Since the 1920s, people across the United States have launched public broadcasting services in their own communities to champion the principles of diversity and excellence of programming, responsiveness to local communities, and service to all.
Today’s current public media system began to take shape more than 50 years ago, with the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and subsequent creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The system now reaches more than 98 percent of the U.S. population with free programming and services. Public media creates and distributes content that is for, by and about Americans of all diverse backgrounds; and services that foster dialogue between the American people and the stations that serve them. In addition to providing free high-quality, educational programming for children, arts, and award winning current affairs programming, public media stations provide life-saving emergency alert services.
In a world where there are numerous outlets for information, public media continues to be America’s most trusted institution for news and educational programming.
How the system works
Public media is a system of independently owned and operated local public radio and television stations. In rural, Native American and Island communities, public broadcasting stations are often the only locally-owned-and-operated media outlets. A handful of public broadcast licensees operate stations in more than a single state. Stations can choose to become PBS or NPR member stations, but do not have to join either organization.
CPB’s role in public media is to shield stations from political influence, and deliver federal support in a way that does not affect a station’s ability to operate independently. More than 1,041 local public radio stations and more than 365 local public television stations currently receive support from CPB. CPB also provides funding to producers of programming, but cannot distribute or broadcast it.
Each local public media station maintains sole authority and responsibility for selecting, presenting, and scheduling the programs that it airs. Along with programs that they produce themselves, public television stations choose their programs from some of the following sources:
- PBS, which provides more than 1,200 hours a year of children's, primetime, educational, and cultural programming from which its member stations can choose. This includes programming produced by stations such as WGBH, WETA, and WNET.
- American Public Television, which acquires programs that may be purchased by stations on a title-by-title basis. APT also maintains the largest source of free programming available to U.S. public television stations.
- The Independent Television Service (ITVS), which funds, distributes and promotes independently produced television programs.
- The National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), which annually distributes about 2,000 hours of programming produced by public television stations, other entities and independent producers via satellite to stations nationwide.
Public radio stations also get their programming from a wide variety of sources:
- Each station typically produces nearly 40 percent of its own programming.
- Nearly a quarter is from NPR, including news and information, cultural and entertainment programming.
- More than 35 percent is obtained from Public Radio Exchange (PRX), Public Radio International (PRI), American Public Media, and other producers and distributors, including programs obtained directly from independent producers and other public radio stations.
While broadcast remains the main outlet for reaching Americans, public media has expanded to include digital and mobile platforms for creating, communicating, and curating content that educates, inspires, and entertains.
How to Support Public Media
Public media stations fund the content and services they provide to communities across the country with support from CPB’s federal appropriation and with contributions from individuals and underwriters.
By law, 95 percent of the federal appropriation CPB receives is provided as grants to local television and radio stations, programming, and improvements to the public broadcasting system.
CPB appreciates your interest in learning how to support public media and encourages you to consider contributing to your local public television and radio stations. You can find your local station information here.