Like most folks who ramble, I listen to the radio.
And the radio I listen to is NPR.
National Public Radio — non-commercial and taxpayer- and listener-supported.
It is not that I have anything against other stations. It is just that I come from a generation where radio gave the listener news and “programs” — not endless music. News and “programs” are what I enjoy, and that is what NPR gives me. And because listening to “programs” requires a time commitment, “programs” are perfect for long trips.
I also like NPR because every time I tune in, I learn something worth knowing.
OK, I understand there are folks who think NPR has a liberal slant, and in some cases it does, but generally “slant” is in the eye of the beholder. In a media world where my old buddy Newt can jump all over Fox News for not “slanting” enough (or at least not slanting his way), I figure it is better to have a sense of the slant and learn from it rather than pretend it ain’t there and miss the point entirely.
Slanted or not, what I enjoy about NPR programs is that they neatly bundle information, entertainment and involvement in a way seldom found on commercial radio.
I usually hit the road at the end of the week, so my trip begins with Science Friday, where the host brings in guests to discuss everything from science in movies to the best of science humor (“A climate change scientist and a climate change denier walk into a bar …”). Folks call in, not to rant and rave but to ask thoughtful questions and get thoughtful, often intriguing answers. I am no scientist, but I love this show.
As the miles roll, so do other programs — Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered and Here and Now, which delivers the news as the news should be delivered. I would tune in just to hear foreign correspondent Sylvia Poggioli pronounce her name.
If I am lucky I will be in the car when Bob Edwards Weekend comes on — which I was on the last trip. I heard Edwards interview the author of the latest and arguably the best book on the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Which brings me to what impresses me most about NPR — the quality of the guests and the topics they cover. Overwhelmingly, guests are authors of important books and articles that I need to know about, artists whose contributions to our culture I might have missed if I had not tuned in that day, and advocates who are willing to put their cause before the public (and the interviewer) in return for publicity that might not always be what they expected — or wanted.
Then there are shows like Car Talk, whose hosts help with problems like “what is that strange sound beneath the hood of my 1986 Honda?” with advice to “check to see if the neighbor’s cat is missing.”
I can feel smart when I answer a question before the panel on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and I feel frustrated when I can’t.
And, of course, there is Prairie Home Companion, where Garrison Keillor, his guests and regulars, recreate the radio of my youth, coming to me from wherever Lake Woebegon happens to be that week.
Never a dull moment.
Unless you lose the station.
Which can happen.
One of the frustrations of listing to NPR while traveling the length and breadth of Alabama is that there are dead zones, places where one NPR station fades and another does not appear — or NPR is drowned out by one of the powerful Christian stations that seem to be taking over the NPR end of the dial.
Some say that this is the result of a conspiracy by conservative Christians who want to kill NPR with competition — crowd them out so no one could hear what the network had to say. But I cannot find any evidence of that being true.
What is true is that there simply are not enough NPR stations to cover the state, so there are places where the programs I love cannot be heard.
Now, folks, our tax money goes to lots of things, some we like and some we don’t. I like NPR, and if our government, yours and mine, were to give me a list of things to which my taxes should and should not go, I would tell your government and mine to send my pittance to NPR instead of a bridge to nowhere or a convention in Las Vegas.
That’s just the way I am.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.