Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: April 4, 2017

The WOSU Players perform a radio play in March 1935.

The WOSU Players perform a radio play in March 1935.

William Faulkner once wrote “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

That quote comes to mind as we hear the constant drum beat of an argument against federal funding for public television. The gist is that we have hundreds of channels now, so why should taxpayers spend a dime, much less a $1.35 a year to support public broadcasting? All those cable stations provide a variety of programming already. If the free market wants public media, let them pay for it!

Here’s a quote from the other side of the free market argument.

“In a country whose proudest boast is its devotion to the cause of education, the treatment of educational stations is beggarly and outrageous.”

The quote is from Father John Harney of the Paulist Fathers, who testified in Washington along with Ohio’s Attorney General John Bricker in favor of a set-aside of frequencies for educational radio stations.

The year was 1934. Educational radio was unsuccessful and within a few years over 100 educational radio stations in communities large and small were out of business. Commercialism won in part by promising to provide the same educational radio programming that stations like WOSU were already airing.

The promise was a sham.

Commercial media seeks to gain the highest number of viewers to attract advertisers and please stockholders. It’s a simple model as relevant today as in the late 1930s.

A commercial station leader doesn’t last long without good audience numbers. Some cable stations once tried to emulate PBS programming. The Learning Channel soon pushed that brand off a cliff in favor of programs like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The Bravo channel went on the air touting access to the best in arts programming, but now peddles the Real Housewives series.

Public broadcast stations provide a consistent noncommercial alternative to the rampant commercialism all around us. And remember these public stations are local. They are in Cookeville, Tennessee, Juneau, Alaska and Columbus, Ohio providing mission-centric community programming and services, educational kids programs, national shows from Ken Burns’ documentaries to NOVA to Frontline, local public forums on important issues, and much more.

In 1934, many of the pioneering educational radio stations were pushed to the fringe and disappeared in favor of powerful commercial and political interests. Could it happen again?

Help us assure a place for public media in America. Go to protectmypublicmedia.org and sign the nationwide petition. Then connect with your congressional representative and tell them to support public broadcasting stations like WOSU.

Thank you.

Urge your lawmakers to go on the record in support of public media funding.


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  • Raymond Willis

    I think your arguement really does not make as much sense as it used to make. I am a long time public television and public radio follower. I do like your selection of music, art, nature and cultural broadcasts. I can find similar else where in the multitudinous choices from iTunes to university courses and stations in 1/2 the countries of the world. The PBS network is usually better in their selection. However, political positions have taken too large of a role and an increasing role in airtime, even in the tone of reporting that involves anything labeled as social issue. It is probably more noticeable to those of us who have followed and/or participated in politics all of our lives. And you know that this is the case. I would be critical of this even if the extreme bias moved to the conservative side. Public dollars should not be spent on politically biased presentation whether it is $1.95 or $.01. I will listen to the “Save Science” discussion this morning to see if it is a validation of my point. I am pretty sure that it is promoting the Trump Administration as science illiterate. At least you have Rodger as part of the discussion as he can discuss the politicalization of science during the Obama Administration with the growth of the “Save the World” government science. Honest science and open science is the goal whatever is the politically desired use of science. In this way the issues of PBS funding and science funding are related.