A Warning From "The Murphyist"

Jan 30, 2017

On February 6th, perhaps the most important fund drive in WAMC's history will take place. It comes as Donald J. Trump takes his place as the 45th President of the United States. 

Some of the people closest philosophically to Trump have made their displeasure with public radio more than plain. In fact, the former president of Breitbart News is sitting feet away from the Oval Office with the title of chief strategist to the new President, Breitbart has been brazen in such an opinion. 

When Breitbart opined that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should be privatized it had real import. In truth, we don't know what "privatization" means. Right now a very small part of the WAMC budget comes from the federal government. About $400,000 of WAMC’s annual budget, which is approaching eight million dollars, comes from the public via the CPB. 

Clearly, it is the intention of some around Trump to eliminate public broadcasting. So while we don't yet know what privatization means, we can take some educated guesses. In the first place we can assume that the idea is to starve public broadcasting by cutting off public monies. 

The thinking is that you tell stations that they will have leave the "public" in public broadcasting behind. In the past, some of these folks have said that healthy public stations should meet the same tests as commercial stations and should take advertising, perhaps selling copper bottomed pots and pans. Since public stations now accept underwriting, which is quite different from advertising due to various regulations, one could assume that the larger stations would not be hurt if that was all that was meant by privatization. 

The next step would clearly be to strip public broadcasters of their tax-exempt status. This would be a severe blow to stations that play material like every single Tanglewood concert from the Boston Symphony or the Metropolitan Opera, both incredibly important parts of American culture and essential to the continuance of our heritage but which differ from the commercial radio offerings, big time. 

Of course, I have been hearing from the trolls who tell me that they resent the balance on public radio. They want to pick the panelists and their philosophy and they tell me that until they determine that balance, we shouldn't receive any public money. That's where it gets tough. 

Any time politicians give money to the arts or to public broadcasting, sooner or later they will try to call the shots. That's why newspapers owned, or even supported by, the government are a lousy idea. We have seen the mandated legal advertising in newspapers cut off as punishment to newspapers that stray from the political line. 

That is exactly what we are seeing now as the Breitbart people recommend the privatization or defunding of public broadcasting. For their part, too many of the public broadcasters have been burying their heads in the sand are in a state of denial. In my opinion, however, we will have to realize that we may be faced with doing for ourselves. People will have to decide if great public stations like WAMC are worthy of support, no matter what a new Trump administration and a regressive Congress try to do. Together we built our station and together, we will have to be prepared to decide whether it lives or dies. 

That's why on February 6th we will have to send a message to those who would destroy what we have built. I have always been a Murphyist. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and when that happens, we will have to be ready. Denial will not be an option. It will, as it always does, come down to the listeners who have built this station to decide whether their precious dollars should be spent to keep this station going. You have always been there and I am sure you will be again.