The days when National Public Radio is forced to ask member stations to hold fund-raising drives just so it can stay on the air are over -- at least for the foreseeable future. The estate of the late philanthropist Joan B. Kroc made a bequest to NPR totaling more than $200 million, NPR President Kevin Klose announced at a press conference Thursday at the network's Washington, D.C., headquarters.
It is the largest monetary gift ever given to an American cultural institution, NPR said.
"It's wonderful news not only for NPR but for everyone who believes in as I do that democracy must have a wide range of energetic discussion and common ground," Klose said, announcing the donation from Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, who founded the McDonald's fast-food chain. Joan Kroc died Oct. 12.
Kroc, Klose said, was a patroness of KPBS-FM (89.5), the NPR member station in San Diego, where she lived, making a separate $5 million gift to the station. "She grew to become interested in the scope of nonprofit radio and for that reason in NPR, which is the premiere presenter of journalism in radio and cultural encounters of our member stations."
The bulk of the gift will go to the NPR Endowment Fund for Excellence, created in 1993 to provide the network with funding beyond revenue sources that can be impacted by the economy and other outside factors.
The size of the gift will depend on the resolution of Kroc's estate. NPR said no funds will be distributed for several months.
NPR has 750 member stations in the U.S.
"This is not about dollars and cents," Klose said. "It is much more about her vision of what public radio could be. The money that comes to us, most of it will not be spent. It is to be saved. We will pursue a very practical and careful series of discussions, both with member stations and with other stakeholders in public radio to make sure that we fulfill her vision and our vision. This gift is not a springboard for discussions about how to spend it, but it is really about the needs of our membership stations."
Klose added that he hopes it inspires others to contribute to their local stations and NPR.
Founded in 1970, NPR is a private company that receives only 1% to 2% of its annual budget from the federal government. NPR is best known for its daily news programs, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," as well as its recently launched midday news program "Day to Day" and various musical and cultural programs. Last year it opened a studio and production facility in Culver City.
"NPR doesn't have contingency funds," said Ruth Seymour, general manager at KCRW-FM (89.9). "When a war or crisis breaks out, it's really a strain on their budget. In the past, we have spearheaded raising extra dollars for coverage"
As for the gift itself, she said, "a gift that size usually goes to the high-end cultural institutions -- it goes to the opera and art museums. For her to make a bequest in this amount to NPR, it is wonderful because her husband made her fortune by, if you will, creating, a populist food. There can't be anything more populist today than radio."
"This kind of gift begins to recognize the contribution that public radio has had to American civil, political and cultural life," said KPCC-FM's (89.3) Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio. "Now the question will be whether NPR uses this wisely to develop new programs. It will be interesting to see how Kevin and the rest of the people there at NPR take this and do something positive."
Davis said that Kroc's largess has now "raised the bar for support not only for National Public Radio but for all the local public radio stations. There are a number of public radio stations such as KPCC that are trying to establish themselves as civic institutions, not just an arm of a community college. (KPCC is connected to Pasadena City College). I think this will certainly help us in our efforts."
A committed philanthropist during her life, Kroc also bequeathed $50 million apiece to the University of San Diego and University of Notre Dame -- Catholic institutions to which she'd previously made endowments.