More than 800 public radio stations around the country are keeping one ear on Congress these days as momentum seems to be building to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the amount of taxpayer support they get.
After passing a budget last month that eliminated all federal funding for public broadcasting, the House last week passed a bill that specifically targets National Public Radio and its more than 800 member stations.
H.R. 1076 would prevent public radio stations from using federal community grants to buy outside programming. In other words, they would have to find some other way to purchase the popular NPR shows that define them as a public radio station.
The pain would not be shared evenly across the country by public radio stations. Listeners of NPR affiliates in big cities would probably never notice a change at all.
KUOW in Seattle, for example, received $600,000 in federal grants this year, which makes up 6 percent of its budget. The station has a large staff and could easily fill more of its schedule with local programming if necessary. But it probably wouldn't have to.
Station manager Wayne Roth says, “KUOW would do just fine. Pledges are running ahead of goals and the hyperbole around public funding could help fundraising."
The situation is a little different when moving away from big cities.
In Spokane, KPBX-FM receives $220,000 in federal community grants which makes up 10 percent of its budget. Station manager Dick Kunkel says losing that money would force some layoffs and make it difficult to buy programming.
Kunkel said he is frustrated by the efforts to defund public radio, calling them misguided. But he's also angry with NPR executive Ron Schiller who was caught on tape making derogatory statements about conservatives.
"It makes no sense at all to me," Kunkel said. "Part of my job as manager is to fundraise, and I'd like to think I know better than to say things like that. It seems crazy to me."
Kunkel disputes the argument that NPR has a liberal bias. The effort to defund NPR is being driven by the Republican Party, he said.
The vote last week in the House was divided down party lines. All 228 votes to defund were cast by Republicans. Only 11 members of the G.O.P. sided with Democrats in opposing the bill.
A few Republicans abstained, including Rep. Don Young of Alaska. He said he does not believe it will save taxpayers any money because most stations can just play a shell game and buy NPR programming with money they raise from listeners.
Many stations in Alaska would not have that luxury and would be in real danger of being forced to shut down without taxpayer support. There are 26 public radio stations in Alaska and many are in very remote areas such as Galena, Kotzebue and Chevak.
Those stations get 60 percent of their budgets from the federal grants. They use the money for everything from paying staff to paying electric bills. They also use it to purchase NPR programming.
Former Alaska broadcaster Ron Rinker said he believes many stations would shut down if the federal money were pulled.
"These are the only means of communication out there," Rinker said. "Government communications, life, health and safety, absolutely critical."
The NPR affiliates in rural America are part of the Emergency Broadcast System which is designed to alert residents in the event of an emergency.