Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: February 27, 2010

Yesterday, NPR turned 40 years old. It was on February 26, 1970 the organization was created as educational radio stations came together to create a network that could provide powerful and meaningful service to the nation, a system that would become something greater than the sum of its individual parts. Today, NPR serves over 26 million people who listen regularly in communities across the country.

Of course, WOSU was founded well before NPR. Our first broadcast was on WOSU AM in 1922. Jack Mitchell has written a wonderful book about public radio history called LISTENER SUPPORTED. Jack was the first producer of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and managed WHA/Wisconsin Public Radio for 21 years. Some of the gems in his book describe how 200 radio stations run by Universities, labor unions and religious groups in the 1920s became only a handful (about 20 including WHA and WOSU) as a commercial system took hold in broadcasting and stations were bought up to become profit centers.

He also sums up one key to the success of NPR compared with PBS. It stemmed from a recommendation to set up National Public Radio in 1970 to produce the national program service and provide leadership to public radio stations across the country. “This was a momentous decision,” writes Mitchell. “By way of contrast, the Public Broadcasting System was specifically prohibited from producing programs. As a result, public television never became more than a collection of separate programs and series…it had no unified quality.” Of course, public television had a few powerful producing stations calling the shots in 1970. You might say, not much has changed.