On NPR Board, small-market stations aren’t getting a fair shake

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I’ve always been amazed at the inertia that takes hold of the NPR Board when it comes to board composition.

The NPR Board is made up of 22 members. Of those, 11 are station managers from large and major markets. Just one is from a small market.

This week, the governance committee of NPR’s board nominated four station managers to the ballot for a July election. One of those managers is from a small-market station. That manager is an incumbent and currently the only small-market manager on the board.

For years, the NPR Board has been made up mostly of large-market managers. This despite the fact that small and rural stations make up 66% of the membership.

Given that, why is 8% of NPR’s board representing small-market stations? As a former member of the board, I asked board members this question. Here are the top three responses I received from current and former members:

  1. Small-market managers don’t have enough experience or business acumen. That’s why they are managing a small station.
  2. Small-market managers are too busy keeping the transmitters running and hosting shows, so they clearly don’t have enough time to serve on the board.
  3. One board member responded, “I worked at a small station 25 years ago. That’s where I got my start so I can effectively represent small-station interests.”

The board takes considerable time to come up with a rubric and metrics to choose potential board nominees. Market size and balance is clearly not a high priority. This leverage allows larger stations to make decisions for the entire system with little input from their smaller counterparts.

The most important diversity metric for the NPR Board should not be race, gender or even business experience. Those are all important; however, the most important metric is station size, which should be reflected in our leadership and board composition.

This is why I am running for the NPR board once again as a petitioned candidate not selected by the governance committee. I encourage station managers to mark July 8–Aug. 8 on their calendars to vote for your next board representative. I urge members to vote for small-station managers who are on that ballot to ensure more balance on the board and perspective that is sorely needed from the stations that make up the backbone of the public radio system and help execute public radio’s mission.

Mike Savage is director and general manager of WEKU in Lexington, Ky. He is a public radio veteran with 25 years of broadcasting experience who has managed NPR stations in Illinois and Indiana. He also holds the distinction of being the only member of the NPR Board of Directors ever to be elected by station petition.

4 thoughts on “On NPR Board, small-market stations aren’t getting a fair shake

  1. My station has won a National Edward R. Murrow award this year and was named Greater Public’s Benchmarks Station of the year for our growth in fundraising over the last three years. The Board members told me, I did not belong to the “right” organizations in public media to even be considered for the NPR board. Clearly my success means nothing! NPR expects different results but keep appointing the same kind of people to the board, that is the definition of insanity.

  2. Mr. Savage, small states may control the Senate and White House because of the anti-city, pro rural bias of the US Constitution. But the large market stations represent the bull of the listeners. Stop whining and run on your merits.

  3. Mr. McNary, your comment is a broad brushstroke on a long-standing governance issue in public radio that is much narrower. NPR stations are members of an organization dedicated to the mission of public broadcasting which is to provide service to all of the country regardless of market size or population. To compare NPR station governance to national politics is ill-informed and not an apples to apples comparison. As for your whining remark – I am representing an underrepresented group in our system. I have 25 years of public radio experience and served on the NPR Board from 2014-2017. I was considered an effective representative of the system and an advocate for greater awareness of small station needs.

  4. Mr. McNary, your comment is a broad brushstroke on a long-standing governance issue in public radio that is much narrower. NPR stations are members of an organization dedicated to the mission of public broadcasting which is to provide service to all of the country regardless of market size or population. To compare NPR station governance to national politics is ill-informed and not an apples to apples comparison. As for your whining remark – I am representing an underrepresented group in our system. I have 25 years of public radio experience and served on the NPR Board from 2014-2017. I was considered an effective representative of the system and an advocate for greater awareness of small station needs.

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