In the wake of the collapse of an emergency loan agreement, National Public Radio yesterday took its plea for survival to all the member stations that have not yet ratified the $9.1 million bailout.
"Time is perilously short if we are to conclude a deficit financing deal to save NPR," said Donald Mullally, interim NPR board chairman, in a statement that asked for ratification and further called for "round-the-clock" negotiations with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
After a day-long board meeting on Thursday, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, the president of the CPB board, announced that the corporation had postponed concluding the agreement with NPR. For the last few weeks NPR officials had been predicting disaster, even bankruptcy, if a quick influx of cash wasn't received at the network. CPB's approval had been expected this week.
"We are getting weary of the crisis," said Ken Davis, the program manager of the network's member station WBEZ in Chicago. "We have been going through this since February, one round of awful news after another. It just constantly gets worse. Now we are resigned to the fact that we have an awful situation. I certainly am disturbed by the CPB action."
Members of NPR management have suggested they would ask CPB for an interim loan. CPB lent them $500,000 in May to meet expenses, including payroll. Yesterday, Edward Pfister, the president of CPB, said, "CPB, in fact, has no discretionary dollars which can go to NPR outside of the proposal now in front of NPR."
Two other deadlines came due yesterday.
With one, member stations pledged only $355,000 of $400,000 needed to keep the music portions of NPR Plus on the air. The NPR board said it would review its needs in this area at its July 28 meeting.
Also, yesterday was the deadline that National Information Utilities Corp. of McLean had set for NPR to accept an offer of $5 million for NPR's share of a joint-venture project to transmit data over NPR's satellite. Paul Oliver, the president, said a letter he received yesterday morning signed by Ronald C. Bornstein, the interim chief operating officer, "would lead one to believe they were rejecting the offer."
Some officials of CPB blamed NPR for the loan impasse.
"NPR was not fully ready to discuss it with us. We were advised that they had asked for more time, that they were just not ready," said Lillie Herndon, the finance chair of the CPB board. NPR reportedly did not make a full formal presentation of its positions on the loan agreement and its terms.
Though sympathetic with NPR's financial plight, CPB board member Richard Brookhiser, the editor of the National Review, said, "We are aware it is an urgent situation. There is still time for NPR to look it over and make a decision. We don't have piles of free money lying about."
In the headquarters of NPR, the mood was glum.
"Just say something encouraging. I think it is by the good graces of our creditors we are still in business," said one staffer. Another expressed anger at the CPB postponement. "This is nothing but a squeeze play, keeping NPR on a short leash," said one reporter.
Management at NPR, however, was optimistic enough to announce a live national fundraiser for the first week of August. "NPR Drive To Survive," will be conducted on the news magazines shows, "All Things Considered," and "Morning Edition," and participation is optional for the stations. The stations will retain the initial portion of the money to make up for the federal funds they already have pledged to the network, and the rest of the money will be divided between the station and the network's national programs.
Negotiations had stalled, several parties felt, because of the concern within the NPR system that CPB had overstepped its congressional mandate to oversee NPR finances.
John Beck, director of member station WNYC in New York, said he was concerned that the conditions attached to the loan had become more important than the loan itself.
"Is it financial or philosophical?" he asked, citing CPB's insistence that it get ownership of the NPR satellite communication system, and CPB's plan to channel funding for NPR through the member stations.
William Siemering, a member of the NPR board and station manager of WUHY in Philadelphia, said of the impasse, "I was naturally disappointed but I wasn't surprised. I think some of this is a matter of lawyers trying to reconcile their differences."
His station still was considering the loan agreement, and he objected to "the way in which they were guaranteeing the security, transferring title of the satellite equipment. I think there are other ways without ownership."