Stayin' Alive

Mar 31, 2017

When the right wing organization Breitbart decided to publish a piece calling for the defunding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) I thought, “Well, that’s that.” 

We know that Breitbart’s Steve Bannon is now sitting at the President’s elbow as a senior advisor. I said that the die was cast and knew that in order to stay alive, WAMC had to get out and fight. I called it for what I think it is -- a potential death knell for public broadcasting. 

I certainly wasn’t shy about it. I knew that the Republicans in the House of Representatives had tried to defund public broadcasting in the past. So I warned our staff and our listeners what was coming. Apparently, a lot of our people were listening. In the annals of WAMC history there may never be another fund drive like the most recent, incredible million dollar fund drive. With the combination of the Locked Box, a resuscitated First Amendment Fund and $500,000 in a single day, WAMC had the fund drive of the century. None of us will ever forget it. Even now as I write about the effort I have tears in my eyes.

When Ray and I sit together from 6 AM to 7 AM, we can usually count on about $6,000 in that hour. That morning you contributed something like $50,000 and another $100,000 from 7 AM to 9 AM. We just kept staring at each other in disbelief. Let’s face it, when the chips were down, the people were there. 

After the drive we heard from some of the biggest stations in the country, wanting to know how we did it. My answer was that it was all Trump and that all we had to do was to tell the truth -- that public broadcasting was in real danger. I’ll be honest with you; there have been hints from others in the system that we should not be talking about the efforts to close down the CPB and the attack on public broadcasting. Apparently there are those who believe that if you don’t call it like it is -- a war on the arts, the humanities and public broadcasting -- the attempts to shut it down will go away. 

So where will all of this go? There is always the possibility that the public broadcasting, arts and humanities people will call their representatives in the Congress and the Senate and the Republicans in the House and the Senate will back off. But since these same people have passed such defunding bills in the past, it is unlikely that we can expect them to switch horses now. From where I sit, I think we have to continue to have the courage to tell the truth. If it means that we have to ask our listeners to support what they love, I am sure that they will. Putting our heads in the sand is a bad idea. If you read your history you will see that in ages of anti-intellectual despotism, those people who had the courage to fight the fight are the ones who history shines upon. 

Ever since Donald Trump said in his campaign that he loved the undereducated, it was clear to me that the last thing he would support were those entities that catered to the mind. The war is on against radio and television stations that encourage thinking. The colleges and universities that own public radio and TV stations will be under attack for the same reasons. They will be loath to give up their public broadcasting franchises but some may have to. Hundreds of public stations survive thanks to the limited money they receive from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and they will be the most at risk. What a shame. If we lose these entities, this country will be a lot poorer.