I may have to change my radio habits. As a general habit, my car is tuned to the local public radio station out of New York. I like it, it keeps me informed, and some of the shows are entertaining. Others are less so, but that’s not why I might need to de-program the station from my settings: It’s pledge drive week, a necessary evil for such outlets. I understand it. I accept it. This time they’ve gone too far, though and, for once and for all, it might be time for NPR to suffer the cost of affiliate ignorance — yes, ignorance, for the stunt they pulled today left only one thought on my mind, and only one statement on my lips: How dare you. How Dare You.
We all know the drill. They need your pledge money. If you’re listening to their programming of your own volition and not contributing, then yes, you’re a sort of a drain on their resources. They play this card more often than they say “you know.”
“You know, Griselda, for a contribution of $120, you’re funding this great resource with only ten dollars every month.”
“You know, Herbert, you can’t get programming like this anywhere else.”
“I know, Griselda. You know, we can’t do it without member contributions…” and so forth. Invariably, either Herbert or Griselda, later in the day, will feel the need to play the good cop/bad cop game. They take to the airwaves with guilt trips, condemnations and accusations. “Why should someone else shoulder the financial burden of supporting this station while you, also a listener, do not? Do you think that’s fair? Do you think that’s right?”
Let me answer a question with another question. Did you listen to the news break that preceded your money-raising rant? Didn’t you just hear Carl Kasell say that the American economy had just hit a quarter-century low? Didn’t you hear that in a single week the unemployment rate jumped a level ordinarily deemed risky by standards of a month, not seven days? How about that report about how many people got super-sick with the flu over the winter because, without their jobs, they also didn’t have medical coverage to do something about it? Of course you didn’t — because your righteous angst over who is and isn’t paying into your broadcast coffers is not about right and wrong or ignorance vs. knowledge.
You know, Herbert and Griselda, your spiel is mostly about you both being worried you’re not going to get paid this week. Welcome to the real world and get the hell off your high horse. Did you truly think your usual tactics were appropriate in the new economic climate? Did you bother to check that copy before you both opened your mindless, fatuous mouths on the air, spouting that same canned crap you’ve been plopping on our lawns all these years? No, you didn’t. You couldn’t even be bothered to listen to your own station when the bad news was breaking. People are going to be homeless soon. They’re going to die of easily treatable ailments because there’s no proper system in place to help them through it. Are they worried that they’re stealing your precious knowledge, not kicking in for the cost of this berating?
I have a bold idea that will save public radio lots of money — and it’ll work. It has worked for stations that have adopted the “Jack” format all over the country. Sure, the concept will need to be adapted for the peculiarities of public radio, but it can be done: Program everything. Get it on the hard drive, then fire Herbert, Griselda and every other thoughtless jerk who begs for money in a time where it’s fast becoming the need and the norm, not the unfortunate effect of a monetary cause. What do you bring us, folks? Nothing, absolutely nothing. You are a drain on your own fiscal system, you are poster children for arrogance and single-mindedness, and a computer surely must have enough logic to calculate begging for money after reporting that 40% of the population lost the means to make it makes no sense.
If there’s any justice in the world, and I rather cynically believe there isn’t, Carl Kasell will report on how all of you in your little affiliate world got bounced to the street, lost your housing, lost your health care, and are now trying to make the unemployment office feel guilty because, you know, you used to be bastions of information dissemination. Is that a rough statement? Well, yes, very much so, but I can’t see how anyone could make that leap from such horrible, horrible news into the same old song and dance. I can’t believe a thinking, feeling human being could take all that in, visualizing the degree of loss in these people’s lives, then turn right around and basically brand them thieves for not taking the sewer bill money and sending it to public radio instead. Haven’t you got one iota of sense? Or do you just not give a damn?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t run pledge drives. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel perturbed because non-pledged listeners are sucking off the broadcast teat. I’m saying this is not the time to pull that hoary old shtick — and that your approach must be tempered with compassion. You keep saying that public radio is so much a resource, and so much better and more understanding of a listener’s needs, so now should be the time to prove it. Say what you must, but be diplomatic about it. You’re all supposed to be bright people, making a career and a paycheck with words, yet you don’t know how to use them effectively. You have all the concern and subtlety of shock jocks getting listeners to strip for them to win a “big prize.”
There are wonderful things on public radio — Jonathan Schwartz’ voice and the 50% probability you’re gonna get some Sinatra out of him, Click ‘N’ Clack on Car Talk, and the aforementioned Carl Kasell and the NPR News organization — but they are all poorer for the company they keep with you small-minded, provincial, ignorant automatons. They deserve better. You deserve unemployment for failure to perform duties in a responsible manner. I’ll miss these programs, but it’s a small price to pay to voice my anger, to say once and for all, if you haven’t the ability to adapt to new challenges, get the hell out of the way for someone who can.