NPR 50: How Women Led The Way!

May 24, 2021 By Leanna S.
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You may have heard your parents listen to public radio on their way to and from work.

On May 3, 2021, the National Public Radio in the U.S, also known as NPR, turned 50. NPR reports on different topics, from politics to music, through radio broadcasts, podcasts, written articles, and videos.

Half a century ago, when NPR was founded, the role of journalism in society was still rapidly changing. At the time, the U.S was in the midst of the Watergate scandal, one of the most famous investigative journalism stories. It was also the time when the U.S was involved in the Vietnam War, which was reported on and led to large scale protests across the country. 

History and Milestones of NPR

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 led to the growth of public television and public radio in the U.S. NPR was founded in 1970 by Bill Siemering who along with a founding board, saw a potential for public radio.

The nonprofit started off only with around 30 employees and less than 100 charter member stations -- these are independent and locally operated broadcasters. 

Then, in 1971, NPR launched All Things Considered, which ended up being the first public radio program. The very first segment of the news program covered anti-Vietnam War sentiments. All Things Considered still runs today with commentary, analysis, updates, interviews, and more.

From there, NPR slowly started to gain recognition and credibility and even became the first media network to report and broadcast from the U.S. Senate floor. Later on, in 1980, NPR created the nation’s first radio satellite distribution network that spans the entire U.S., reaching listeners and viewers that once had little to no access to the media.

This milestone not only improved the sound quality of stations but also allowed local stations and voices within NPR to reach the rest of the country. This allowed people to feel more connected with one another and current events. NPR has also been expanding into other nations, and currently, there are 17 foreign bureaus and offices across the world to help cover international events and news, as well as provide for a more diverse audience. 

Women Leading the Way

NPR was one of the first to give women space and a voice in journalism, especially in broadcasting. Around the time when NPR was founded, there were virtually zero women involved in this previously male-dominated field.

Susan Stamberg, a radio journalist, was the first woman to host a national broadcasting program with All Things Considered. While Stamberg did face opposition due to the fact that she is a woman, NPR continued to employ and work with other dedicated women. Cokie Roberts, who also helped shape NPR, was a renowned political reporter. Nina Totenberg leads NPR’s coverage of the Supreme Court. And Linda Wertheimer, who frequently traveled across the nation and world, spent many years as the host of All Things Considered and is a very respected radio journalist. 

All of these women, in addition to many others, were known as the “Founding Mothers'' who have undoubtedly molded NPR into the popular and trustworthy news site and media organization it is today. They also led the way for future women who sought to pursue jobs in the journalism and broadcasting industry, breaking the sexist barrier that once prevented them from being involved. 

Sources: NPR