Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

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Public Broadcasting Fact Sheet

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Hundreds of local and regional radio and television stations make up the U.S. public media system.

On the radio side, organizations such as NPR and Public Radio Exchange (PRX) produce and distribute programming, reaching audiences through local stations as well as digital channels. Individual stations, such as New York’s WNYC and Chicago’s WBEZ, produce nationally syndicated original journalism as well.

As for television, PBS NewsHour produces an evening newscast that airs on local PBS stations around the country. The organization has a digital operation as well.

On the whole, the news offerings of U.S. public broadcasters have been marked by relative financial stability, with some declines in audience since 2020. Explore the patterns and longitudinal data about public broadcasting below. (Further data on podcasting is available in a separate fact sheet.)

Audience

The top 20 NPR-affiliated public radio stations (by listenership) had on average a total weekly listenership of about 8 million in 2022, down 10% from 2021. (This includes listeners of NPR programming as well as original or other syndicated content aired on these stations.)


Weekly broadcast audience for top 20 NPR-affiliated radio stations
Average weekly terrestrial listenership
YearListenership
20158,724,100
201610,212,600
201711,210,500
201810,413,500
201910,112,500
20209,164,100
20219,200,000
20228,277,000

Note: Beginning in 2018, this method has been updated from prior years to eliminate duplication of audiences and account for audiences outside of the home market.

Source: NPR, based on data from Nielsen Audio National Regional Database, for persons 12+, Monday-Sunday, midnight-midnight.

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When looking specifically at NPR programming across all stations that carry it, weekly terrestrial broadcast listenership declined by 6% between 2021 and 2022. (Traditional radio listening is “terrestrial,” i.e., coming from radio broadcast towers rather than satellites or the internet.) About 23.5 million average weekly listeners tuned in to NPR programming during the year, down from 25.1 million in 2021, according to internal data provided by the organization.

The terrestrial audience from PRX, which distributes programs such as The World and The Takeaway, declined to about 6.7 million average weekly listeners, a 24% drop since 2021.

Weekly broadcast audience of NPR and PRX


NPR weekly broadcast audience
Average weekly terrestrial listenership
YearListenership
200525300000
200625,500,000
200725,500,000
200826,400,000
200926,400,000
201027,200,000
201126,800,000
201226,000,000
201327,300,000
201426,200,000
201526,000,000
201629,700,000
201730,100,000
201828,500,000
201928,000,000
202026,100,000
202125,100,000
202223,500,000

Source: NPR, based on data from Nielsen Audio Nationwide, for persons 12+.nn

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PRX weekly broadcast audience
Average weekly terrestrial listenership
YearListenership
20158,132,000
20168,861,000
20178,813,000
20189,666,300
20199,583,900
20209,476,600
20218,884,700
20226,719,000
Note: Data for 2015-2018 is for PRI only.

Source: PRX, based on data from fall 2022 Nielsen Audio Nationwide.

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NPR’s broadcasting reach remained mostly stable between 2020 and 2022 in terms of both the number of member stations (stations either owned or operated by member organizations) and the number of stations airing any NPR programming (which includes member stations). The number of member organizations – flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station – stood at 249, down slightly from 251 the previous year.

Broadcasting reach of NPR


NPR broadcasting reach: Stations
Number of …
NPR member stationsAll stations (member and nonmember) airing NPR programming
20138491001
20149461029
20159721054
20169901072
20179911074
201810011074
201910111076
202010201069
202110401068
202210531066
Note: NPR includes repeaters in the count of stations airing its programming. “All stations” includes member stations.

Source: Information provided by NPR.

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NPR broadcasting reach: Member organizations
Number of NPR member organizations
NPR member organizations
2013269
2014263
2015265
2016264
2017260
2018263
2019265
2020254
2021251
2022249
Note: Member organizations are flagship educational and community organizations that operate at least one station.

Source: Information provided by NPR.

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In 2022, 936 stations were airing programming from PRX, roughly the same as in 2021.


Broadcasting reach of PRX
Number of stations airing PRX programming
YearStations
2016836
2017830
2018849
2019907
2020927
2021935
2022936
Note: Data for 2015-2018 is for PRI only.

