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Board hears NPR plans for Sirius satellite streams

Originally published in Current, March 20, 2000
By Mike Janssen

NPR expects to receive $1 million from CPB to help develop its national satellite radio channels, according to a network executive. The announcement came at the NPR Board meeting March 8 and 9 [2000], where station reps asked the board for key details about the forthcoming program streams.

The mention of the CPB funding by satellite channel director Margaret Low Smith was perhaps premature, since CPB has not yet announced it, or any of the $8.6 million in grants expected to be disbursed from its Public Service Competitive Funds. Vice President for Radio Rick Madden, who expects to announce the grants within a month, wouldn't confirm the $1 million grant to NPR, but says that conversations with the network "are obviously pretty positive." CPB also put up planning money last summer for the satellite channels under development for Sirius Satellite Radio (formerly known as CD Radio).

Smith shared additional details on NPR's two satellite channels, slated to launch in October:

As more details about the channels fall into place before this year's PRC, the Ancillary Distribution Station Advisory Group (ADSAG), a panel of station reps and producers advising NPR on the satellite venture, says it needs to know more about other details of particular interest to stations. At the board meeting, ADSAG member Jenny Gentry, v.p. for finance and administration at Colorado Public Radio, said the committee lacks "talking points" on a couple of issues of particular concern to NPR member stations — some of which have disapproved of NPR plans to bypass them in reaching a national audience. Gentry said the committee knows little about how NPR might share revenue with stations or how it might cross-promote the stations on its new streams. Roger Sarow, president of Southern Public Radio and g.m. of WFAE in Charlotte, N.C., told the board that more details would help stations as they move into their annual budget cycles.

Smith and Davis say they're working closely with ADSAG to work out a revenue sharing model. One possibility would divide net revenue evenly between stations and NPR, possibly to offset membership dues. At this point, however, revenue sharing is wholly hypothetical. NPR doesn't expect to see returns from Sirius for at least four years, considering the huge launching expense.

Board meeting attendees heard about advances on two other issues that have plagued member stations: newsmagazine dues and underwriting rollover.

The board and staff earned mostly high marks from attendees for moving all stations to a listener-hour pricing model rather than a revenue-based model since the board's last meeting in November. Effective Oct. 1, all NPR member stations will pay for Morning Edition and All Things Considered based on listenership, eliminating a split structure which still set dues for some stations based on revenue. "As it turned out, more people were comfortable with the listener-hour measurement the way it evolved," Acting Vice President for Member and Program Services Madison Hodges told Current. Hodges said NPR will look into moving weekend shows to a similar pricing structure.

Stations can expect to see a report on underwriting rollover from consultants Bortz Media and Sports Group in the next few weeks, says NPR. The study will address whether stations should be able to replace national underwriting blurbs with local credits during repeat airings of NPR shows. Bortz recommended that NPR allow more local avails and keep track of underwriting carriage at local stations through a new reporting system.

In other developments at the NPR Board:

Web page posted June 29, 2004
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Copyright 2004


NPR Board approves the network's expansion into new delivery systems, including satellite, 1998.


An issue returns in 2004: Should NPR put its big newsmags on Sirius?

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