to that system. (I also encourage you to discover your local station anyway. A lot of them have cool programming of their own and neat, distinct personalities.)

And this, too: if you are in this ecosystem and you are contributing to public media (or to or what the hell ever), thank you thank you thank you. Podcasting is really exciting and fun right now, and you are helping.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think this depends where you live, what your local station is like, and how that compares to the stations whose podcasts you're listening to.


You live in New York City. Your local public radio station is WNYC. New York is huge, has a gigantic and rather wealthy listener base. Public radio is very popular there. WNYC is not going to miss your donation. Now, WBEZ, KCRW, and other public radio stations with popular podcasts are also based in large cities with huge and wealthy listener bases. But, hey, at least they're getting your attention, and it might be nice to kick to support the specific shows you really love.


You live in Birmingham, Alabama. WBHM is a smaller public radio station, and due to the social climate supporting public radio isn't such a no-brainer. People have less money, and there is less public funding for things like radio. In comparison, WGBH, WNYC, and other stations that produce popular shows aren't really hurting for your money in the way that WBHM probably is. In this case, it's probably better to keep supporting your local station. Because you probably want WBHM to keep soldiering on, even if they don't produce all your favorite shows.
posted by Sara C. at 1:51 PM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Favoriting Sara C for common sense if you really want to donate one place, but I'd also Nth the idea of donating to your local station AND to whoever your favorite podcast or two asks you to donate to.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've thought about this and concluded that I would just keep donating to my local NPR organization (the mighty Minnesota Public Radio) because individual donations to every podcast I listen to would be a pain and would be more expenisve. Also, with newspapers cutting back severly on reporters I'd like to make sure that there is public-minded organization that actually investigates and reports on the news in my area.
posted by Area Man at 2:48 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to give to the station (WBEZ) or a network (APM, PRI, NPR), leave them a note in whatever way you can telling them which shows they make that really make your listening experience great. As you've probably heard during the pledge drives, they use donations in part to gauge listener interest in the shows.

If you were to designate your gift to a show, but your gift was under the cost of that show, there's no accounting necessary by the station to show that your specific dollars went to support "This American Life" or whatnot, so don't sweat that burden if you really want to say "I love you WBEZ, but what I really love is Ira Glass's voice and I love it this much $____"
posted by Sunburnt at 9:26 PM on November 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the help guys. I went with just donating to my local radio station (WBEZ). The two major factors that made me go that route was that a) the fungible nature of money means the shows I like are getting funded, and new shows I like may also get funded, and just because something like Sound Opinions isn't for me doesn't mean it also shouldn't be funded. And b) funding every podcast individually would not necessarily go just to the show, and would be a bigger pain in the ass for me.
posted by garlic at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2013

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