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Grant saves American Indian radio service

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LINCOLN, Neb. - National American Indian radio programs will stay on the air for another year, thanks to a large grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It is pledging $300,000 for the Lincoln-based American Indian Radio On Satellite (AIROS). The service gives 77 American Indian and public radio stations access to 24-hour American Indian programming, including the popular daily news and talk show "Native America Calling."

The grant will also support expansion of AIROS broadcasting on the Internet, to make it available to the large urban American Indian population out of reach of reservation radio stations.

The grant takes effect Oct. 1. It replaces a large grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which funded the current year of AIROS but was not renewed.

"We've got a trustees committee working on strategic funding planning," to arrange long-term support, said Frank Blythe, executive director, Native American Public Telecommunications. So far the annual grants have provided almost all of the AIROS operating budget, he said.

The service has begun asking subscriber stations for annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $4,500, but only the 33 American Indian stations use the full range of its programming, Blythe said. The other public radio stations "cherry-pick the schedule."

Some of the most used programs, Blythe said, are "Native America Calling," "Earthsongs," which features contemporary American Indian music, and "Club Red," a comedy series with Charlie Hill, the widely known Oneida funnyman.

The CPB is also pushing the AIROS Internet webcast, now three years old. The Web site gets 350,000 visits a month, which translates into 35,000 listeners each day, Blythe said.

"We've heard from every continent on the planet, even Antarctica," he said.

The Internet will be the prime means to reach large urban American Indian populations, Blythe said.

"Using AIROS to expand the reach of Native radio is a top priority, with a special emphasis on making the service accessible to the large numbers of Indians living in cities," added Nan Rubin, a member of the NAPT board. "CPB support will go a long way in helping us reach this goal.

"We certainly appreciate the continuing partnership and diversity mission of CPB in support of AIROS since its inception in 1994," Blythe said.