HISTORY OF EASTERN REGION PUBLIC MEDIA
Founded in 1958, Eastern Public Radio (EPR) is the oldest public radio organization and programming network. The original name was the Educational Radio Network (ERN), whose charter members were WGBH, WNYC, WFCR (then WEDK) and WAMC. Originally ERN provided the first program exchange among stations on a regular basis. From those humble beginnings various unification efforts were launched, which ultimately assisted in the creation of National Public Radio, Public Radio International (then American Public Radio), the Public Radio Program Directors Association, along with many other ground-breaking initiatives over the past 45 years.
Support from the Ford Foundation allowed ERN to develop public radios first interconnected network, including a nightly newscast. The eventual loss of Ford Foundation support caused ERN to cease live network operations. The last live broadcast was coverage of Martin Luther King's March on Washington in August 1963.
Eastern Education Radio Network (EERN) came into being in 1963, when the members of ERN voted to disband and reunite in the new entity. Between 1963 and 1980, EERN ran a tape exchange service. It was involved in the development of NPR (1970) and public radio's satellite system (1980), while also serving as a regional forum for managers.
In late 1967 EERN formally incorporated. Its goal was to duplicate and distribute programs so that all stations could benefit from the efforts of one or more stations and to increase the effectiveness of its member stations in particular, and for the industry in general. About 70 hours of programming were exchanged weekly among EERN member stations. Morning Pro Musica from WGBH was one of the best known offerings for many years.
The membership of EERN (soon to be known as EPRN) ebbed and flowed during this time. In late 1978, a consultant was engaged to evaluate the networks' role in the public industry. The decision was made to hire a full-time executive director to expand and structure EPRN's activities. The Public Radio Cooperative (PRC) was created in 1980, as a subsidiary of EPRN and modeled after its TV counterpart, EEN. The Coop was designed to organize the program marketplace created by the brand new satellite system.
At that time, the EPRN Board also decided to upgrade benefits for EPRN members, which included regular meetings to share information, staff development workshops, and coordination of legislative efforts. The Board also made the decision to put the Public Radio Program Cooperative in the business of program development for national distribution.
In early 1981 EPRN received a 3-year grant for $225,000 from the Markle Foundation to help the Public Radio Cooperative become a self-sustaining national program distributor. Broadcasts from the 1980 Boston Globe Jazz Festival, produced by WGBH, were among the first performance programs offered live on the public radio satellite system. Sources for PRC programming included member stations (about 150 in 45 states by 1983), independent producers, and Canadian and European broadcast companies.
The emergence of American Public Radio in 1981, NPRs growing role as a program distributor (NPS and EPS), and the end of Markle Foundation funding in 1984 led to a fundamental rethinking of EPRN's program distribution and marketing role. An initiative launched in 1983 was to reduce EPRN's reliance on grant support which was called Local Service Underwriting. It was public radio's first effort to attract national underwriting for local stations.
By early 1984 EPRN's Program Cooperative and its 4-person staff in Boston (where the organization had been based since 1958) was dismantled. The organization was moved to WNYC's offices, and Don Otto was hired as a part-time Executive Director. EPRN, then popularly known as EPR, made training at both the regional and national level its new role. EPR continued its advocacy efforts and manager networking for its member stations in the Northeast.
The best known EPR project in the mid-1980s was the CPB-supported PD Bees. The Bees were a national project based on two audience research workshops EPR conducted for its members with Tom Church in 1984-85. The PD Bee workshops ran for two years and led to the formation of the Public Radio Program Directors Association (PRPD).
Other workshops during the late 1980s covered SCA applications, marketing, and the first generation of Audigraphics. EPR served as a proving ground for David Giovannoni and enabled Audigraphics further development through a group purchase of this important research tool. In addition, EPR continued its advocacy role.
After Don Otto's untimely death, Marjon van den Bosch was engaged as the new part-time director. EPR operated briefly out of WJHU in Baltimore, MD, and then moved its operations moved to Alexandria, VA.
As other organizations, most notably NPR, made system training a high priority, EPR refocused its attention to spend more time on policy issues and initiatives, most notably in station relationships with NPR and CPB. EPR weighed in on program unbundling, the reviews of NPR representation, the Business Plan, non-member access policies, direct mail proposals and other challenging issues in the NPR-station relationship. In 1992 and 1993 EPR took a major step to improve that relationship when it hired principals from the Harvard Negotiation Project to work with NPR management and station representatives. EPR was also active with CPB. It coordinated positions on CPB's investments in audience development and system expansion, CPB's reauthorizations, and workplace diversity. EPR produced two diversity workshops with CPB's assistance.
Seminars and workshops continued to be offered every year, on topics ranging from Internet applications for radio, digital audio conversion, audience research, and sales. As an outgrowth of the System Expansion Task Force report, EPR created with CPB support, a mentoring program for expansion stations in our region (including WBJB and WPBX, current members of EPR).
At the national level, EPR was proactive in bringing public radio's organizations to the table on matters of common concern. Perhaps the best known effort was the Long Range Federal Financing Initiative, a 2-year process which, for the first time, brought together all 16 national and regional organizations with interests on the Hill. EPR also convened the Development Summit, to facilitate better coordination of CPB-funded development projects.
In 1997 EPR presented the "Audigraphics Seminars: Managing Programming Change," a series of nine CPB-funded seminars which benefited more than 150 stations, independent producers, and network staff.
Tom Livingston became the Executive Director in 1999. During his tenure, EPR strengthened its key leadership role in the public radio system and extended its networking and advisory positions among member stations. He left a strong track-record of accomplishments and an enduring legacy.
In 2003, Georgette Bronfman took over as Executive Director. EPR continued its growth pattern with a focus on professional development, advocacy, and networking. Through its mentoring programs and workshops, EPR facilitated the sharing of original and innovative ideas among its constituents.
In August 2006, a new chapter in its history began with the merger of Eastern Public Radio (EPR) and Southern Public Radio (SPR), an initiative engineered by Georgette Bronfman. Support for the merger of the newly formed organization, Eastern Region Public Media (ERPM), was provided, in part, by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
SPR boasts its own proud tradition of long-standing service to the communities it served. The early days of SPR stem from public radio station membership in the Southern Educational Communications Association (SECA). In the early 1990’s, several radio station managers agreed to separate from SECA to form the “Unassociation” that a few years later ultimately became Southern Public Radio. SPR worked cooperatively with stations to share programs and its goals focused on regional training and national issues.
Currently, ERPM consists of over seventy member stations from Maine to Florida and from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. Reaching a broader and more diverse membership, ERPM remains committed to increasing public service capacity of its member stations by enhancing station sustainability, strengthening management skills, raising its advocacy profile with related national organizations, and creating an environment of diversity and inclusion.
Throughout its 50-year history, the organization has created a forum for many ground-breaking public radio initiatives. As it evolves, ERPM is entering an era full of new opportunities and challenges as its member stations continue to adapt and prosper. By keeping stations on the cutting edge of technological advances and creative management practices, ERPM continues to play a strong leadership role in guiding the public radio system of the future.