National Public Radio, or NPR, is the main non-commercial radio network in the United States, based in Washington, D.C.. It was founded on February 26, 1970 as the successor to the National Educational Radio Network, and began broadcasting on April 20, 1971. Technically, NPR only creates some of the programming, and the rest — such as This American Life and Live From Here — comes from other organizations like Public Radio International and American Public Media, or is locally produced. Still, most people just call it all NPR regardless since, regardless of the distributor, many of these shows appear often on the same public radio stations due to stations being affiliates of multiple distributors.
NPR's style has been famously described by Strong Bad as "smooth and smarmy". It sharply contrasts with the frantic style of commercial all-news stations (traffic every ten minutes!) and the loudmouths of commercial talk radio. The distinctive style of public radio personalities has become known as "NPR voice." Politically, NPR has a reputation for a liberal bend, but that analysis is disputed. Indeed, NPR has been criticized from the left for representing elite viewpoints, alleged conservative framing of issues, relying on conservative think tanks for guests, deference to the national security establishment, alleged pro-Israel and pro-Iraq War coverage, and corporate underwriting.note Its most popular programs are the daily morning and evening news shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered; many stations fill the intervening time with other news and talk programs of local or regional interest, though some air music. Late nights either universally consist of either a music format or The BBC's World Service.
Music programming on NPR is typically up to the local stations and their staff. While some do regularly play music or have some kind of music programming, others may not have any music on their airwaves at all. When music does show up, it is typically classical, opera, jazz, folk, indie rock, adult alternative, world music or from artists local to the area. Since the late 1990s, the amount of music programming on NPR affiliate stations has markedly decreased, since such stations discovered that news and talk programming brought in higher ratings and more pledge money than classical or jazz. KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic is considered the premier indie music showcase in Los Angeles, while in Milwaukee, that city's WUWM goes mainly with folk and indie rock for their evening schedule. Seattle's KEXP is a rarity among NPR affiliates in that it is primarily known for its music programming, especially regularly scheduled live in-studio performances; in recent years, it has garnered significantly higher ratings than its corporate-owned, commercial competition in the alternative rock format. Indiana University-Bloomington's WFIU is another that focuses on music, primarily classical and jazz. A notable exception was WGVU-AM in Grand Rapids, Michigan, owned by Grand Valley State University, which aired rock, pop and soul oldies from the 1950s, '60s and '70s; it sadly went off the air in January 2022, due to lack of funds. Some markets have two or even three NPR stations, often with one station being primarily news and talk and the other(s) focusing on music; Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, is served by the University of Michigan's news/talker WUOM (which also enjoys a significant listenership in Detroit, despite some of its schedule being duplicated by Wayne State University's WDET) and Eastern Michigan University's jazz/blues outlet WEMU. In other markets, one primary station may be terrestrial, typically a news and information station, while the others are HD Radio subchannels or internet streams. Since many of these stations carry both music and news/information programming, they're throwbacks to the "full-service broadcasting" model.
Most NPR stations are found between 87.9 and 91.9 FM on American radio dials in what is known as the "educational band" or "left of the dial" for people who still use radios with analog tuners. Combine that with NPR's aforementioned reputation (along with that of College Radio and community radio, found in the same educational band) as a bastion of liberalism in radio, and a common stereotype is that "left of the dial" also means "left of center" (although many Christian radio stations, decidedly not liberal in programming philosophy, also occupy that portion of the FM dial). Hence, the joke in Grand Theft Auto IV about that game's NPR parody PLR being "left of the dial... all the way to the left." Some NPR stations are found on frequencies outside of that range,note either because the college signed it on the air before the education band was set aside by the FCC, a commercial FM owner decided to donate their station to an educational organization or the public radio network had purchased a repeater station further up the band from another radio company. note Some stations are also on AM, though this is rare due to sound quality concerns and a higher cost of operation for an AM signal, and mainly limited to heritage stations which have been on AM for years, such as New York's WNYC (which has both AM and FM signals), WKAR in East Lansing, Michigan (also has an FM station), WILL in Urbana, Illinois (also), and WHA in Madison, Wisconsin, which is one of the oldest radio stations in the world. Some of these AM stations simulcast their programming on FM translators (in addition to their full-powered FM sister stations); WKAR, for example, is a daytime-only AM station, but its FM translator, which can broadcast 24 hours, allows its programming to be heard around the clock.
NPR isn't directly affiliated with PBS, but both are partly funded by the quasi-governmental Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and make up the remainder of funds by selling end-of-show sponsor tags, offering merchandise, and annoying their audiences with pledge drives every few months. Also, many NPR stations are co-owned with local PBS stations, and can have the same callsigns. Indeed, the bottom of PBS' official website lists NPR as "our partners in broadcasting." NPR stations also often simulcast PBS NewsHour.
