Listener supported: The culture and history of public radio: NPR: The trials and triumphs of National Public Radio.

Author:Spaulding, Stacy
Position:Book review

Mitchell, J. W. (2005). Listener supported: The culture and history of public radio. Westport, CT: Praeger. 220 pages.

McCauley, M. P. (2005). NPR: The trials and triumphs of National Public Radio. New York: Columbia University Press. 185 pages.

National Public Radio is perhaps the best-known branch of public broadcasting today. Yet, according to two recent histories written by Jack W. Mitchell and Michael P. McCauley, radio wasn't even supposed to be included in the legislation that became the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

But radio was added into the bill, thanks to a "guerrilla" war waged by university-affiliated broadcasters. It wasn't an easy fight to append the two words "and radio" onto the act initially, or at the last minute when radio was excised from the bill. (In fact, hundreds of copies of these two words were taped into the final bill by hand, in type that did not match the original document.) The men who dared to lobby for radio's inclusion "could not believe their good fortune" when the bill passed, writes Mitchell in Listener Supported: The Culture and History of Public Radio: "They had had no right to win over the television juggernaut, and few of them had believed they really would. To them, the fight had been mainly a game played for the fun of it, the most exciting escapade of their professional lives" (p. 41).

The story of NPR's birth, program development, bankruptcy, and recovery is told for the first time in two recently published books, Mitchell's Listener Supported and McCauley's NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio. The individual perspectives of each of these institutional histories make significant contributions to the understanding of NPR as an organization.

Mitchell, NPR's first employee, the first permanent director of All Things Considered and a former board chairman, explains much of NPR's history through his own experience and interviews with colleagues. Mitchell draws from his own insight, his knowledge of individuals involved, and his sense of the political struggles surrounding each episode of NPR's history. Mitchell takes care to explain the network's founding philosophies and documents. Throughout the book, he refers back to these roots, resulting in gracious writing that often explains why foolish decisions may have seemed wise at the time.

McCauley, a former radio journalist who at one time worked for Mitchell, narrows his focus to the network's newsroom. McCauley calls himself a...

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