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Distributors of public radio look at merging

Lake Wobegon could be getting two auto mechanics.

Public Radio International, which distributes "Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion," and National Public Radio, distributor of "Car Talk," are looking into merging operations."We have had exploratory conversations with NPR's chief Delano Lewis about a variety of different forms of cooperation, up to and including a merger," Stephen Salyer, chief executive officer of Public Radio International, said Thursday.

"It is in kind of the idea stage - the early discussion stage," NPR's acting communications director Judy Reese said Thursday. "NPR is constantly looking for ways to improve its service within the public radio system and to the American people."

In the past week, both groups' have presented the merger idea to their boards, Salyer said.

From a listener's perspective, a merger probably would not be immediately noticeable because many - roughly 600 - public radio stations nationwide now carry both services' programs.

NPR and PRI each say about 17 million listeners tune in to their shows each week. But a merged NPR-PRI could save the combined service money by eliminating duplicative operations and reducing production costs. Some public radio stations also think it would reduce their costs.