National Public Radio, or NPR, is the main non-commercial radio network in the United States, based in Washington, D.C.. 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 accused from the left of representing elite viewpoints. 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 (mostly symphonic, opera and jazz; though KCRW's Weekend 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). Late nights either universally consist of either a music format or the BBC's World Service.
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, 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". 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) and WHA in Madison, Wisconsin, which is one of the oldest radio stations in the world.
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.
- 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.
- 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, until its host's death.
- 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). The show ended September 2012 as the brothers plan to retire, but NPR affiliates will continue 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.
- Several programs originated from the CBC and sydicated 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 Canadian rapper Shad.
- 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 The 1A after the WAMU studio used to make the show.
- 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.
- Marketplace — A half-hour economics, business and financial news show, produced by American Public Media and the University of Southern California. 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. Features 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 do 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.
- 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.
- Morning Edition — NPR's morning news program. It is the second most listened to radio program in the United States after The Rush Limbaugh Show. Almost nobody listens to both.
- 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.
- On the Media — Pretty much a 'week in review' show which examines the news media in all forms, along with content distribution and a variety of other topics. Hosted by Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone and distributed by NPR from WNYC.
- Only A Game with Bill Littlefield, probably the world's only sports radio show hosted by a professor of Journalism. 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.
- Says You!, a quiz show created and hosted by Richard Sher until his death in 2015. 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. 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, but Science Friday continues to air as simply Science Friday.
- 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, 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 Scotswoman, 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.
- 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.)
- World Cafe — Like Morning Becomes Eclectic, this is one of the few all-music shows to be syndicated nationwide by NPR. 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
- Star Wars Radio Dramas
- Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!