Federal support of public radio and television has long been a contentious issue in Washington’s budget battles. Republicans have sought to cut or eliminate public broadcasting’s subsidy periodically since the mid-1990s but have not succeeded.
But Farley, whose station regularly battles NPR affiliate WAMU-FM (88.5) for ratings supremacy in Washington, is unconvinced.
“NPR is a behemoth, and now the behemoth is rubbing our nose in it with this new building,” he said in an interview. “They’re always telling us how poor they are, and how they need to raise money. And then they open these palatial digs. We’re not just competing against WAMU. We’re competing against this organization, too. We’d just like a level playing field.”
WTOP, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a little guy. For the past three years, it has been the highest-grossing radio station in the country, according to BIA/Kelsey, a research firm based in Chantilly. WTOP generated $64.6 million of ad revenue in 2012, BIA estimated.
“We’re not crying poor,” Farley says, “but we’re not looking for a handout, either.”
Farley believes that NPR’s new headquarters will ultimately harm its fundraising efforts and those of every public station. “NPR is quite rightly bragging about it,” he said. “But what does it say to people when [NPR and its affiliated stations] start asking for more money? Do they need a new gym?”
Over at NPR’s headquarters, meanwhile, employees seem pleased to be in a spacious new work space. NPR legend Susan Stamberg, whose recorded voice announces the floors in the building’s elevators, remembers the threadbare days in the early 1970s. Back then, NPR was so bereft of production facilities or even office furniture that reporters used to sit on the floor to edit tape of interviews, she recalls.
The new building, by contrast, is stocked with $44 million of top-shelf audio and multimedia equipment, and it contains 14 studios and six recording booths. Says Stamberg, “It’s heaven.”