February 2000

Grant Results


From 1993 to 1998, the Western Organization of Resource Councils Education Project, a nonprofit educational and charitable corporation, produced award-winning radio coverage of rural health care by the High Plains News Service (HPNS).

Key Results

  • High Plains News Service produced and distributed 100 health care stories to more than 50 public and community radio stations serving some 360 communities in 21 states; the estimated audience is 1.3 million regular listeners.
  • To increase the capacity of local stations to produce quality health care stories, High Plains News Service recruited and trained a corps of nearly 80 local radio producers, including Native Americans and Hispanics.
  • High Plains News Service adapted to changes in telecommunications technology by installing digital audio technology (DAT). With DAT, High Plains News Service was able to launch an innovative audio site on the World Wide Web, significantly expanding the potential worldwide audience.
  • While High Plains News Service has made progress toward its goal of a diversified funding base, financial sustainability continues to be elusive.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project through two grants totaling $210,000.

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During the 1980s and 1990s hospital and health care facilities in rural areas were going out of business in great numbers. In 1991, an estimated 18 percent of community hospitals (1,060 hospitals) were financially distressed. When trying to access existing health services, rural Americans faced many obstacles, including poverty, geographic isolation, cultural or language barriers, and lack of transportation. Further, the health care challenges of rural America were often overlooked, with discussions on health care centering on urban America. Community and public radio in rural areas had the potential to play a key role in increasing public dialogue about rural issues including health care solutions. However, small, rural stations were faced with high costs for national and international programming, which had forced them to reduce local news departments, leaving a void in coverage of local and regional health care issues.

In 1989, the Western Organization of Resource Councils Education Project, a nonprofit educational and charitable corporation, launched the High Plains News Service (HPNS) to address the gap in coverage of rural issues. Its purpose was to establish and implement a new regional news and multicultural information service for public and community radio stations in the Northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West, a vast region encompassing Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. HPNS began program production in 1990 and grew rapidly. By 1993, when the first grant request was submitted to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), High Plains programs were aired on 46 public and community radio stations in 20 states. It had received national recognition for excellence in radio production by the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.

This series of grants to High Plains complemented several RWJF initiatives, such as the Hospital-Based Rural Health Care Program, which focused on health care in rural America. The Foundation' considered priorities under the HPNS grant to include reporting how changes in the delivery system affected access to health care among rural and other vulnerable groups; educating the public in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; and building a cadre of journalists interested in and informed about health care issues.

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The Foundation awarded High Plains News Service two grants to support its award-winning radio programming on rural health care issues. Common objectives were to:

  1. Expand the amount of radio programming devoted to health care news, with a focus on minority issues and other stories often neglected by the mainstream media.
  2. Develop a multicultural network of local radio journalists, or stringers, who understand health issues and are capable of providing stories of high enough quality to be picked up by national programs like National Public Radio.
  3. Increase the number of subscribing stations and the size of the audience listening to health care programs.
  4. Achieve a sustainable financial base.

The objective of the first grant (ID# 020928) was to produce Prescription for Rural Health, a radio series consisting of at least 10 stories over each of two years, each up to five minutes long, and one 30-minute special. Recognizing that informing the public about health care is a long-term process, in 1995, the Foundation renewed this grant for three years (ID# 022514). Renaming its series Sound Exposure for Rural Health, HPNS promised to produce up to 25 stories per year. HPNS also planned to recruit and train more Native Americans, add 20 new public and community radio subscriber stations, research the feasibility of selling its service to commercial stations, and upgrade equipment to enable use of the Internet and World Wide Web.

