"This is NPR, the station where we talk very softly, directly into the microphone. Can you hear us? We're right inside your head..."
National Public Radio, or NPR, is the main non-commercial radio network in the United States, based in Washington DC. Technically, NPR only creates some of the programming, and the rest -- such as This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion -- comes from other organizations like Public Radio International and American Public Media, or is locally produced. Still, most people just call it all NPR regardless since, regardless of the distributor, many of these shows appear often on the same public radio stations due to stations being affiliates of multiple distributors.
NPR's style has been famously described by Strong Bad as "smooth and smarmy". It sharply contrasts with the frantic style of commercial all-news stations (traffic every ten minutes!) and the loudmouths of commercial talk radio. Politically, NPR is also a sharp liberal contrast to the predominantly conservative commercial talkers . Its most popular programs are the daily morning and evening news shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered; many stations fill the intervening time with other news and talk programs of local or regional interest, though some air music (mostly symphonic, opera and jazz; though KCRW's Weekend Becomes Eclectic is considered the premier indie music showcase in Los Angeles).
In most cases, all NPR stations are found between 87.9 and 91.9 FM on American radio dials (what is known as the "educational band", or "left of the dial" for people who still use radios with analog tuners), though in some cases stations are found on frequencies outside of that range, either because the college signed it on the air before the education band was set aside by the FCC, or a commercial FM owner decided to donate their station to an educational organization (an example would be Rhode Island's sole NPR station, WRNI, located at 102.7FM). Some stations are also on AM, though this is rare due to sound quality concerns and a higher cost of operation for an AM signal and mainly limited to heritage stations which have been on AM for years, such as New York's WNYC (which has both AM and FM signals) and WHA in Madison, Wisconsin, which is one of the oldest radio stations in the world.
NPR isn't directly affiliated with PBS, but both are partly funded by the quasi-governmental Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and make up the remainder of funds by selling end-of-show sponsor tags and annoying their audiences with pledge drives every few months. Also, many NPR stations are co-owned with local PBS stations, and can have the same callsigns.
- Morning Edition -- NPR's morning news program. It is the second most listened to radio program in the United States after The Rush Limbaugh Show. Almost nobody listens to both.
- All Things Considered -- Arguably the signature program and began on May 3, 1971, about a month after NPR itself went on the air. Often provides a more in-depth analysis of stories presented in Morning Edition. This news-discussion program is well known for closing with a segment devoted to arts and culture, often featuring foreign and independent artists.
- This American Life -- An award-winning documentary series hosted by Ira Glass. Each week's show examines a particular theme, and then tells several non-fiction stories pertaining to that theme. As stated earlier, it's not actually produced by NPR, but by Chicago Public Radio, and distributed by Public Radio International. Was successful enough to get a Sound to Screen Adaptation on Showtime. Several live shows have been done, including, more recently, live digital broadcasts to movie theaters.
- A Prairie Home Companion -- Garrison Keillor's Affectionate Parody of old-time Radio Drama and Variety Shows (he cites the Grand Ole Opry as a direct inspiration), produced by Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. Features musical performances, private eye spoof Guy Noir, plugs for fake sponsors, and Keillor's monologues about his fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, they also do a few road shows a year. The Movie was released in 2006; it was Robert Altman's final film before his death.
- Car Talk -- Call-in talk show in which two auto mechanic brothers (with MIT Engineering degrees and thick Boston accents) ostensibly give advice to callers about cars, but usually instead ramble about brainteasers, pop culture and whatever comes to mind (they do answer about five or six car questions a show, though).
- Wait Wait Don't Tell Me -- The rare American Panel Game, based loosely on the British News Quiz. Aside from the regular rotating panelists, the show also includes call-in games and, Once an Episode, "Not My Job", in which a celebrity, politician or other newsmaker calls in to the show and has to answer questions that fall well outside his or her area of expertise. (Think Stephen King on cute fluffy things.)
- Talk of the Nation -- A news-discussion show, hosted by Neal Conan (and previously by people including Ira Glass, Ray Suarez and Juan Williams). Conan discusses the day's news topics with experts, public figures and reporters, and accepts call-in and e-mail questions and comments from listeners. The number of topics and guests per show varies. On Fridays, the show becomes Talk of the Nation Science Friday, hosted by Ira Flatow and dealing exclusively with scientific topics.
- Fresh Air -- A long-running interview show hosted by Terry Gross, produced by Philadelphia's NPR affiliate WHYY. Gross presents new interviews Monday through Thursday and a Recap Episode on Fridays, presented by David Bianculli or Dave Davies. The interviews usually air for 50 minutes, with the last five to ten given to movie and music reviews and local news. The interviews are generally incisive and engaging, and occasionally get a bit too interesting, like the time that Gene Simmons informed Terry Gross that if she wanted to "welcome me with open arms, you'll have to welcome me with open legs." Or that time when Bill O'Reilly walked out of his interview in a huff...
- Now has, of all things, a very active Tumblr account run by producer Melody Kramer.
- The Diane Rehm Show - Yet another news-discussion show, produced by Washington DC NPR affiliate WAMU and the station's owner American University, and hosted by the eponymous Diane Riem. The show is probably best known for Rehm's crinkly-sounding "old lady" voice - the result of a throat condition called spasmodic dysphonia, which she periodically leaves the show to treat. It's also one of the bases for accusations of liberal bias aganist NPR from conservatives; it was controversially singled out for criticism by a George W. Bush-appointed CPB official and Rehm herself is occasionally willing to argue with guests on the show.
- World Cafe -- One of NPR's few distributed music shows to be syndicated nationwide, from WXPN (which actually isn't an NPR affiliate, but the station for the University of Pennsylvania). It mostly skews toward performances and interviews by popular indie rock bands, but often has live performances by various world musicians.
- WTF with Marc Maron -- A radio adaptation of comedian Marc Maron's popular interview podcast, currently being aired by many NPR affiliates via Public Radio Exchange (PRX) on a trial basis, and consisting largely of anthologies of previously released podcast content (some of the newer episodes occasionally find their way in as well) along with content exclusive to NPR. Of course as is par for a podcast like this, profanity is removed so it can be aired on the radio.
- Marketplace -- A half-hour economics, business and financial news show, produced by American Public Media and the University of Southern California. Usually airs immediately after, or sometimes during, All Things Considered. Notable for use of more hip and/or ironic interstitial music; "doing the numbers" (i.e. reading the the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 indexes, plus some other stuff) to very identifiable tunes (three Jazz standards--"We're In The Money" for all indexes up, "Stormy Weather" for all indexes down, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" for mixed or unchanged markets--plus that one song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for certain odd situations like closed markets); and for having more corporate sponsors than other public radio shows. Its reports tend to be more focused on broad economics than your typical business show (which tend to focus on business and finance); liberal economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich is a regular contributor, as is conservative writer and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. Also produces an hourlong weekend personal finance show called Marketplace Money, and a short 10-minute segment called the Marketplace Morning Report that airs on some stations during Morning Edition instead of or alongside NPR's own Business News segment.
- BBC World Service -- The world service for BBC Radio. Most often aired at night on NPR and/or PRI affiliates, most of these affiliates carry a small clutch of the programs the World Service offers:
- The standard BBC News broadcast
- The Forum
- Charlie Gillett's World of Music, until its host's death.
- The World, a joint PRI/BBC international newsmagazine show produced with Boston affiliate WGBH. Also has a weekly edition called The Changing World from the same producers and hosts.
- Newshour, a BBC production distributed by PRI.
- although a quick look at places like the DailyKos website will tell you a number of liberals don't think NPR is all that liberal these days