By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Mar 15, 2011 at 11:00 AM

When Dave Edwards began his one-year tenure as chairman of the National Public Radio board of directors, he had no inkling of the convulsions that were coming.

"No, not at all," Edwards said in a phone conversation last week after days of meetings in Washington about NPR's latest crisis. "I'm not sure that anyone could've predicted what we've gone through in the past 6 months."

Edwards remains general manager of Milwaukee's WUWM-FM (89.7), a job he's held since 1985, despite his stint heading the board. He's been juggling his time during a period that has seen last year's firing of Juan Williams and last week's resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller after video surfaced of another NPR executive, Ron Schiller, bad-mouthing conservatives.

But, most importantly, NPR is facing the end of federal funding for public broadcasting in an era of drastic budget cutting.

"NPR is going to be fine as an organization," Edwards said as he waited to board a plane from Washington back home to Milwaukee. "My bigger concern, of course, is federal funding."

"If it goes away, it will devastate public radio and public TV. It's going to go away in a lot of smaller markets."

"Stations like mine," he said of WUWM,  "if we lose federal funding, it would dramatically change what we're able to do.

But he's confident a larger operation like WUWM can survive, even if it has to cut back on local programming.

Here in Wisconsin, Edwards spoke of WOJB-FM, a public radio station that broadcasts to the northwestern corner of the state  from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, near Hayward.

"I learn so much by listening to that station," he said of trips up North. While it broadcasts normal NPR fare, "at night, I can listen to a broadcast of a pow wow."

To Edwards, that focus on a local community is in danger of disappearing in small communities. "Those stations are the most vulnerable."

But he's philosophical that some cuts are inevitable.

"I am not foolish enough to believe that public broadcasting won't take some sort of federal cut," he said.

The biggest headline out of NPR last week was the resignation of CEO Vivian Schiller.

While there's a strong suggestion that the board fired Schiller, Edwards says that's not so.

"No," he says of suggestions the board forced her out.

"We had a phone call with her last Tuesday evening. She made it clear she wanted to leave. We reluctantly accepted her resignation."

While her departure, and the controversy over the firing of Williams for comments he made about Muslims to Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, have caused uncertainty in the organization, he's optimistic about NPR's ability to survive.

"NPR's going to be fine as an organization. We have great bench strength."

While the latest NPR controversy helped keep Edwards in Washington for several days last week, he says his main concern remains WUWM.

"That doesn't happen very often," he says of his extended stay in Washington. "I'm spending the majority of my time on WUWM issues. Even when I'm gone, we have a strong management team in place."

At most, he said, "it's lengthened my days," as he works evenings on NPR duties.

But Edwards says he extra time -- and dealing with the turmoil -- has been a positive.

"It has been a tremendous learning experience for me," he said, "And I actually think it has benefited WUWM."

He's been a board member since 2006, and he said the experience has exposed him to broader trends in the industry.

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.