Could the war in the Persian Gulf bankrupt National Public Radio? At $1,000 each for reporters' chemical warfare protection suits and $75 a minute in production costs, covering the conflict hasn't been cheap for any news operation. NPR has been spending $81,000 a week on coverage and whatever the course of events expectations are that the final bill will add at least 10 percent to its $14 million news budget. Moreover, unlike commercial broadcasters, the member-supported network can't just shrug and take a bite out of profits.
For the six weeks of coverage now ending, $300,000 from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, plus $100,000 from member station KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., enabled NPR to extend its Morning Edition and All Things Considered news shows. To continue with seven full-time correspondents (including Scott Simon, Deborah Amos, Neal Conan, and Deborah Wang) in the region, the network is looking to its 41mber stations and their five million listeners to bridge the $1 million gap. Deficit spending scares NPR it was $7 million in debt in 1983 but its staff is again prepared to do without. Says news division chief William Buzenberg, ''We're experts at doing more on the cheap.''