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  • Over a five-year period, HPNS produced and distributed 100 health care stories of special interest to rural audiences. As many as 26 stories were aired annually on HPNS' weekly radio programs, representing 15 percent of High Plains' total programming. Coverage of health care issues was broadened to include access to health care in the rural West, managed care, and end-of-life issues, as well as personal commentaries and stories exploring the links between health and environment. Nearly 20 percent of the stories focused on Native American health issues. As a result, High Plains has established itself as a leading news and information source about health care issues in the West, according to the project director.
  • Two half-hour specials were produced and aired on 35 to 50 stations around the country. Health Care: Rural Realities received a Golden Reel award for National News and Public Affairs from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. When Others Said I Was Growing Old, featured health care issues related to aging.
  • To increase the skill and diversity of local radio producers and stringers (freelance reporters/producers) HPNS offered two radio production workshops annually and made a special effort to recruit and train Native American and other minority producers. HPNS trained 40 producers over the five-year period and increased the size of its stringer pool to 75. Three producers and two stringers were Native American.
  • Despite aggressive marketing efforts, HPNS was not able to increase the number of subscribing stations. At the end of the second grant period, 52 stations aired HPNS programs — a similar number to 1993. Some small stations dropped HPNS not because of quality or performance but primarily because of loss of personnel and changes in programming, according to the project director. Offsetting the loss of small stations, HPNS gained medium and large stations, substantially increasing both the number of communities receiving the programming and the number of listeners. In 1998, HPNS stories aired in 360 rural communities, compared to only 150 in 1993.
  • HPNS increased the size of its listening audience from approximately one million to more than 1.3 million listeners. The HPNS audience is found in more than 360 rural communities in 21states, including every western state except Texas.
  • HPNS launched an innovative audio Web site which significantly expanded its potential worldwide audience. Through the installation of digital audio technology (DAT) equipment, High Plains was able to keep pace with the digital age and launch its Web site. Health care stories are now distributed over HPNS's Web site; audio files are also sent to other Web sites, such as the Environmental News Network.
  • While HPNS made progress in expanding its funding base, financial sustainability remains a great challenge. Although HPNS achieved record income levels from underwriting, station fees, and funding for special programming, these gains did not offset losses in traditional foundation support and arts funding, or prepare for the reduction in revenues when RWJF support ends.
  • HPNS garnered widespread recognition for the quality of its programming. In addition to the Golden Reel award, HPNS received four other awards from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and recognition for programming from the University of Illinois, American Lung Association of Montana, and the National Association of Catholic Broadcasters. Despite evidence of the quality and quantity of HPNS stories, its impact on audiences is difficult to measure. Subscribing stations are surveyed regularly, but feedback from listeners is limited. A major audience survey is not economically viable because HPNS's market penetration in this vast region is still too small. In the absence of a formal evaluation, High Plains relies on informal evidence, such as listeners' requests for copies of Rural Realities, to support its claim that its stories are motivating the public to become involved in a dialogue on health care issues affecting their lives.


High Plains disseminates its stories in a variety of formats: as one or two of three modules in a weekly, 14-minute program; as the entire weekly program; or as part of a 30-minute special. The radio program is distributed through the Public Radio Satellite System in Ames, Iowa, and by mailing cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes to radio stations without satellite capabilities (primarily small community and Native American stations). Since 1996, High Plains has added its weekly and 30-minute radio program onto the World Wide Web. HPNS estimates its listening audience at 1.3 million; the audience accessing stories through the Web has not yet been estimated. See the Bibliography for a complete list of health care stories produced and distributed by HPNS.

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Under a third grant (ID# 027956) awarded in July 1998, HPNS continues to produce the radio series, Sound Exposure for Rural Health. RWJF has consolidated the HPNS project with two other community-based radio initiatives (National Native News and Radio Bilingue) which have also received multi-year support. In this way, the Foundation aims to provide all three projects with more intensive technical assistance in management and achieving financial sustainability. The Benton Foundation, a nonprofit organization fostering the public interest through communications, is serving as National Program Office and providing oversight for this new national program, the Community Based-Radio Initiative (ID#s 034857 and 035426). The Benton Foundation also oversees Sound Partners for Community Health, an RWJF-funded national program aiming to support local public radio stations to develop community-based programming.

The objectives of the third HPNS grant are to:

  1. ensure continuing distribution and coverage of a range of health care issues in the region;
  2. increase stringer/producer ability to produce quality health care stories;
  3. increase the listening audience for health care stories and commentaries and engage the audience in health care issues.

Specific goals include adding new programs focusing on mental health issues in rural areas and increasing coverage of Hispanic health care issues. By changing its program format to include an innovative 30-minute special and call-in program, High Plains expects to increase its audience feedback. High Plains is also establishing bases in the Midwest and California and exploring further opportunities to market programming through the Internet and World Wide Web. Under the grant, $20,000 is earmarked for HPNS to hire consulting help to identify other sources of financial support after RWJF funding ends and to build financial self-sufficiency.

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Public Radio Coverage of Rural Health Care News and Issues


Western Organization of Resource Councils Education Project (Billings,  MT)

  • Amount: $ 60,000
    Dates: May 1993 to April 1995
    ID#:  020928

  • Amount: $ 150,000
    Dates: August 1995 to July 1998
    ID#:  022514


Maryrose Boyle
(406) 252-9672
Robert V. Reha
(406) 252-9672

Web Site


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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)

World Wide Web Sites

www.worc.org/hpns provides audio files of recent High Plains News Service's stories. Billings, Mont.: Western Organization of Resource Councils. November 1996; average viewers per month unknown.

