I came across an article titled "The Unbearable Whiteness Of Being NPR." It said this:

First the facts: NPR is very, very white: At about 77 percent white, its newsroom is significantly whiter than the country at large — but not nearly as white as its audience, which is pushing 90 percent white.

I was really surprised to hear that almost 90% of its audience identifies as white, though writers in the comments dispute this. 77% of the newsroom being white is not much more than the 74% of actual voters in the 2016 election which is when this was made. Here's what they said:

[they are] ... college graduates (more than one in four went to grad school, too, and I’d bet there’s a disproportionate share of MFAs in creative writing), middle-aged, high-income, power-walking, overseas-vacationing, and overwhelmingly not Republican, with members of Team GOP composing only 17 percent of NPR’s listenership. You know these white people: aspiring Canadians, basically.

Additionally, polling by Gallup found 23% of white Americans identified as liberal while 26% of non white Americans do. When it comes to party identification Democrats normally win 75% or more of non white voters nationwide.

That is so weird! It is one thing to have a Bernie Sanders speech in Vermont have a 90% white audience, but for the whole country, that seems surprising.

  • A more recent article in WaPo claims 21% of NPR radio audience are PoC (bringing your number down to 79%), although neither article names sources. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 11:42
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    @paulj what do you mean? I did not do this on purpose. I tried to cite the source (National Review). I don't usually read it but I saw it in my feed and the title was really interesting to me. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 12:12
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    I'd suggest that it might be that NPR stations tend to be college radio stations that play classical music and such when they're not doing news, (And are often the only stations that do so.) But then you need to ask why people who like classical music tend to be white.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 16:15
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    What does NPR mean?
    – FluidCode
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 14:42
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    @FluidCode: NPR = National Public Radio.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 17:02

1 Answer 1


NPR is one of the products of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, itself the progeny of the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act. As nonprofits that receive grant money, a lot of conventional source of revenue for these entities is either legally fenced off, or complex enough to navigate that the risks spoil the value proposition.

NPR relies on member stations paying them dues for a large portion of its gross revenue. Any media outlet's number one directive is to continue operating, and so NPR's programming is tacitly tuned towards an audience that is likely to make donations during pledge season. Their member stations are also not generally able to afford large libraries of popular music or other content that appeals to broad audiences, meaning they can't effectively compete in those markets, further driving a specialized compatibility with classical music selections (no need to pay royalties, Bach is super dead).

For historical and institutional reasons, that means their target audience has been much whiter than the general population.

For what it is worth, they're aware of the problem and the ways in which it threatens their sustainability. Their 2021-2023 strategic plan has 'diversify our audience' as objective #1.

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    There's nothing that prevents NPR stations from playing contemporary popular music other than there not being much point—after all the market for contemporary popular music is already pretty well covered by the commercial stations. Cost is not a factor since the blanket license fees are based on station size, not the popularity of the music. While WNYC programs classical, many other stations program other styles of music. I grew up with WBEZ in Chicago which used to play jazz (but is now effectively all talk).
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 20:21
  • In L.A., KPCC also went from jazz to talk, but KCRW still programs eclectically (although doing more electronica stuff and less world than was the case back in the 80s/90s when I used to listen to them more). But the choice to not program pop music is less out of financial incentives than a desire to differentiate themselves and create an audience by doing something that the stations driven by purely financial reasons can't or won't do.
    – Don Hosek
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 20:24
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    Bach may be dead and his compositions in the public domain, but my understanding is that a radio station would still have to pay royalties to whoever actually performed the recordings they play. And why is it a "problem" that they target an audience that prefers a particular genre of music, any more than it's a problem for commercial stations to target country, rock, oldies, or whatever? I would expect the audiences of those stations are also racially skewed.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 4:22

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