Yet another program by/for people of color bites the dust on public radio
By Charles Hallman
Tell Me More, the National Public Radio (NPR) multicultural daily newsmagazine, will leave the air August 1 after seven seasons. It debuted locally earlier this year on KNOW (91.1 FM) and is believed to be the first Black-oriented program that targeted people of color on the station’s regular weekday program lineup.
The cancellation decision was announced by NPR officials in late May. In an interview with Richard Prince, whose “Journal-isms” column is regularly featured on The Root.com, he reported that the network claimed the one-hour program “was not financially sustainable in its current form.” A top NPR executive told Prince that the show cost $2.1 million to operate and lost $1.5 million each year.
“People donate to foundations and corporations specifically for that show as underwriters,” said Prince in a recent MSR phone interview, explaining in more detail how the funding works . “That’s how the finances can be different for Tell Me More than for Fresh Air [which airs nightly on KNOW, 8-9 pm] and some of those other shows. The difference is that these other shows have people who donate specifically for that show. I think Tell Me More had that too, but there wasn’t as much.”
The MSR also contacted NPR for comment. A spokesperson promised to arrange a phone interview with NPR officials but never did. “We are sorry that NPR decided to cancel said Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) Managing News Director Chris Worthington.
Prince added that NPR has reiterated their commitment to Black programming. Tell Me More, however, is the third Black hosted program that has left the air, following similar fates of Tavis Smiley’s first NPR program, then News and Notes. Some critics say that in each case a primary reason was lack of network promotional support.
NPR officials now say Tell Me More host Michel Martin will appear on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered daily news programs. Observed Prince of this move, “They say this is a specific commitment to diversity because she will be on all the NPR shows, because she would be integrated into their programming and not separated off in a way where people could choose to run [her show] or not run her.”
“I’m so very proud of the work we’ve all done here at Tell Me More for the past seven years,” said Martin in a released statement from NPR. “We’ve brought new voices, new ideas and a fresh take on things, and we’ve proven that this can be done without sacrificing excellence.
“NPR news management has assured me that the mission that we’ve undertaken will continue in new ways, and I’m sticking around [to] be a part of making that happen,” she continued. But Martin won’t have the final say on her future on-air content as she has had on Tell Me More. Furthermore, the 28 Tell Me More staff members’ jobs will be eliminated once the show ends production.
Individual public radio stations had the option to run or not run Tell Me More or any other NPR-produced programs. “NPR can’t force the station to carry them,” explained Prince. He pointed out, however, that if too many stations opt not to run Martin’s show or other Black-oriented programming, essentially this signals to NPR that some programs perhaps shouldn’t be produced.
Nonetheless, Prince says that Blacks, whether they are listeners or not, can’t ignore public radio and not “pay attention at what goes on at NPR. You don’t have to be directly involved in order for it to have an effect on your life. National Public Radio reaches a lot of influential people who do have something to say about what goes on in your life as public officials or people who make decisions every day. It is public radio and we are part of the public.”
The MSR recently interviewed two longtime KNOW listeners, both Black women who agreed to speak as long as their true identity was not revealed.
“I thought it was very unfortunate” that Tell Me More was cancelled, said “Ebony” who lives in a St. Paul suburb. “I used to live in Dallas, Texas, so I got to listen to it a lot in the three years I was there.”
“I grew up listening to public radio,” added “Monique,” but she admitted that she didn’t know Tell Me More was on KNOW. “I heard a little bit of it one night.”
Both women expressed their concern on what will happen next on KNOW regarding the future of Black-oriented programming on the station. Monique said, “I don’t know if [MPR] is trying to appeal to people of color.”
“I don’t know if you could say that they particularly target any specific audience beyond middle- and upper-class [folk],” added Ebony. “I don’t think it is part of their mission to focus on the Black community or the Latino community or the Asian community, but they feel like they touch all of them.”
“We’re currently evaluating all our options as we look for another program to fill that slot,” reported Worthington. “We plan to have a decision by late July.”
Tell Me More has two weeks left before its seven-year run is over. “[People] can still listen to it now until August 1,” said Prince. “If they feel strongly that it should be kept on the air, they should make their feelings known, and it shouldn’t be allowed to go away quietly.
“Get involved with the local NPR station,” advised Prince. “It shouldn’t be a place that Black people avoid because they feel it doesn’t care about them. You have to make them care about you.”
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