- All Things Considered — Arguably the signature program and began on May 3, 1971, about a month after NPR itself went on the air. Often provides a more in-depth analysis of stories presented in Morning Edition. This 2.5-hour news-discussion program is well known for closing with a segment devoted to arts and culture, often featuring foreign and independent artists. One of the hosts, Ari Shapiro, has a side career as a singer, often performing and recording with the group Pink Martini.
- All Songs Considered — A spin-off of ATC focusing on music and hosted by Bob Boilen. Initially focused on telling the stories and playing the music of artists whose songs were used as bumpers or incidental music on ATC, it eventually evolved into a new music discussion show, and is now considered to be NPR's flagship music program. Although produced primarily for the internet, some NPR stations air some or all of the show.
- Ask Me Another, a quiz show hosted by Ophira Eisenberg based around puns and wordplay. Jonathan Coulton is the show's resident musician, with guests such as Julian Valart and Paul and Storm standing in for him when he's touring.
- As with its TV counterpart, PBS, member stations often broadcast several programs originated by The BBC:
- BBC World Service — The world service for BBC Radio. Most often aired at night on NPR and/or PRI affiliates, most of these affiliates carry a small clutch of the programs the World Service offers:
- The standard BBC News broadcast, which is often set up to be an affiliate's overnight programming.
- The Forum
- Charlie Gillett's World of Music, hosted by legendary DJ and music historian Charlie Gillett, who was famous for popularizing the World Music genre. Ended after Gillett died in 2010.
- The World, a joint PRI/BBC international newsmagazine show produced with Boston affiliate WGBH. Also has a weekly edition called The Changing World from the same producers and hosts.
- Newshour, a BBC production distributed by PRI.
- Car Talk — Call-in talk show in which two auto mechanic brothers (with MIT Engineering degrees and thick Boston accents) ostensibly give advice to callers about cars, but usually instead ramble about brainteasers, pop culture and whatever comes to mind (they do answer about five or six car questions a show, though). It even got an animated spin-off series on PBS, Click and Clack's As the Wrench Turns. The show ended September 2012 as the brothers planned to retire, but NPR affiliates continued to air reruns remixed to sound like new shows. After the death of older brother Tom in 2014, the show was renamed to The Best of Car Talk. These remix reruns effectively ended in 2017 as NPR pushed their stations to mix in newer programming, though some stubborn stations keep the tapes around and still air them.
- Several programs originated from the CBC and syndicated by PRI:
- The Vinyl Cafe, a variety show hosted featuring up-and-coming Canadian bands as well as monologues and stories from host Stuart McLean until his death in 2017
- q, a music and culture show featuring interviews and live performances hosted by Tom Power.
- As It Happens, a daily news/public affairs examination show also airs on some American public radio stations.
- The Diane Rehm Show — Yet another news-discussion show, produced by Washington, D.C. NPR affiliate WAMU and the station's owner American University, and hosted by the eponymous Diane Rehm. The show is probably best known for Rehm's crinkly-sounding "old lady" voice, the result of a throat condition called spasmodic dysphonia, which she periodically leaves the show to treat. Given that Rehm (born 1936) is now actually an old lady, these departures have been growing in frequency, with the show becoming increasingly reliant on guest hosts in the last few years. It's also one of the more politically partisan shows on NPR; it was controversially singled out for criticism by a George W. Bush-appointed CPB official, and Rehm herself is willing to argue with guests on the show. After her retirement, renamed to 1A, a Double Meaning for both the WAMU studio used for recording the program, and the First Amendment (often shorthanded in political circles as "1A").
- Fresh Air — A long-running interview show hosted by Terry Gross, produced by Philadelphia's NPR affiliate WHYY. Gross presents new interviews Monday through Thursday and a Recap Episode on Fridays, presented by David Bianculli or Dave Davies. The interviews usually air for 50 minutes, with the last five to ten given to movie and music reviews and local news. The interviews are generally incisive and engaging, and occasionally get a bit too interesting, like the time that Gene Simmons informed Terry Gross that if she wanted to "welcome me with open arms, you'll have to welcome me with open legs." Or that time when Bill O'Reilly walked out of his interview in a huff. It now has, of all things, a very active Tumblr account run by producer Molly Seavy-Nesper.
- Jazz Night in America — An hour-long jazz program playing both the classics and contemporary artists, hosted by Grammy-winning jazz bassist Christian McBride.
- KEXP Sessions — Hosted by KEXP DJ Cheryl Waters, these live in-studio performances by musical artists, typically independent or unsigned acts, have become the American equivalent of John Peel's BBC sessions. While the sessions typically only air on KEXP, they have become widely viewed on YouTube.