Radio Coverage

(Health Care: Rural Realities Stories are indicated by a *)
"Indian Health Services Struggle to Keep Doctors," HPNS, May 16, 1993.

"New Discoveries for Drug Taxol Could Save Yew People," HPNS, May 19, 1993.

"Temporary Clinic Serves Migrant Workers," HPNS, August 25, 1993.

"Eastern Montana Town Thinks It Has Cure for Health," HPNS, September 15, 1993.

"Russian Doctors Visit Hanford Nuke Site," HPNS, September 29, 1993.

"Recovery High School Helps Drug Addicted Kids," HPNS, December 8, 1993.

"Rural Community Deals with the Loss of its Hospital," HPNS, December 8, 1993.

"Commentary on Health Care Reform," HPNS, December 8, 1993.

"Mandatory Motor Cycle Helmet Law Stirs Debate," HPNS, February 2, 1994.

"School Based Clinics Deal with Health Care," HPNS, March 9, 1994.

"Rural Communities Address Health Care Concern," HPNS, March 30, 1994.

"The Pros and Cons of the Canadian Health Care System," HPNS, April 6, 1994.

"Ateapi Program Promotes Healing of Native Americans," HPNS, April 20, 1994.

*"Delivering Mental Health Services in Rural America," HPNS, April 22, 1994.

*"Prenatal Care for Hispanic Women," HPNS, April 22, 1994.

*"Combining Native Health Ways with Western Medicine," HPNS, April 22, 1994.

*"The Plight of Uninsurables in Rural Areas," HPNS, April 22, 1994.

*"Long-Term Care for the Elderly," HPNS, April 22, 1994.

"Polluted Air in Billings Causes Health Problems," HPNS, April 27, 1994.

"Elder Care Initiatives," HPNS, June 15, 1994.

"Violence Against Women Is Also a Rural Problem," HPNS, August 3, 1994.

"Dental Care Program Helps the Needy," HPNS, August 10, 1994.

"Profile of Indian Health Service Hospital, Fort Yates, North Dakota," HPNS, August 17, 1994.

"Essay on Rural Health Care Reform," HPNS, August 17, 1994.

"Monument Valley Hospital Is Life Center of Community," HPNS, December 7, 1994.

"High Health Care Costs Push Ag People Off the Land," HPNS, December 7, 1994.

"Will GOP Congress Cut Native American Health Programs?" HPNS, December 14, 1994.

"First Things First Prevention Program — Native American Teens," HPNS, December 21, 1994.

"New Type of Home Health Care for Elderly," HPNS, April 12, 1995.

"Congress Cuts Rural Health Care Programs," HPNS, April 19, 1995.

"Salish Kootenai College Nursing Program," HPNS, August 23, 1995.

"Medicare and Medicaid Cuts in Rural America," HPNS, October 18, 1995.

"Commentary: Are Chemical Pollutants Harming Us?" HPNS, November 1, 1995.

"Building a Health Care Center on Pine Ridge Reservation," HPNS, November 20, 1995.

"New Program for Hearing Impaired, Troubled Youth," HPNS, December 13, 1995.

"Osteoporosis Study in Rural Areas," HPNS, January 10, 1996.

"Encouraging Minority Students Into Health Care Professions," HPNS, January 24, 1996.

"Positive Life with HIV — Documentary Airs on PBS," HPNS, February 7, 1996.

"South Dakota Lawmakers Consider Polluter Secrecy Law," HPNS, February 14, 1996.

"Pros and Cons of Telemedicine," HPNS, February 28, 1996.

"Dickinson Oil Development Raises Safety and Health Concerns," HPNS, March 6, 1996.

"Is Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge Safe?" HPNS, March 13, 1996.

"Downwinders Oppose Trucking of Nuclear Waste," HPNS, April 3, 1996.

"Minneapolis Hospital Practices Rural Hospitality," HPNS, May 15, 1996.

"Rural Families Deal with Stigma of AIDS," HPNS, June 26, 1996.

"Dentist Cares for Farm Workers," HPNS, June 26, 1996.

"Minneapolis Group Promotes Health in a New Way," HPNS, July 17, 1996.

"Suicide Rate Among North Dakota's Farmers Is Rising," HPNS, July 31, 1996.

"Material Could Prevent Injury to Elderly," HPNS, August 8, 1996.

"Genital Mutilation Law Sparks Debate on Effects to Children," HPNS, August 14, 1996.

"Hotels Move into Elder Care," HPNS, August 21, 1996.

"Certified Nurses Aides," HPNS, August 27, 1996.

"Commentary on Healthier Non-Toxic Pest Control," HPNS, September 18, 1996.

