Public radio can save itself--if
National Public Radio is embarked on an ambitious six-year plan to become independent of all federal funds by replacing them with monies from the private sector as well as the profits from a variety of entrepreneurial activities. This effort of ours, if successful, will allow all available federal dollars to go directly to local public radio stations throughout the country. This challenge, which we have accepted, will be difficult even at the levels Congress has authorized. But it will be impossible if OMB (Office of Management and Budget) is permit-ted to yank the rug out from under us.
The administration's proposed budget cuts for public broadcasting go beyond prudent fiscal policy. They threaten the very independence, stability, and survival of public radio and television, and if enacted would prevent achievement of President Reagan's stated goal of a strong public broadcasting system depending substantially on private enterprise.
Two concerns are of paramount importance to public broadcasters across the country: the integrity of federal funding and whether Congress will approve a basic level of support for the crucial transition years ahead.
Ever since the Ford administration Congress and the White House have agreed to provide advance appropriations to public broadcasting in order to insulate it from political interference and ensure certainty and continuity for program production. Last year, under intense political pressure, that commitment was broken. The fiscal year 1983 budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was rescinded from the previous appropriation of $172 million to the level arbitrarily set by OMB of $137 million. OMB is now seeking a further and second rescission for fiscal year 1983 to $116 million--a 33 percent reduction.
We are therefore faced with the task of defending CPB's budget for the third time in less than a year - completely undercutting the principle of advance appropriations. The fact that public broadcasting's budget decisions are now made in such proximity to our programming decisions raises the specter that, unless insulated funding is fully restored, there would be a temptation to interfere with CPB's budget because of radio or television programs on the air.
In addition, these continuing assaults on CPB's budget completely frustrate the planning essential to operate a broadcasting system. Programming is developed over time. Precipitate budget cuts will have the effect of pulling the plug on public broadcasting.
We have not sought, and never expected to be exempt from federal budget reductions. But a minimum federal commitment is our bridge to a self-reliant future. Federal funds--which are only 25 percent of the total revenues of public broadcasting--remain the critical lever for the attraction of outside income, helping strengthen our ties with the communities we serve.
Some proponents of a ''free market'' (a misnomer considering the limited number of channels) in broadcasting urge that we be cut loose from federal support, leaving public broadcasting's fate to so-called ''market forces'' alone. If there is demand for such programming, the argument continues, it will attract sufficient support from those wealthy enough to pay. But even supporters of a free market concede that the government should act to compensate for the unintended consequences of an unfettered marketplace with artifically limited boundaries.
This is particularly true in the case of public radio. We provide programs that are unobtainable anywhere else in radio--''All Things Considered,'' ''Morning Edition,'' ''Jazz Alive,'' ''Enfoque Nacional,'' for example, as well as services for the print handicapped. Unless public radio survives, they will disappear. Commercial broadcasters simply cannot afford to duplicate them. To the extent limited federal funding is essential to our continuation during this period of transition to nonfederal support, it should be provided.
We have already accepted substantial cuts in our funds. We now call on the President and Congress to live up to their side of the bargain. We must be allowed to reach the future.