Radio with a lens: Bill Siemering on NPR’s original mission statement

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Bill siemering

5.07.21 10:09 am

When I was six, I knew radio was a medium with a purpose. Twice a day my teacher in a rural school turned on the radio and we listened to the Wisconsin School of the Air and I learned art, music, science and nature studies by listening to the radio. This was just one example of Wisconsin’s idea that “campus boundaries are state boundaries.”

NPR goals did not appear one day; it was the result of many experiments. One of the biggest was when I set up a showcase studio in the heart of Buffalo’s black community to create programming on WBFO, SUNY Buffalo. The extensive programming was planned and produced by residents of the community; most had no broadcast experience. Radio is easy to learn.

Following this, I wrote in a publication published in 1969:

Allowing minority opinions to be unrepresented or distorted is to deny freedom of choice and threaten the life of democracy. While the commercial media have ignored the pluralism of society, the future of public broadcasting may be to capitalize on this diversity.

When, as a founding board member of NPR, I was asked to write down the goals, I wanted to differentiate public radio from educational and commercial radio and PBS. I wanted to advocate for radio as a medium because it had been denigrated. The shift from education to public meant inclusion, for all. Curriculum and writing decisions would be made on the basis of merit, not grades. I wanted it to be both ambitious and practical.

Radio with a purpose.

Read through the original NPR goals through the slideshow below.


National public radio will be at the service of the individual: it will promote personal development; he will regard the individual differences between men with respect and joy rather than with derision and hatred; he will celebrate the human experience as infinitely varied rather than empty and mundane; this will encourage a feeling of active constructive participation, rather than a feeling of listless helplessness.

National public radio, through over-the-air interconnections and other distribution systems, will be the main national service for non-commercial programming. Public radio stations will be a source of programming input as well as program broadcasting. The potentials of live interconnection will be exploited, the art and enjoyment of the sound medium will be enhanced.

In its cultural mode, the National Public Radio will preserve and transmit the cultural past, encourage and disseminate the work of contemporary artists and offer listeners an aesthetic sound experience that enriches and gives meaning to the human spirit.

In its journalistic mode, National Public Radio will actively explore, investigate and interpret issues of national and international importance. The programs will allow the individual to better understand himself, his government, his institutions and his natural and social environment so that he can participate intelligently in the implementation of the change process.

Total service must be trustworthy, improve intellectual development, expand knowledge, deepen the aesthetic auditory pleasure, increase the pleasure of living in a pluralistic society and translate into a service to listeners that makes them more responsive, human beings informed and intelligent and responsible citizens of their communities and the world.

Implementation of objectives

Such statements of intent are just platitudes and good intentions unless there is a strong commitment, creative energy and a specific strategy to implement them. The detailed implementation of national public radio is the responsibility of the president and his staff, but some priorities and suggested approaches are needed to help address the how and why of the NPR.

The development priorities of the NPR program:

  1. Provide an identifiable daily product that is consistent and reflects the highest standards of broadcast journalism.
  2. Provide extensive coverage of public events, issues and ideas, and acquire and produce special public affairs programs.
  3. Acquire and produce cultural programs which can be programmed individually by the stations.
  4. Provide access to the intellectual and cultural resources of cities, universities and rural districts through a program development system in cooperation with member public radio stations.
  5. Develop and distribute programs to specific groups (adult education, teaching units, modules for local productions) that meet the needs of regions or individual groups.
  6. Liaise with foreign broadcasters for a program exchange service.
  7. Produce material specifically intended to develop the art and technical potential of radio.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit NPR.


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