cover image NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio

NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio

Michael P. McCauley. Columbia University Press, $40 (185pp) ISBN 978-0-231-12160-6

Any history of a large corporation must cover finances and bureaucracy to some degree, but McCauley's account of NPR's past rarely ventures beyond these subjects. The author, who worked in radio for 15 years and is now a communications professor at the University of Maine, says he wanted to understand what makes NPR appeal to listeners, but rather than offering background on its acclaimed programming or talented journalists, his book is largely taken up with dry accounts of hirings, firings and budget difficulties. Certainly, such considerations are crucial, for NPR has long struggled with them: in the early years, it had to fight for funding from lawmakers and lobbyists who preferred television, and then, just as it was hitting its stride, it fell into a damaging debt crisis. Politicians on both sides of the ideological spectrum are forever finding fault with it, and internal politics have also been complicated, with clashes of philosophy and management style often hindering the network's projects. McCauley interviewed many of the people involved with NPR's evolution, but his writing is short on quotes or anecdotes that would bring NPR to life. The final chapter is more engaging, as he discusses NPR's use of new media, like the Internet and satellite radio, and discusses the network's possible future trajectory. Overall, though, this methodical, often monotonous narrative rarely addresses the substance of NPR's charms and is unlikely to appeal to the listeners who have made it successful.