Well, it's that time of year again, when my local National Public Radio station (WNYC AM & FM) interrupts programs with appeals for money so it can give me interruption-free programming, unlike commercial radio.
The basic marketing concept is to make you feel like a deadbeat for getting a free ride on the airwaves. The fact is, most of us are. Getting things like radio free is an inalienable right, guaranteed by the Constitution somewhere, an extension of the public health and education clause, as well as free speech, whatever.
In playing the guilt card, these eleemosynary institutions' marketing people have tried everything but read off a list of names of those who haven't given yet: "Benito Mussolini, Ronald Reagan, Lady Gaga..."
The other day I heard the good news that Sundays had been bought back. There will be no pledge because listeners had contributed that day's daily quota by pledging early. If we cough up enough money now, we can have Saturday back. It's a new form of media extortion: "Pay -- or we kill a day."
What a shame there aren't more listeners like the late Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc, the guy who founded McDonald's (NYSE: MCD). My favorite NPR pledgee left the public radio network more than $200 million when she died in 2003. That's a lot of hamburgers!
If only other public spirited citizens, who didn't make their fortunes by inventing double whoppers with double cheese and bacon that might create obesity in the young, would help public broadcasting with its financial problems. I can't help but think of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) with its billions stashed away offshore, accumulated by serving the public's thirst for fast info and talk.
The only problem with giving them money in public broadcasting is they never seem to have enough. Based on 35 years of watching begathons on TV as well as radio, here's Kitman's Law: The more you give them, the more they need.
If only Congress had set up a steady revenue stream for public broadcasting, instead of trying to abolish it every year, a tradition that began with the Nixon and Reagan administrations. The mistake LBJ made when pushing through the 1968 law establishing public broadcasting is not mandating the system be funded by, say, a non-political across-the-board 6% deduction on profits from commercial station license holders to pay for public broadcasting, a system that works so well in the UK.
Unfortunately, the Johnson family had extensive broadcast holdings in Texas at the time.
A one-time tax on new TV sets also might have helped with any shortfalls.
But the horse is out of the barn. How would I pay for it now without the evil of interrupting programs to give us interruption- free broadcasting?
Assuming public broadcasting is necessary and proper in a democracy, providing diversity of opinion, and not a waste of taxpayer money, as Mitt Romney is the latest to suggest, I would have credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard (but not American Express, with its higher processing fees) tack on to monthly statements a small charge.
Two check-off boxes would do it:
- Yes, I want to support public broadcasting
- No, I'm a deadbeat
So if you want to be "a viewer like you," just say so. Or you could opt out, and nobody would ever know what a deadbeat you are, except your credit card company.