- Marketplace — A half-hour economics, business and financial news show, produced by American Public Media and the University of Southern California and hosted by Kai Ryssdal. Usually airs immediately after, or sometimes during, All Things Considered. Notable for use of more hip and/or ironic interstitial music; "doing the numbers" (i.e. reading the the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 indexes, plus some other stuff) to very identifiable tunesnote ; and for having more corporate sponsors than other public radio shows. Its reports tend to be more focused on broad economics than your typical business show (which tend to focus on business and finance); liberal economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is a regular contributor, as is conservative writer and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. Also produces an hourlong weekend personal finance show called Marketplace Money, and a short 10-minute segment called the Marketplace Morning Report that airs on some stations during Morning Edition instead of or alongside NPR's own Business News segment.
- Live From Here — Originally known as A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor's Affectionate Parody of old-time Radio Drama and Variety Shows (he cited the Grand Ole Opry as a direct inspiration), produced by Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. Featured musical performances, private eye spoof Guy Noir, plugs for fake sponsors, and Keillor's monologues about his fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, they also did a few road shows a year. A film adaptation was released in 2006; it was Robert Altman's final film before his death. Hosted in a more musical-focused format by Chris Thile since Keillor's retirement in 2016, and retitled Live From Here in November 2017 after Keillor was fired by MPR after sexual misconduct allegations. Live from Here earned a positive reception and a following of its own independent from its legacy as the continuation of APHC, but it was ultimately canceled in June 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Morning Becomes Eclectic and its sister show Weekend Becomes Eclectic — A rare nationally-distributed all-music program for NPR, originating from KRCW in Los Angeles. The program features a wide variety of genres, with a focus on world music, folk and indie rock. The name is an increasingly obscure pun on the Eugene O'Neill play Mourning Becomes Electra.
- Morning Edition — NPR's morning news program, designed as a morning drive version of All Things Considered, hence the name. The show was created and originally hosted by former ATC co-host Bob Edwards, who hosted the show solo from its 1979 inception until his retirement in 2004. Although nominally a two hour live show, Morning Edition can air on affiliates between two and seven hours a day between 5 a.m. and 12 p.m. Eastern Time, with repeated segments, story updates, local news, and breaking news inserted where needed.
- Mountain Stage — A rare nationally syndicated live music program offered by NPR, and one of its most popular for affiliates after the cancelation of Live from Here. Features performances from folk, Americana, blues, and country artists from the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, West Virginia. The show was co-created and originally hosted by singer-songwriter and 1970s One-Hit Wonder Larry Groce (of "Junk Food Junkie" fame), and has been hosted by country singer Kathy Mattea since Groce's retirement in 2021.
- NPR News On-The-Hour — The on-the-hour news updates broadcast over all affiliates, even if they don't broadcast the long-form news programs. These are broadcast from NPR's Washington DC home base on the hour (some air from NPR West in Culver City), though they are not heard overnight or on all weekend shows. Most affiliates follow it immediately with local news and/or weather. Listen for the stock ticker *in the middle* of the extended newscast, where it serves as an audio cue that the must-carry portion is ending and to cue up the local segments if there are any.
- On Point — Another WBUR creation, originally as special coverage of the September 11, 2001 attacks, this is a two-hour show with interviews and discussion of current events and entertainment/cultural items, with call-in/email discussion from listeners. It was hosted by Tom Ashbrook until unpleasant allegations against him led to his dismissal and Meghna Chakrabarti and David Folkenflik took over. Folkenflik has since left the show and it has been cut down to one hour.
- On the Media — Pretty much a 'week in review' show which examines the news media in all forms, along with content distribution, historiography, politics, and a variety of other topics. Hosted by Brooke Gladstone and distributed by NPR from WNYC. Their in-depth analysis of how news is covered led to the creation of the Breaking News Consumers Handbooks, created initially in response to the Navy Yard mass shooting, and now expanded into numerous editions for different types of emergencies and situations. The original can be read here.
- Only A Game with Bill Littlefield, probably the world's only sports radio show hosted by a professor of Journalism. Produced by WBUR in Boston, it combines three long-format stories with the usual sports scores and a weekly rundown with Charlie Pierce, who is also a frequent panelist on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Known for its coverage of decidedly non-mainstream sports and the annual segment of Super Bowl Haiku.
