Boston Globe on PRX

Cambridge nonprofit wins MacArthur award

By Clea Simon, Globe Correspondent | April 11, 2008

The Cambridge-based Public Radio Exchange will receive one of eight 2008 MacArthur Awards for Creative and Effective Institutions, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced yesterday. PRX, as the Cambridge nonprofit is called, serves as an Internet clearinghouse for radio producers and public radio stations. It provides access to new voices and makes it easier for producers and stations to connect and license one another’s work using an online base that handles everything from sampling shows to licensing.

“It’s a huge honor and a great endorsement,” says Jake Shapiro, PRX’s executive director. “We are trying to be a leader in what public broadcasting is doing, to be pioneers, and this is a huge boost to that role.”

The prizes, up to $500,000, are given to nonprofits that are driving significant change on a modest budget, according to the foundation. The winners, from six nations, will be honored June 12 at the foundation’s headquarters in Chicago. The seven other recipients for this year’s awards are: Tlachinollan, Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña, in Mexico; Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center; Kazan Human Rights Center in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russian Federation; Legal Defence and Assistance Project in Lagos, Nigeria; Chicago’s Project Match; Sangath in Goa, India; and Tany Meva Foundation in Madagascar.

“We pick these winners from across all of our program interests,” says Elspeth A. Revere, vice president of the general program at the MacArthur Foundation. “One of our interests for close to 30 years has been public media.”

The foundation has previously supported PRX with two grants, viewing the small nonprofit as “an ingenious model of harnessing technology to bring more diverse, high-quality content into radio.”

PRX, which was launched in 2002, allows aspiring producers, stations, and individuals to sample and critique a variety of programs at The organization has made more than 20,000 programs from approximately 1,000 producers available on the site since its inception, says Shapiro. PRX also helped organize last year’s Public Radio Talent Quest.

For PRX, the MacArthur award will bring growth and stability. The organization plans to put aside half of the expected award of $500,000 as a capital reserve. “We’ll be investing in our future,” says Shapiro, “which is very difficult for nonprofits to do.”

Approximately $150,000 will go toward technology. This will include updating and expanding the Internet platform that makes the program exchange possible.

“We have thousands of pieces on the site,” says Shapiro. “You might want to do [a playlist] of favorite environmental stories or rainy-day pieces. If I’m working at a radio station, I might be more able to find programs I can then use.”

The remaining $100,000 will launch a content fund. This will offer money to revise or update public radio programs, which Shapiro calls “reversioning.” A small grant from this fund, for example, could help a producer digitize or re-edit radio programs to make them accessible to more stations. It could also help producers adapt audio from film or television documentaries, making them viable as radio shows or podcasts.

“It’s a neat way for us to do more of what we want to do,” says Shapiro, “which is not just distribute for radio broadcasts, but for a range of platforms to reach into the world.”

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company