"Utah Residents Questions Cancer Rates," HPNS, September 18, 1996.

"Physical Therapy Includes Horses," HPNS, October 2, 1996.

"Ex-Prostitute Helps Others to Healthier Lifestyle," HPNS, December 4, 1996.

"Program Rehabilitates Homeless Veterans," HPNS, December 18, 1996.

"Developing Software Programs for the Blind," HPNS, January 15, 1997.

"Culturally Sensitive Program Helps Native Americans with Diabetes," HPNS, January 15, 1997.

"Small Towns Create Clinic Network," HPNS, January 15, 1997.

"Integration of Alternative and Western Medicine," HPNS, February 2, 1997.

"School Teaches Chronically Ill Children," HPNS, February 12, 1997.

"Native Americans Use Traditional Healing Methods," HPNS, March 26, 1997.

"Utah Passes Health Care Reform," HPNS, April 2, 1997.

"HMO Offers Unique Volunteer Program," HPNS, April 23, 1997.

"Hospice Enables Death with Dignity," HPNS, April 23, 1997.

"Native Americans Focus on Elder Abuse," HPNS, April 23, 1997.

"Medicare Proposal Targets Rural Areas," HPNS, May 21, 1997.

"Touring Theater Company Shows Teens Realities of Life," HPNS, May 28, 1997.

"New Techniques for Rural Alzheimer's Patients," HPNS, July 7, 1997.

"Traditional Home for Native Americans with HIV," HPNS, July 23, 1997.

"Telemedicine Program Provides Access to Care for Rural Communities," HPNS, July 23, 1997.

"Native American Breast Cancer Program Offers Early Detection," HPNS, July 23, 1997.

"Portable Heart Defibrillators Could Improve Care in Rural Areas," HPNS, July 30, 1997.

"Mass Media Oversimplifies Schizophrenia, a Commentary," HPNS, August 20, 1997.

"Unique Program Targets Chemically-Dependent Mothers," HPNS, September 24, 1997.

"Prospecting for Medical Discoveries in Yellowstone Geothermal Pools," HPNS, October 1, 1997.

"Prospecting for Medical Discoveries in Yellowstone Geothermal Pools," HPNS, October 1, 1997.

"Dr. Andrew Weil Looks at Health Benefits of Mushrooms," HPNS, October 8, 1997.

"Dr. Andrew Weil Looks at Health Benefits of Mushrooms," HPNS, October 8, 1997.

"Surviving Breast Cancer, a Commentary," HPNS, October 15, 1997.

"Women's Imaging Center Innovative Approach to Breast Cancer Screening," HPNS, October 15, 1997.

"Surviving Breast Cancer, a Commentary," HPNS, October 15, 1997.

"Biologist Sandra Steingraber Links Pollution to Cancer Risk," HPNS, November 5, 1997.

"Mental Health Is A Concern for North Dakota Flood Victims," HPNS, November 26, 1997.

"Housing Program Improves Health on Standing Rock Reservation," HPNS, December 3, 1997.

"Oregon Deals with Gambling Addiction," HPNS, January 21, 1998.

"David Spencer: A Pioneer in Helping the Disabled," HPNS, January 28, 1998.

"Farm Safety for Kids Teaches Accident Prevention," HPNS, January 28, 1998.

"Managed Mental Health Care Problems for Low Income," HPNS, March 4, 1998.

"Mind Over Malady, Can the Brain Help Cure?" HPNS, March 11, 1998.

"Missoula Demonstration Project, Quality of Life's End," HPNS, March 25, 1998.

"Last Lesson from Annie," HPNS, March 25, 1998.

"The Mozart Effect," HPNS, April 22, 1998.

"Elder Care Options," HPNS, May 13, 1998.

"Native American Medicine Helps Healing Process," HPNS, May 20, 1998.

"End of Life Planning," HPNS, May 25, 1998.

"Crow Tribe's Traditional Ways Combat Abuse," HPNS, May 27, 1998.

"Mentor Dolls Help Old and Young Cope," HPNS, April 11, 1998.

"Navajo Miners Seek Health Benefits From RECA Act," HPNS, June 17, 1998.

"Second Step Helps Kids Deal with Anger," HPNS, June 17, 1998.

"Disabled Man Doesn't Let Disability Ruin His Life," HPNS, July 29, 1998.

"Bill Dwelley, Colorado's Only Male Midwife," HPNS, July 29, 1998.

*Health Care: Rural Realities Stories

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Report prepared by: Jayme Hannay
Reviewed by: David Kales
Reviewed by: Janet Heroux
Program Officer: Victoria Weisfeld

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