I didn’t know about National Public Radio (NPR) until I was in my twenties. Friends at work would say, “I heard it on NPR,” and I’d nod as if I knew exactly what they were talking about, too embarrassed to ask. Sometimes it was worse. They’d say, “I heard the funniest thing on This American Life.” I was enough of a television addict to know they weren’t referring to a TV show, but I didn’t know what else it could be.
At that point in my life, radio for me was still all about music. I listened to the popular rock and roll stations of the day. I wasn’t living in a complete cultural wasteland when it came to radio. My father was always listening to classical music on WCRB. There was one program I actually looked forward to listening to with him, WCRB’s weekly comedy hour. I can still hum a few bars of, ‘When the Buzzards Come Back to Hinkley,’ a song set to the same tune as the one for the swallows and Capistrano.
Now that I have been listening exclusively to NPR for many years, I wonder why their audience is still so small; why they have to work so hard to raise money. I understand that some people eschew NPR, claiming it’s biased toward left-leaning liberals, but have they ever tried it?
Have the nay-sayers listened to Bill Littlefield talk about sports? He seems to know what he’s talking about, not that I can judge, it is sports after all, but he seems to know an awful lot about the field. He makes it even more appealing from time to time, by delivering the sports news in rhyme.
What about Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers? Surely there’s nothing to complain about there. Those guys fix cars over the phone, they’re wizards! Who cares if their real life garage is in the People’s Republic of Cambridge?
And Terry Gross of Fresh Air? She interviews all kinds of famous people. Why, the other day she was interviewing Jay-Z. Come on gang, Jay-Z! Admit it; none of you left-leaning liberals out there know who the heck Jay-Z is. She didn’t do that interview for you; she did it for the other guys. So where are they?
If everyone who listens to NPR introduces two of the uninitiated to the station, we can increase the audience exponentially. I suggest we start with people in their mid-twenties who can still stay up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live. Don’t give them the opportunity to pretend they know what you’re talking about. Just send them a link to a podcast from This American Life, along with an iTunes gift card. That way they can have their music, and NPR too.