This week, Joe Richman sent me an email with the subject header, “Memories from Radio Battles of the Past,” which contained one of my long-forgotten screeds, this one from 1987, almost 25 years ago. My first thought was, at least I’m consistent.
We’re posting the letter below. It was (and is) typical of my many appeals for public broadcasting to embrace risk, talent, and a range of voices.
In recent years, system funding for independent producers and has taken some hard hits. The Radio Program Fund has been terminated. There are no longer clear pathways at CPB for funding of grassroots proposals, or a process for peer review of new programming ideas.
We’re posting this because it’s worth noting that the things we care about here at Transom haven’t changed. They are not affected by technology, politics, or expediency. The values we care about, and the caring itself, endure.
Raise a glass to enduring and then...
Help Transom get new work and voices to public radio by donating now.
As numbers become ever more important in public radio, we need to protect those things which cannot be measured.
I am sympathetic with CPB’s struggle to define “risk” in such a way as to make it an administratively useful term. It is much like attempting to define “art” for that purpose; these concepts serve poorly as standards of measurement. Yet, this is one of the appealing things about them: They defy formulas. And we must be cautious that we do not let them slip away from us, simply because we can not find universally acceptable ways to define them.
Many people in public radio maintain that in order to have a vital system, now and in the future, we must encourage innovative work, new talent, experimental ideas, risk, art — and that this is a system-wide responsibility.
I propose the formation of a “Radio Laboratory Fund” within the larger CPB Radio Program Fund. Applications to the Lab Fund will be simpler, and grant amounts usually smaller, than those of the general Fund. Money will be awarded to support creative people and ideas, in cases where they should not be judged by the current audience-based priorities. In other words, the priorities of increasing audience size and yielding major new services or series will not apply: This fund will be a seed bed.
The Radio Lab Fund will serve to:
– Encourage promising new producers, and talented people from other disciplines, to create for public radio,
– Develop new work which may challenge and expand our ideas about the possibilities of radio,
– Foster innovative collaborations between producers, stations and the networks,
– Stimulate established public radio talent to try out new ideas on a small scale, without the weight of commitment to a full series and audience acceptance.
Works which emerge from the Lab Fund may be incorporated into, and enhance, existing programs. Hence, application budgets will not necessarily include distribution, marketing, and promotion line items. The Lab will not be a “special interest set-aside”, but will rather exist to nourish creativity, quality and vision in all types of public radio production without the burden of premature “marketplace” pressure.
We all want public radio to set standards of quality, and to go beyond the ordinary. In pursuing those goals, we might think of the Radio Laboratory Fund as our Research Division and the general Radio Program Fund as Development.
Finally, I read a quote from Ron Hull in the Public Broadcasting Review a few weeks ago in reference to the television “R & D Fund”. He said that producers need to be given the “right to fail” in developing innovative fare, and that “we don’t have to put every dime up on the screen”. Amen.
-Jay Allison, 1987
NOTE FROM 2011: Although CPB no longer has a discernible process for funding new programming, we look forward to the results of AIR’s new Localore Project, of which CPB is a funder. Also, a reminder: we started our own Transom Donor Fund. Yes, it’s small, but it will be be bigger if you contribute.