In 2013, Tippett and “On Being” parted ways with MPR, as they felt the network hadn’t made the show a priority. “Within that big, traditional radio organization, we couldn’t really be innovative,” she said. “We couldn’t experiment.”
Tippett had always done her own fundraising – “Because if I hadn’t raised my own money, my show would have starved or killed” – and as a result, she was able to buy the rights to the show for an undisclosed amount. Since then, she has produced and recorded “On Being” herself, with the help of a growing staff. Under Tippett’s supervision, even the reruns are revised or repackaged, leading to hours, if not days, of preparing and editing lengthy interviews in the roughly 52 minutes that make up the public radio hour.
“That’s an accuracy and a craft that’s served the show well. It’s served a lot of shows well,” Tippett said. But during the pandemic, even as “On Being” stuck to its schedule, Tippett started questioning that routine, wondering how she and the show could better meet the moment — including expanding the show beyond radio and into live events and field work.
“And meeting a weekly deadline is not the answer,” she said.
For WNYC, which has aired and now distributes the show since the “Speaking of Faith” days, the news is bittersweet. “We will really miss her, but we are very happy for her,” said Melissa LaCasse, director of distribution. “Sometimes you have to close some doors to open others, and I’m just really excited to see what she and her team are doing.”
Tippett and her 21-strong team will remain with “On Being” during the transition. Since public radio fees are only a small part of the $6 million annual budget, Tippett estimates the cost of her liberation from public radio as negligible. The show never ran ads; that won’t change. So don’t expect Tippett to promote a mattress or a mobile game. “On Being” is supported by like-minded individuals and foundations and, according to Tippett, those foundations will continue to support them.