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A Timeline Of NPR's First 50 Years

Monday, May 3, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of NPR's first on-air original broadcast. In the last half-century, NPR and Member stations have been essential, trusted sources for local events and cultural programming featuring music, local history, education and the arts. To mark this milestone, we're reflecting on — and renewing — our commitment to serve an audience that reflects America and to Hear Every Voice.

NPR was incorporated in 1970, with 88 original member stations representing non-commercial, educational and community radio stations across the country. Bill Siemering put into words NPR's original mission statement, stating that the new network should be a "source of information of consequence," "celebrate the human experience," help citizens be "enlightened participants" in society and "speak with many voices and many dialects."

On May 3, 1971, All Things Considered made its debut as the first national public radio program, redefining the substance and sound of national news. NPR amplified local voices by leveraging their network of member stations to tell national stories in new ways. However, NPR had yet to realize its goal of representing all of America. In 1976, NPR established the Department of Specialized Audience Programming to create content "about, by and for special interest groups," including NPR's first Spanish-language program Enfoque Nacional. Over the next decade, NPR experimented with historic firsts; Morning Edition was introduced in 1979, along with more original programming.

NPR had completed the first nationwide radio satellite distribution network by 1980. This system offered superior sound quality and 15 origination points across the country, giving local voices more opportunities to reach a national audience. Programs that originated outside of Washington, DC — Fresh Air, Car Talk and Enfoque Nacional — were distributed; international coverage was also expanded, with NPR opening bureaus around the world and launching a 24/7 newscast service.

As web content began to emerge, NPR crafted a visual identity to accompany its audio broadcasts; the first digital-only program, All Songs Considered, was part of this — a precursor to what would be an explosion of podcasts and visual products. In its 50th year, NPR heralds another era of innovation; one not unlike the earliest days of radio, with the network producing compelling stories across different platforms and meeting audiences wherever they are.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie Rogers
Julie Rogers (she/her) is a public historian, curator and archivist with NPR's Research, Archives & Data Strategy Department.