Policy & Research

Read about the impact and challenges of rural public radio stations.

Executive Summary

Rural public radio stations serve as the heartbeat of rural America, informing and enriching their communities. Every day, rural public radio stations find innovative ways to connect audiences and deliver critical services across multiple platforms with limited resources.

The rural public radio network serves all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Native American and Island communities. Public radio is broadcast to 98.5 percent of the U.S. population, advancing public broadcasting’s universal access mission.

A 2022 Alliance of Rural Public Media survey of more than 100 public radio stations serving rural communities provides a first-of-its-kind look at the role and impact of public radio in rural America today. The Rural Public Media Survey demonstrates that rural public radio remains an essential service for rural Americans across broadcast and digital platforms, helping to build thriving communities and keeping rural residents informed.

Rural Americans rely on their local stations for daily local news, including news on the local economy, education, government, public safety, weather, and culture. The rise of news deserts increasingly has resulted in rural public radio stations being the only remaining daily local news service with journalists living in their communities. During emergencies and natural disasters, stations provide critical public safety information across broadcast and digital platforms, both through their news reporting and as part of federal, state, and local emergency warning systems. Moreover, rural public radio stations play a key role in preserving local arts, music, and culture. Public radio is a home for indigenous languages, and stations are key partners in supporting local musicians and rural community institutions.

These stations also face unique challenges, including fewer opportunities for raising donor support, extensive infrastructure costs related to reaching rural and remote audiences, and a broadband gap that hinders rural audiences from accessing digital content.

In order to sustain this reliable, indispensable service for rural and remote American audiences, rural public radio stations need sustained support. Lawmakers can ensure that their rural constituents continue to receive public radio’s essential public service by acting on three measures:

→ Maintain robust federal funding for public broadcasting

→ Continue FEMA support for station infrastructure

→ Enhance support for public radio collaborations and partnerships

Together, these measures will foster continued connections among rural communities, and broaden connections with every corner of the United States. Support for these essential stations will ensure that public radio continues to fulfill its mission of providing universal access to indispensable news, emergency alerts, and cultural programming for all Americans.

Read More

Connecting America: The Essential Service of Rural Public Radio

Explore the research on the impact of public radio in the U.S.
Read The Report

Policy Recommendations

Explore key measures for lawmakers to ensure that their rural constituents continue to receive public radio’s essential public service by acting on three measures:

Maintain robust federal funding for public broadcasting

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s annual appropriation is an essential investment in rural public radio. Nearly 70 percent of the appropriation is distributed directly to public radio and television stations in the form of Community Service Grants, and the additional support provided to rural stations recognizes the challenges these stations face in raising outside funding. For rural public radio stations, that funding is a key investment into the public-private partnership that has allowed non-profit public media to weather the financial challenges facing rural news organizations. Without federal funding, millions of Americans in remote and underserved areas of the country would lose a critical lifeline to local news, emergency alerting, and music and cultural programming.

Continue FEMA support for station infrastructure

The Next Generation Warning System, a competitive grant program within FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, enhances public media stations’ ability to transmit alert, warning, and interoperable communications and integrate emerging technology into their systems. Initially funded in the FY2022 Omnibus Appropriation bill, this program will enhance local stations’ resiliency and service in times of emergencies and natural disasters. This program is even more important for rural stations, which spend a disproportionate amount of their operating budget maintaining the vast infrastructure required for universal access, and are impacted by extreme weather events. As trusted partners of the community to deliver weather and emergency alerts, an annual appropriation for the Next Gen Warning System grants program is needed to ensure rural stations can continue providing access to lifesaving emergency alerts and information.

Enhance support for public radio collaborations and partnerships

Rural public radio station collaborations benefit rural audiences with improved access to local and regional news and engaging music or cultural programming that celebrates the community. However, these collaborations do more than that — they have a ripple effect by strengthening local arts, music, educational, and news institutions across the community. Enhanced funding for these collaborations, through dedicated federal funding or grants support, can reinforce rural arts, education, and news for years to come.