Source: Information provided by PRX.

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NPR’s digital platforms continue to be an important part of its reach. The NPR One app, which offers a stream of individual shows and podcasts, had a lower average number of total completed sessions in 2022 than in the previous year among Android users but saw increases among iPhone users. (A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.) The NPR News app, which offers livestreams from individual stations and digital content, increased sharply in completed sessions among iPhone users in 2020 but has since declined.


Monthly sessions on NPR apps
Average number of completed monthly sessions by device and app
YearNPR News: iPhoneNPR News: AndroidNPR One: iPhoneNPR One: AndroidNPR News: iPad
2014694795629138142734069
2015782667936134947585314602631610358
2016114335585005041264932613263201630880
2017145024788242722446295023964941488862
20186756009450690129841811248160
2019191675425384844436212423020351050676
2020268466566386130440664921851291170398
202120950103465891635480461954310862071
202217823993430272241278321508968670603
Note: Data for NPR News: iPhone unavailable for 2018. NPR One app data is not available for 2014 (the app launched on July 28, 2014). 2014 sessions for the NPR News app on iPhone are based on an estimate for April 9-May 2. There is no NPR One app specifically for iPads. A completed session is any instance in which a user starts and stops using the app.

Source: NPR, based on Google Analytics data for January-December and iPhone News App data for January-August of each year. As of 2022, NPR One data for Android and iPhone is now sourced from Firebase.

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The audience for PBS NewsHour declined slightly after an increase in 2020: In 2022, it attracted about 900,000 viewers on average, down from roughly 1 million in 2021 and 1.2 million in 2020.


PBS NewsHour viewership
Total average viewership
YearTotal average viewership
20161,007,000
20171,187,000
20181,110,000
20191,018,000
20201,197,000
2021989,000
2022882,000
Note: Numbers represent the annual P2+, Live+SD average for each broadcast calendar year. 2021 average excludes data from broadcasts between March 15 and Aug. 15, 2021.

Source: Information provided by PBS NewsHour, based on Nielsen NPower.

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Economics

The financial picture for news outlets in public radio appeared mostly strong both locally and nationally.

At the national level, NPR’s total operating revenue in 2022 was $316.7 million, an increase of 8% from the previous year. PRX was down about 17% from 2021, falling to about $36.1 million in total revenue for 2022.

Total revenue for NPR and PRX


NPR total revenue
Total operating revenue (in U.S. dollars)
YearRevenue
2015$195,900,000
2016$213,100,000
2017$232,800,000
2018$251,300,000
2019$276,000,000
2020$270,100,000
2021$293,000,000
2022$316,700,000
Note: Above information represents fiscal year actual results for NPR (Parent Company Only) activity without donor restrictions.

Source: Information provided by NPR.

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PRX total revenue
Total operating revenue (in U.S. dollars)
YearRevenue
2015$17,400,000
2016$21,900,000
2017$18,100,000
2018$18,800,000
2019$41,600,000
2020$37,600,000
2021$43,600,000
2022$36,100,000

Note: Data for 2015-2018 is for PRI only.

Source: Information provided by PRX.

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At the local public radio level, an analysis of the public filings provided by 129 of the largest news-oriented licensees (organizations that operate local public radio stations) shows that in fiscal year 2021, total revenue for this group was $1.2 billion.


Local public radio station revenue
Total revenue for the 129 largest news-oriented public radio licensees (in U.S. dollars)
YearTotal revenue
2008$696,204,389
2009$666,338,114
2010$722,893,464
2011$776,343,600
2012$783,804,461
2013$820,010,203
2014$860,767,759
2015$848,355,098
2016$886,019,807
2017$940,900,239
2018$968,394,761
2019$989,733,531
2020$1,068,270,260
2021$1,167,852,635

Note: All figures are fiscal year, inflation-adjusted calculations. Data for these licensees was aggregated and provided by Mark Fuerst, director, Public Media Futures, using the Annual Financial Reports submitted by each licensee to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Source: Public Media Futures, a project funded by the Wyncote Foundation.

