Cato Policy Analysis No. 277 July 24, 1997

Policy Analysis

With Friends Like These:
Why Community Radio Does Not Need the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting

by Jesse Walker

Jesse Walker, a Seattle-based journalist, is writing a history of the professionalization of radio.


Executive Summary

Congress created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund alternatives to commercial television and radio. Such alternatives include "community radio" stations, stations defined by their devotion to local programming and programming outside the mainstream. Those outlets are usually located in the noncommercial band and funded by listener subscriptions.

But the availability of CPB subsidies has grossly distorted the stations' goals. However well-intentioned, CPB rules pressure community radio stations to replace volunteers with paid staff and to abandon diverse, experimental local programming for more bland fare.

If taxpayer funding for the CPB were eliminated, community radio would not only survive; it could thrive, returning to its traditional bases of support--volunteers and subscriber funding.

Economic barriers to new low-budget community radio stations, such as the price of low-power broadcasting equipment, are lower than ever. But regulatory barriers to entry remain, particularly the Federal Communications Commission's refusal to license stations operating at less than 100 watts. Removing such restrictions would further facilitate a renaissance in alternative radio.

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