CPB broke format in May 2001, giving its top radio honor, the
Edward R. Murrow Award, to one of its own employees, Rick Madden,
its v.p., radio. Madden delivered this acceptance speech during
the opening session of the Public Radio Conference in Seattle on
May 17. This edited version was published in Current May
By Richard H. Madden
I first walked into noncommercial radio at the University of Notre
Dame as a freshman and never walked out. That was in 1963, four
years before the Carnegie Commission labeled us public radio. My
radio passions ran contrary to my father's notions of what my interests
should be. In my sophomore year, he wrote with a different view:
"I'm not overly happy about what seems to me, mistakenly I hope,
a changing attitude you have towards school, classes and grades.
Also, I'm distinctly under the impression that your radio work
consumes a disproportionate amount of time and, even worse, attention."
It was nearly 20 years later that I joined CPB. My father had recovered
from his dissent, with my wife and I having provided his first two
grandchildren no doubt playing a considerable role. This was the
early 1980s, a time when public radio was just emerging from its
"smaller is better" mindset. Even on the verge of bankruptcy, NPR
was becoming a significant force in American life. And CPB was poised
to create a Program Fund, a Future Fund, minority and rural incentives
and an office titled Vice President, Radio.
Each of us has a similar story to tell of our own careers in public
radio. And each of us has many people to thank for the opportunities
they've given us. My list is long, and time allows me to mention
only a few.
The CPB Board deserves recognition for their willingness to set
broad direction and priorities and then entrust management to work
hard to attain then. Of course, that's how it's supposed to work.
This award suggests that it has indeed worked out that way.
Bob Coonrod and Fred DeMarco also deserve recognition. Under their
leadership, CPB has helped public radio shed its "smaller is better"
mindset and begin to realize its full potential. Their confidence
in me has contributed to my professional growth and allowed me to
contribute to an industry that I both value and respect.
Today's occasion also marks the celebration of something they did,
which is extraordinary for a bureaucracy like CPB. They broke a
decades long precedent for both the Murrow award and the TV equivalent,
the Lowell award, and encouraged the advancement of a current CPB
employee through the nominating process, after what I'm told, was
the insistent advice of many in the public radio industry. So I
thank many of you as well. I could say that this is CPB at its most
responsive. But I would have to add that if this was an easy thing
to do, you can be confident this would have happened more than once
over the past quarter-century.
Before moving to the core of my remarks, I must mention, indeed
introduce you to three other individuals. It may well be that one
definition of a family is a team. If so, then I am happily part
of a family and a team that has earned a considerable part of this
award by tolerating a phenomenal number of trips over the past 18
years while at CPB as well as more than their fair share of evenings
looking at the back of my head while I work on the computer. Finally,
as many of you know, my health recently has not been what I prefer.
But their special brand of support has made this period as bearable
as it possibly could be. I would like to introduce my wife of 30
years, Cathy, and my daughters Erin and Kate.
I have learned a lot working with Murrow honorees. Perhaps the
most important is this: while an individual's legacy is most likely
the premise of most nominations, virtually all of the winners continue
their careers and renew their challenge to themselves, their colleagues,
and the rest of us to reach higher, go farther, do more, and, ultimately,
realize the potential that has always existed within this enterprise
and each of us.
Look at this list--you'll see it's true of the
- talent who continue to grace our air,
- producers who, with great passion, enlarge the listeners' understanding
of their own humanity,
- researchers who explore the character of our audiences, and
- policymakers who help set a course and empower others to travel
Like Murrow himself, this award is about inspiration, about looking
forward, about applying well-reasoned values to raise our enterprise
to its next level of significance.
As Nelson Mandela told his countrymen at his 1994 inauguration
to the presidency, "Playing small does not serve the world." We're
not a "smaller is better" enterprise anymore, and none of us can
think with that type of mindset. But somehow such notions linger.
Here are three cases that illustrate why this concerns me. I call
them the "definitional case," the "Sirius digital direct satellite
case," and "the sky-is-falling case." Let me look at each in short
First, the definitional case. When we define ourselves as "the
alternative," we "play small." We define ourselves by what we are
not. For our 22 million listeners, however, we are not the "alternative,
" we are the ideal.
Second, the Sirius digital direct satellite case. The subject of
a recent discussion in [the Pubradio online mailing list] was the
amount of harm and--from some writers' perspective--near total damage
to station listening to be derived from NPR providing programming
for two digital satellite channels on Sirius, even though member
stations have some control over NPR. No one wrote about the other
198 channels on Sirius and XM that are also seeking listeners. Stations
in this room have zero control over them. Many in the subsequent
conversation apparently assumed that local stations would not or
could not compete. I couldn't disagree more. Why is it that NPR's
potential success frightens us more than its potential failure?
Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Third, the sky-is-falling case. I have heard some say, "It's over
for stations, and most aren't smart enough to know it."
Little in this industry disappoints me more than the kind of wrong-headed
thinking demonstrated in each of these cases. It can only generate
negative energy and, ultimately, negative outcomes.
