The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


There are many of us who think of the lowly penny as more of an inconvenience than a means of exchange.  We receive them in change and they fill our pockets making holes unless we decide to put them in jars and save them – just to get them out of our hair.  But the penny has a fine pedigree and of all American coins, the Lincoln cent has been a part of our lives longer than any other coin as it is now in its 105th year of production.

It’s true that there isn’t much you can do you with a single penny.  Time was when you could buy candy or you could find out your weight and get a printed fortune all at the same time.  But other than inspiring such sayings as, “A penny for your thoughts,” or, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” the penny hasn’t gotten much attention – although it has gotten some Congressional protection.  The smelt value of the old pure copper cents is greater than their face value and thus Congress has made it illegal to melt pennies – putting them on the endangered species list.

As it happened, I was moved to think about Ben Franklin’s sage advice on frugality as I was driving the other day.  I normally listen to the local classical radio station, KCNV which is a part of the National Public Radio system.  As I turned on the radio I winced for a moment.  It was time for that semi-annual fundraising event in which the station makes a drive for contributions and new “members.”  I have always been confused by the term “member” as all taxpayers are de facto members since some portion of our income taxes go to fund this station and all others that are part of NPR.  Nevertheless, I was somewhat inured to this as my last classical radio station in Chicago, WFMT also conducted this sort of fundraiser – although that station was privately owned.

Part of being a member of society is to be charitable – at least that is the way I was raised – so I considered making a contribution to the station.  However, whenever I donate to an organization I like to see how my money is going to be spent.  Does most of my contribution go to support the charity’s cause – or is most of it going to administration?  So I spent some time to get the station’s financial statements.  This proved a bit more daunting than I anticipated – but I finally was able to review their 2012 tax return.  The returns of all “Not for Profit” corporations happen to be a matter of public record.

What I found was that the station had revenues of about $5.5 million for the fiscal year and ran a small deficit.  The CEO, a woman, earned a not unreasonable amount of $125,000 including deferred compensation.  That doesn’t seem like an excessive amount for being in charge of such an enterprise.  Of course, that means that her compensation consumed approximately .23% of the station’s total revenues.  On that same basis, the CEO of Apple, Inc. would have received $425 MM instead of the paltry $74 MM he was paid.

Nevertheless, I didn’t think that the CEO’s compensation was out of line – and frankly it wouldn’t really have been my business other than for the fact that I knew that a part of my prospective donation would go to pay for it.  So I had pretty much decided to donate when I heard an ad on the station.  That ad prompted me to do a bit more thinking.

The ad was for a local LGBT and Q group (after thinking about the “Q” I realized that meant “Questioning”) which was sponsoring a Passover Seder for Jewish members in Las Vegas.  I had no problem with this being a “gay” sponsored ad, nor did I have a problem with the fact that the ad was to inform people about a religious event.  But I was surprised that a National Public Radio station would broadcast an ad for a religious group considering all the controversy regarding various Christian symbols, many of which have been in place for decades, which somehow are supposed to infringe on the rights of others under the First Amendment.

I was impressed with the station’s willingness to broadcast the ad and it stirred my curiosity to see how truly inclusive they were.  So I called and asked to speak with the advertising department.  I wanted to see if they would accept an ad which informed the public about an upcoming local NRA event – a symposium on responsible gun ownership and responsibilities.

I was connected to the department and chatted briefly with one of the station’s ad reps.  After I explained the nature of my ad and asking for their rates to air it during various broadcast hours there was a pause on the other end of the phone.  The rep told me, “Frankly, I don’t think we would be the best venue for your ad.  I mean, (pause) most of our listeners would probably not be the people you’re trying to reach.”

After pushing back, mentioning the fact that he might be correct but that ultimately it was my decision whether to spend my money with the station or not, I asked bluntly, “Would you be willing to accept the ad should I decide to allocate a portion of our advertising budget to your station?”  Much hemming and hawing ensued and finally he informed me that, “He would have to speak with management before giving me a definite yes or no.”

I thanked him for his time, left my number and, two days later am still waiting to hear back on whether this ad meets their “advertising criteria..”  Meanwhile, I have put my potential donation on hold – although the fund raising effort goes on unabated on the station.

You can’t buy much for a penny these days.  But apparently, having an opinion or taking a position that doesn’t comply with current liberal thinking isn’t worth a plugged nickel.


Comments on: "A PAEAN TO THE PENNY" (7)

  1. I’m not surprised, and I’d bet you weren’t either.

    On a lighter but germane note, i miss WFMT, especially “The Midnight Special” still.

    • As always, you are correct. Frankly, I would have been surprised had they accepted the ad without questioning. But this leads to a more disturbing question. As a “Public” radio station, does management have the right to accept or reject ads based on an individual’s political affiliation or agenda? If so, then we have truly abdicated not only the concept but the reality of freedom of speech.

      I grew up with WQXR in NYC. I’m sure that it also struggled financially as NY’s premier classical radio station – but it had the benefit of the financial support of its owner – the New York Times. I was used to classical music being available 24 hours a day.

      When I moved to Chicago in ’64 I was delighted that there was a classical station there as well. Much to my surprise, I discovered it disappeared Sunday through Friday at midnight, not to resume broadcast until the early morning hours the following day. The “Midnight Special” was a wonderful surprise that kept me up on Saturday nights. I can still hear Leadbelly singing the theme song.

      • It does, and it is an important one, although I don’t think it as important as the question of why, in this day, we are funding it at all.

        re: FMT, I agree with all you say, and yep, I can still hear Leadbelly myself. Wonder if the station is still there, have to look on the internet, maybe. 🙂

  2. In the ultimate scheme of things we spend a mere $500 MM on the Public Broadcast System. This falls under the category of “there’s nothing left to cut from the budget” a la Nancy Pelosi.

    Now here’s the good news. WFMT is available on a live streaming basis on the internet. I am happy to report the station is alive and well – although without the presence of the late Studs Terkel.

  3. That certainly appears to be the case.

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