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How NPR was Conceived at Wingspread

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This Is (the Story of) NPR

Fresh Air. Car Talk. Morning Edition. If you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, then you’re probably a fan of National Public Radio. While you may know all the programs and can actually hear the voice of Terry Gross or Steve Inskeep in your head right now, you may not know that the concept for National Public Radio was born within the storied walls of The Johnson Foundation's Wingspread, in Racine, Wisconsin.

In the late 60s, the radio industry was struggling to remain relevant. In 1967, the Carnegie Commission on Educational Television concluded a successful two-year campaign to acquire public funding for educational television when Congress, under President Johnson, passed the Public Television Act. Challenged yet again by the seemingly insurmountable visual appeal of the flourishing medium of television, the fate of radio seemed sealed.

Shortly after the launch of the Carnegie campaign in 1965, hope for radio prevailed in the passionate leadership of its own Jerrold Sandler. Then Director of National Education Radio, Sandler began an effort to convene a meeting of radio’s finest for a conference he entitled “Educational Radio as a National Resource.” Intending to match the prestige of the Carnegie-led television movement, Sandler enlisted the support of The Johnson Foundation and requested space at the Foundation’s own Frank Lloyd Wright designed venue, Wingspread.

Sandler’s project matched perfectly with the Foundation’s mission and purpose: “The Foundation shall be an instrument for creative programs which serve man….”  Supporting education, growth, freedom, and community were part of the Foundation’s early statement of purpose. Preserving the communication shared over the country’s airwaves was a project the Foundation could easily embrace.

The three-day meeting took place at Wingspread in September of 1966. What resulted was a set of specific action steps designed to convince members of Congress that radio deserved equal billing with television in the pending Public Television Act. The eventual result of the Wingspread meeting: congress issued and passed an amended bill. The Public Broadcasting Act authorized the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to act as a funding and policy making agency. National Public Radio was incorporated in February of 1970. A meeting that ended very well – All Things Considered