Let's think with a bit more positive energy.
- In the business of creating and distributing audio content,
we are the ideal. Certainly our news and information is a profoundly
valued, highly competitive, nearly unassailable public service
in the ideal sense of the term.
- If Sirius succeeds, and NPR and PRI with them, then we all
succeed because we will have new listeners, new pipelines for
many local programs, and new revenue streams for the broader industry.
- We are at just the beginning of a bright future for the stations.
I believe we can achieve public-service significance at a level
we can only barely conceive. I believe we can strengthen our values
in our broadcast services, and I believe we can extend our values
into new platforms as well.
To make this happen will require more energy than we have collectively
applied over the past decade, further development of public radio's
remarkable capacity to change, more partnering and risk-taking than
perhaps we are accustomed, and, of course, our continued commitment
to excellence, creativity and experimentation.
I'll concede that none of us can do it alone. Our position of significance
today is the result of the hard work and years of dedication by
everyone in this room--and countless more before us. Don't think
for a minute that any one of us can take a significant step to into
the future by going it alone.
I stand here today certainly to accept this honor. But I also rise
to guarantee that CPB, as we have over the years, will continue
to be your partner as we secure the future that we know is there.
Sometimes it will be with funding. Other times it will be with encouragement.
Maybe, it will be by setting standards that help us realize our
Everyone thinks about the CPB-station relationship in financial
and bureaucratic terms. In large measure, I understand why many
say this is so. Since 1980, stations have received something on
the order of $1 billion from the American taxpayer in the
form of [Community Service Grants and National Program Production
and Acquisition Grants through CPB]. Assuming over the next decade
that the appropriations grow about 4 or 5 percent per year, stations
will receive another $1 billion from the American taxpayer.
That doesn't sound like an industry that is on its last legs. But
it does remind us about how high the priority is to sustain a coordinated
and successful legislative strategy.
This conversation yields to a profound public policy question.
Assuming our success, how do we best use that next $1 billion
to optimize our individual and collective public-service outcomes?
If we are to achieve this conference's ambition To Expand our Reach,
what might some of CPB's and the industry's objectives be?
We must acknowledge, embrace, strengthen and protect our most
- We must continue to work toward financially sustainable
public-service models in service to these assets, regardless of
- We must understand better whom we serve, whom we seek to serve,
and how better to serve them in the future, regardless of platform.
And we must continue to define and re-define what we mean by success.
- We must partner more effectively with colleagues, in both the
public and private sectors, whose values and public-service aims
align with ours.
- We must attract and retain and reward the very best talent--talented
leaders, talented thinkers, talented managers and talented producers.
- Finally, we must preserve our core business--which is programming.
Regardless of platform, at no time should we ever forget what
business we're in.
But, CPB leverages more than just money. It also leverages ideas,
asks questions and issues challenges. Here are several I want to
leave with you.
Public radio was founded on the Carnegie Commission's notion of
the "bedrock of localism." We work today in an environment where
web designers seek to reach the entire country, world or galaxy,
but rarely, if at all, local geographic communities or public radio's
communities of interest. As about the last locally owned and operated
(and what a huge competitive advantage this is!) broadcast outlets
in your communities, we have a collective challenge of determining
what localism means in a media environment in which geography is
becoming less and less relevant?
When you get home from this conference, go back five years, as
I have done, and look at your own station's audience growth rate
from local programming versus the audience growth rate from national
programming. At least half will find a lower growth or negative
growth for their local programming. We recently surveyed stations
about their local programming. Half of those stations that replied
that their local programming is "strong" or "very strong" had decreasing
listener-hours over the period under study.
For an industry whose overall audience is growing year after year,
for an enterprise that was founded on the Carnegie Commission's
definition of localism, this is an outcome we should neither welcome
nor embrace. Thus, many of you have a second challenge of shaping
the steps you will you take to rectify this.
To me, responses to these two challenges result in incredible prospects
for building audience while redefining "localism" in contemporary
terms, as well as our values, without losing their essential public-service
We have become increasingly and successfully competitive over the
past decade Local voices and local issues need to become more dominant
on our air and local web sites. My experience and intuition tells
me that a wonderfully bright future awaits. But, in modifying again
Mandela's inauguration address to fit our circumstance today, a
third challenge results. He suggests that we will succeed
- only if we rise above our parochial fears,
- only as we let our light shine,
- only as we unconsciously give others permission to do the same,
- and, as we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically
Such a proposition may be an editorial and an essential one between
stations and your listeners. It is just as imperative that we seek
to achieve such values in our relationships among one another in
this great enterprise.
And that is the final challenge I leave with you today.
In summary, it's a great time to be in public radio. Thank you
again for the award, the gracious welcome, and have a wonderful
Mandela told his countrymen, 'Playing small does not serve the world.'
We're not a 'smaller is better' enterprise anymore, and none of
us can think with that type of mindset.