Monday, January 05, 2004

(Sorta) Public Radio
In Louisville, public radio is so good and commercial radio is so bad that I could get by just fine with a radio that received only public radio stations. Now that Clear Channel owns the commercial airwaves and has filled it with sewage like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and cookie-cutter morning shock jocks that blather on about boobies and poop in between blocks of ads that make e-mail spam subject lines sound plausible, public radio is the only way to go. But it's not just that commercial radio sucks; public radio has gotten really, really good.

We have three public radio stations: news/talk, "adult alternative" and classical. The news/talk station, WFPL, has all the great NPR news programming (OK, some of those news stories go on so long your ear hair has grown an inch before they're over, but still), along with the sublime Terry Gross, and even some call-in shows where -- unlike commercial radio -- callers (and hosts) don't sound homicidal. The adult alternative station, WFPK, is phenomenal. It is not unusual to hear Johnny Cash, My Morning Jacket, Gillian Welch, and John Lee Hooker back to back to back to back. You can turn on WFPK, leave it on, and rarely hear a bad song. And the classical station, WUOL, is exquisite. Their chamber music show on Sunday morning lifts my soul, and -- OK, I'm lying about this one. I have no use for classical or jazz music unless it's background in cartoons or Woody Allen movies. Still, it's nice to know classical music is there -- you know -- in case I ever achieve a stock portfolio or take a liking to Geritol smoothies.

So, given my love and admiration for public radio, you probably figure I must be a big financial contributor, ponying up some serious jack when they conduct their semi-annual beg-a-thons. Well, no, I don't. Several years ago, just about the time the local "Public Radio Partnership" started expanding and getting really good, a delightful little euphemism for advertising reared its ugly head: "underwriting." Way back when, companies that sponsored (another euphemism for advertising) public radio got a three-second mention at the top of the hour. Now, underwriters get long, colorful descriptions, including corporate slogans and even the occasional jingle. The other day, during an ad for a car company, I kept thinking the announcer was going to say, ", Corinthian leather." I was almost rooting for it.

Don't get me wrong: I'm delighted for this advertising on public radio, so long as it doesn't get out of hand. It's no coincidence that advertising is directly related to the improved quality and depth of programming on public radio. Plus, I don't have to contribute or feel guilty sponging.

And sponge I do. Unlike public libraries, public universities, public monuments or public restrooms where each customer leaves a footprint and takes a financial toll, public radio knows not nor suffers a whit if I listen in. My listening has no ill effect on their bandwidth, their productivity or their resources. (In fact, I could argue that by listening, and subsequently mentioning a program to a friend who might tune in and end up contributing, that I am performing a noble service by stealing their programming.)

If TIAA CREF (You're Not Just a Face in the Crowd to Them) and GE (They Bring Good Things To Light) are going to foot the bill by buying ads on "public" radio, wouldn't I be doing a far greater service to the universe by spending any loose change on CDs by those struggling artists who get no air time on commercial radio? Why yes, I would. And that's exactly what I do when the beg-a-rama comes around. 'Cause -- you know -- who can stand to listen to all that pathetic begging?

Each year my lovely, public-radio-stealing wife and I donate money to those who help people less fortunate than us, such as Kentucky Harvest, Home of the Innocents or The Fund for the Histrionically Sanctimonious. Because we're on a limited budget, any money we donated to public radio would come out of the pockets of those hungry, homeless children or those struggling musical artists (who sometimes put on "Aid"-suffixed benefit concerts that further salve mankind, while also giving public radio some righteous tunes to play).

So, as you can see, it is both morally imperative to listen to public radio and morally wrong to contribute money.

Of course, that's just one man's opinion. If you disagree with me, you're going to love the Oh, For God's Sake pledge drive!