- Piano Jazz, a music program hosted by jazz pianist Marian McPartland, which ran from 1978 until 2011 and remains NPR's longest-running cultural affairs show. The show featured McPartland interviewing one jazz musician per episode, and performing their music alongside them. Although the show originally only featured jazz pianists, it eventually expanded to other instruments and genres, with one of the most popular episodes featuring the jazz rock group Steely Dan. The show ended in 2011, and McPartland died two years later. It briefly continued as Piano Jazz Rising Stars, with a new host and a focus on younger jazz artists like Jon Batiste, but that show only lasted one year.
- Reveal, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting and hosted by Al Letson (who also hosts State of the Re-Union), can be heard on multiple digital platforms, partnerships, and collaborations as well as your local NPR station. Its website contains links to each episode with additional background information. The Reveal team specializes in blowing the lid off everything from fake charities to corporate destruction of the environment and slavery in "drug rehab" centers. They even went back and did a special hour with Daniel Ellsberg about the 1971 Pentagon Papers scandal.
- Says You!, a quiz show created and hosted by Richard Sher until his death in 2015. From WGBH in Boston, it's more "intellectual" than Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me or Ask Me Another, but that doesn't stop the puns from flying fast.
- The Star Wars Radio Dramas, a trilogy of radio plays adapted from the first three Star Wars films by member station KUSC-FM in 1981, 1983, and 1996.
- Talk of the Nation — A news-discussion show, hosted by Neal Conan (and previously by people including Ira Glass, Ray Suarez and Juan Williams). Conan discussed the day's news topics with experts, public figures and reporters, and accepted call-in and e-mail questions and comments from listeners. The number of topics and guests per show varied. Talk of the Nation was well liked because of the in-depth way it covered issues of interest to Americans of every social and economic class from every part of the country, Conan's relaxed, laid-back delivery, and especially the call-in format. On Fridays, the show became Talk of the Nation Science Friday, hosted by Ira Flatow (who is known to PBS viewers as the longtime host of Newton's Apple) and dealing exclusively with scientific topics. The main series ended in 2013 due to Conan leaving the network (not by his choice). It was replaced by WBUR's Here and Now, owing to a decision by large-scale NPR stations to have a non-interactive news magazine format in the middle of the day rather than a call-in program. Many NPR fans were infuriated both by this change and Conan's departure, seeing it as a cynical step towards NPR becoming just another commercial network. Science Friday continues to air as simply Science Friday. Conan moved to Hawaii, where he now hosts Truth, Politics & Power, created as a response to the Trump Administration. It's on a number of NPR/PRX stations and as a podcast.
- This American Life — An award-winning documentary series hosted by Ira Glass. Each week's show examines a particular theme, and then tells several non-fiction stories pertaining to that theme. As stated earlier, it's not actually produced by NPR, but by Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ), and distributed by Public Radio International. Was successful enough to get a Sound-to-Screen Adaptation on Showtime; it was cancelled, but not because of low ratings—the TAL team came to realize they just couldn't do both a TV show and a radio show at the same time. Several live shows have been done, including, more recently, live digital broadcasts to movie theaters. They have since spawned a podcast-only spinoff in the form of the insanely-successful Serial.
- The Thistle & Shamrock: A long-running Celtic music program hosted by Fiona Ritchie, originally produced by member station WFAE out of Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Ritchie, a native of Glasgow, the genesis of the show was the realization that there were a lot of similarities between Appalachian folk music and the Scots tunes she grew up with (which makes sense considering the number of Scots who settled there). Reportedly the most-listened-to Celtic music show in the world.
- Tiny Desk Concerts — An online video series, in which a musical artist performs a short, intimate set at All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen's desk at the NPR office.note The show has attracted guests in a wide variety of genres, with everyone from T-Pain to Adele to Blue Man Group to The National stopping by. Although episodes are rarely aired on the radio, they are some of the most popular content that NPR produces, especially internationally. Every episode can be found on NPR's Youtube page.
- Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me — The rare American Panel Game, based loosely on the British News Quiz and hosted by Peter Sagal. Aside from the regular rotating panelists, the show also includes call-in games and, Once an Episode, "Not My Job," in which a celebrity, politician or other newsmaker calls in to the show and has to answer questions that fall well outside his or her area of expertise. (Think Stephen King on cute fluffy things.) Like This American Life, this comes from WBEZ in Chicago.
- World Cafe — Like Morning Becomes Eclectic, this is one of the few all-music shows to be syndicated nationwide by NPR, often by member stations that otherwise don't offer a music format. The program originates from WXPN (which, while technically a member of NPR, doesn't carry any of its news programs in favor of a all-eclectic music format). It mostly skews toward performances and interviews by popular indie rock bands, but just as often has live performances by various world musicians.
NPR programs with their own pages:
- Ask Me Another
- Car Talk
- A Prairie Home Companion / Live From Here (not produced by NPR, but a staple of NPR affiliates)
- Star Wars Radio Dramas
- Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me