A prominently featured article in Sunday’s New York Times dares to ask the question "Is PBS Still Necessary? " Public broadcasting is once again threatened with budget cuts; the article’s author, Charles McGrath, suggests that maybe public television isn’t necessary in these days of hundreds of cable channels. He distinguishes public television from public radio, which has a growing audience: there are more than 30 million listeners now, compared to just 2 million in 1980. In contrast, he points out, the average PBS prime time show has about as many viewers as "the wrestling show “’Friday Night Smackdown’”.
I can’t muster up much indignation at his article. In my house I don’t think we’ve watched the PBS station since the kids outgrew Sesame Street (though Sesame Street was on all the time when the kids were little) a decade ago. I tried to watch one of the Ken Burns programs but there were so many pledge breaks I gave up and just rented it from the video store. Frankly, I find pledge breaks far more annoying than commercials. On the other hand, the only radio I listen to is the three public radio stations in Pittsburgh and I would be bereft without NPR.
Is public television still an important cultural source for less urban, eastern parts of the country? Or has it outlived its usefulness? Do chime in with your opinions.
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