Electronic genes: an important part of America’s cultural DNA

One witness the congressmen didn't lecture about donor-list improprieties at a House telecom subcommittee hearing July 20 [1999], was documentarian Ken Burns, who carried the historical weight of Sullivan Ballou, Thomas Jefferson and Satchel Paige with him. His remarks for the rapidly organized hearing echoed parts of his keynote at the PBS Annual Meeting in June 1999. Let me say from the outset — as a father of two daughters and a film producer, increasingly concerned about violence on television — that I am a passionate lifelong supporter of public television and its unique role in helping to stitch our exquisite, diverse and often fragile culture together. Few institutions provide such a direct, grassroots way for our citizens to participate in the shared glories of their common past, in the power of the priceless ideals that have animated our remarkable republic and our national life for more than 200 years, and in the inspirational life of the mind and the heart that an engagement with the arts always provides. It is my wholehearted belief that anything which threatens this institution weakens our country.

Show me a better deal than public TV

Two years after the CPB funding crisis began to subside, public TV's assigned public-policy representative, the president of America's Public Television Stations (APTS), was giving variations on this stump speech at meetings of pubcasters. This is an edited version of David Brugger's remarks to the FirstView instructional TV screening conference in August 1998. One of the important revelations to station professionals and lay volunteers during our last Capitol Hill Day was that their members of Congress often fed back the message they had heard from the more than 85 percent of their constituents in your home towns who said they wanted continued or increased federal funding — this, in many cases, from members of Congress who had been ardent opponents of federal funding just 18 months before. Last summer's Roper survey showed that Americans see public radio and public television as their second- and third-best values in return for tax dollars spent. This is even higher than during the 1995 funding crisis when we were No.

After all we’ve done, think how much more we can do

In his keynote address at the PBS Annual Meeting, June 22, 1997, David McCullough celebrated the value of history, the joy of collaboration in making films and both the achievements and promise of public TV. McCullough, a celebrated historian whose biography of President Truman won a Pulitzer Prize, has narrated many documentaries, including Ken Burns' The Civil War and hosted the PBS series American Experience for 10 years. Did you know that if you were a flea, you could jump as high as Rockefeller Center? And, furthermore, you could do it 30,000 times without stopping? I learned that from Miriam Rothschild, who is the world's leading expert on fleas.

‘It just feels like hearts coming out of my head’

What do viewers and listeners have to say about public broadcasting's purposes? You can work backward from their letters and calls to stations and producers about the field's achievements. Relief from yappy dogsDear NPR,

Ever since I arrived in Ukraine in June, I have suffered acute NPR news withdrawals. Sure, I miss my family, my friends, and all those "things" that have come to represent my previous life in America — hot showers, clean tap water, brown sugar for my oatmeal and lighted stairwells. But I suspect that it is the lack of those familiar voices that woke me up each morning in Salem, Ore., that has made my transition in this country most difficult. Please send those tapes soon.

The best of jobs: to have and serve the public’s trust

Bill Moyers' keynote at the PBS Annual Meeting, June 23, 1996, grabbed many of the pubcasters where they live, and invited others to come home. Producer Stephen Ives, a second-generation professional in public TV, said later that Moyers' Sunday-morning talk reminded him "why I was so proud of what my father did for a living." I must tell you that being here feels very good. Two years ago you invited me to be with you in Florida to celebrate my 60th birthday but I wound up having heart surgery instead and couldn't come to blow out the candles. But it was a moment I'll never forget when all of you sang "Happy Birthday" to me over an open telephone line.

America, I do mind dying

This commentary traces public broadcasting back to its earliest days and its root principles of populism and public education. Media historian Robert W. McChesney, founder of the citizen group Free Press, draws on his 1993 book Telecommunications, Mass Media, and Democracy: The Battle for the Control of U.S. Broadcasting, 1928-1935 (Oxford University Press). This is an edited version of McChesney's March 1995 talk at the University of California, San Diego. Though the federal contribution to public broadcasting is being extended, if at a reduced rate, for two or three more years, the handwriting is on the wall: there may be no more government subsidized broadcasting in the United States by the end of the decade. I believe that it is very much in the public interest for the nonprofit, noncommercial media to be expanding instead.

What we offer: the case distinguishing NPR news

A longtime NPR correspondent — then vice president in charge of the network's news division — adapted this article from his remarks at Washington State University. Buzenberg later held top news posts at Minnesota Public Radio before moving to a prominent nonprofit newsroom, the Center for Public Integrity. Critics of sleaze, sex and violence in movies, music and the media have given public broadcasters their best chance yet to make a positive case for the value of public broadcasting to American society. In contrast to the anything-goes-as-long-as-it-makes-money values of some commercial media, public broadcasters have a compelling story to tell. It is a story of high standards and public-service journalism, even though public broadcasting also has been under attack, the most serious since it was established by Congress in 1967.

Who public radio broadcasters are: members of a congregation, with our listeners

This is the view from Martin Goldsmith, then host of NPR's daily classical music program Performance Today, who served as announcer, producer and program director at Washington's WETA-FM between 1974 and 1986. From the same thinking that has offered "seamlessness," "affinity," "modes" and "appeal-driven programming" as ways of capturing the public radio audience now comes "customer service." At first glance, this concept seems perfectly reasonable, even admirable. It conjures up images of the radio programmer as shopkeeper, hustling to fill his customers' orders, keeping them satisfied so that they'll continue to place their orders at that familiar stand on the dial. With customer satisfaction, so the theory goes, comes customer loyalty ...

Dear Impresario: Let’s recreate PBS as the citizens’ channel

In 1995, Current asked three of public TV's highly regarded program-makers to write "Dear Impresario" letters to the next chief programmer at PBS — a position then vacant. Danny Schechter is the executive producer of Globalvision Inc., producers of Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television, which the previous PBS programmer, Jennifer Lawson, had declined to distribute. PBS's future rests on a "vision thing." We all know that systems generally are resistant to change, and that managers of most of our most venerable and vulnerable enterprises tend to be risk-adverse and prudent, seeking to be safe rather than sorry. Yet as we look at the landscape of modern life, we can see the wreckage of those institutions that clung to old ways of thinking and doing in a turbulent world.