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This revenue for local public radio comes from a range of streams, but individual giving (which includes member revenue and major gifts) and underwriting (from businesses and foundations as well as other nonprofit organizations) are two key sources of funding. Among the 129 news-oriented licensees studied here, individual giving and underwriting accounted for a combined $647.6 million in revenue in 2021.


Individual giving and underwriting revenue for local public radio news stations
Revenue for the 129 largest news-oriented public radio licensees (in U.S. dollars)
YearIndividual givingUnderwriting
2008$260,960,182$198,025,282
2009$276,161,970$175,689,164
2010$288,300,541$178,751,907
2011$308,219,610$177,198,166
2012$316,004,310$191,696,566
2013$331,939,227$192,111,102
2014$342,250,140$203,386,494
2015$365,703,727$212,194,935
2016$376,131,389$217,585,274
2017$399,172,509$220,103,262
2018$418,737,546$226,547,675
2019$429,788,764$227,610,088
2020$490,569,581$206,736,340
2021$477,847,524$169,798,837

Note: All figures are fiscal year, inflation-adjusted calculations. Data for these licensees was aggregated and provided by Mark Fuerst, director, Public Media Futures, using the Annual Financial Reports submitted by each licensee to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Source: Public Media Futures, a project funded by the Wyncote Foundation.

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In 2021, the total number of individual members – defined as anyone who has given money to one of the stations owned by these 129 licensees in each calendar year – was 2.4 million, about the same as the previous year.


Local public radio station membership
Total station membership for the 129 largest news-oriented public radio licensees
YearTotal membership
20081,665,924
20091,743,232
20101,790,393
20111,940,486
20121,956,201
20132,016,449
20142,103,547
20152,046,745
20162,087,018
20172,292,509
20182,312,170
20192,351,783
20202,388,343
20212,379,588

Note: Data for these licensees was aggregated and provided by Mark Fuerst, director, Public Media Futures, using the Annual Financial Reports submitted by each licensee to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Source: Public Media Futures, a project funded by the Wyncote Foundation.

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On the television side, NewsHour derives its revenue from a variety of sources, including PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and a mix of “nonpublic” streams such as corporations, individual giving and foundations. While the details about public sources of revenue were unavailable for this analysis, NewsHour did provide information about its breakdown of nonpublic funding. In 2022, contributions from individuals rose to 27% of total nonpublic funding as contributions from foundations reached their lowest share at 51%. (Information on whether the total amount of this funding rose or fell was also unavailable.)


PBS NewsHour nonpublic funding makeup
% of PBS NewsHour's nonpublic funding revenue
YearIndividualsCorporationsFoundations
20143%41%56%
20156%23%71%
201611%19%70%
201713%17%70%
201813%17%70%
201915%22%63%
202024%18%58%
202126%18%56%
202227%22%51%

Note: All figures are calendar year.

Source: Information provided by PBS NewsHour.

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Newsroom investment

Program and production expenses for the 129 news-oriented local public radio licensees was $480.2 million in 2021, compared with $539.4 million in 2020. While program and production expenses comprise only a portion of overall station expenses, a decrease in these kinds of expenditures indicates that the stations are directing fewer dollars toward the creation of news content.


Local public radio station expenses
Total program and production expenses for the 129 largest news-oriented public radio licensees (in U.S. dollars)
YearTotal program and production expenses
2008$358,739,718
2009$375,334,220
2010$383,570,778
2011$399,366,969
2012$412,874,880
2013$418,041,473
2014$438,732,107
2015$458,912,987
2016$482,305,581
2017$495,924,199
2018$516,649,414
2019$530,018,455
2020$539,375,591
2021$480,194,652

Note: All figures are fiscal year, inflation-adjusted calculations. Data for these licensees was aggregated and provided by Mark Fuerst, director, Public Media Futures, using the Annual Financial Reports submitted by each licensee to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Source: Public Media Futures, a project funded by the Wyncote Foundation.

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Find out more

This fact sheet was compiled by Research Assistants Christopher St. Aubin and Sarah Naseer.

Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Read the methodology.

Find more in-depth explorations of public broadcasting by following the links below: