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50 > Forward | Mission Control Blog

NPR 50th Anniversary graphic

In 2021, our national network and member stations that fund it are celebrating 50 years since NPR started with the broadcast of All Things Considered in 1971. Locally, NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS will celebrate our 50th anniversary of broadcasting to central Illinois in 2025. So over the next few years, “50” will have special significance for NPR Illinois. I’m honored to announce the 50>Forward Campaign. As we lead up to 2025, we will be looking for major and planned gifts and/or grants to increase the service of NPR Illinois into the future.

This campaign is critical in several aspects.

  1. Listeners, businesses, and the University of Illinois have built NPR Illinois over its first 50 years to be what it is today: One of the most credible and dependable sources for international, national, state, and local news on-air and online. This is needed now more than ever.
  2. With these community partnerships, we’ve also added to the local culture. This I Believe, Community Voices, Podcast Academy, Illinois Issues Forums, Bedrock concerts, and more have been produced in partnership with you. After more than a year in lockdown, it is comforting to engage with each other in meaningful and entertaining ways.
  3. The way you stay informed is changing quickly. When even major news organizations like the Chicago Tribune are falling to venture capitalists for the last bit of profit, smaller journalism organizations are challenged by ownership, business models, and digital competition. Paul Jacobs, a radio industry consultant, imagines that only public media outlets will be providing local news coverage in the near future. As other reporters disappear from local media, NPR Illinois needs to increase its capacity to cover the news that impacts us and hold our organizations and elected representatives accountable.
  4. Our funding streams are evolving. After years of cuts to higher education budgets by state government, the two-year state budget impasse, and now the pandemic shutdown, our licensee – the University of Illinois Springfield – needs to focus its resources on its core academic mission. NPR Illinois’ total operating budget is nearly $2 million annually. Of that, UIS provides more than $400,000 to fund some staff salaries and benefits. Interim UIS Chancellor Karen Whitney has let us know that cannot continue. Constructively, UIS wants to make sure NPR Illinois isn’t damaged by this change and has given us a multi-year ramp down to zero-out university provided support.

We’ve developed the 50>Forward Campaign to adjust to the funding change while building on the strengths you appreciate in public media. The new thrust will be to secure major and planned gifts and/or grants by the end of our 50th anniversary in 2025 to secure the future. This will allow us to begin what we’re calling the “J-Corps” (journalism corps), professional/student paired teams to cover:

  • State government and politics
  • Local economic development and quality of life
  • Equity and justice
  • Health and harvest
  • Education

Sean Crawford will lead J-Corps with the goal to provide more quality reporting and to attract and train students with professional guidance and experience.

NPR Illinois will still do two to three fund drives each year. That covers our costs for the national programming that makes us so unique. We’ll be expanding our outreach to businesses to support NPR Illinois with sponsorship announcements. And we’ll solicit funding for engagement programs of the NPR Illinois Academy so we can bring civic education, media literacy, podcasting, conversations, and the arts to all parts of the community and schools.

It’s ambitious and aspirational. We hope you’ll join us in the endeavor in whatever way you’re able. As the just completed spring drive demonstrated, we’re all in this together. More than 40 nonprofits had day sponsorships donated to them and Community Voices Editor Bea Bonner shared their missions with you through many interviews with the organizations’ executive directors.

The NPR Illinois staff and I feel fortunate to do the kind of work we do. It is a service to our community. During the next few years, we’ll be meeting with listeners who would like to make a major gift, or planned gift, to fund the 50>Forward Campaign by the end the NPR Illinois 50th anniversary. To begin a discussion, call Nice Garcia or Terri Hempstead at 217-206-9847.

Thank you for building NPR Illinois – and here’s to another 50 years!

Randy Eccles is thrilled to be talking with community members and joining them in becoming informed citizenry. Please reach out at randy.eccles@nprillinois.org.
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