Public Radio and Me

I have listened to public radio my whole, entire life. The radio is always on at my parent’s house. There’s one in the kitchen, where we spend just about all our time, and one in each bathroom where we spend a little time from time to time. They’d always tune to Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Not because they live in Mississippi, but because they live in rural south Alabama close to the Mississippi state line, and that’s the clearest signal they get.

My dad commuted back and forth to work in Mobile. It’s about an hour trip from Citronelle. And from sixth grade through the twelfth grade, I commuted with him so he could drop me off at the private school I attended. Despite my protestations (Can’t we listen to music, Daddy? Puh-leasssssssssseeeeee….), we always listened to public radio. Going and coming. And despite my best efforts to remain ignorant, I actually learned a lot from listening. It didn’t hurt that Daddy would quiz me either. There’d be a story from some foreign country and he’d ask who the leader was, where it was, why it was significant. Things like that.

Once I went to college though, I did mainly listen to music on the radio. I was blissfully, or woefully, ignorant of what was going on in the world outside of my college town, Montevallo, Ala. I knew everything that was happening on As the World Turns and The Real World, but Desert Storm came as a shock to me. I was scared to death. How could we be at war?

Once I graduated, though, I turned back to my old friend, public radio. It was familiar and comforting. Plus, there was no morning show stupidity. No pranks and gags. No hollering and carrying on. And I have been so enraptured by a couple of stories that I still remember where I was the first time I heard them. One was David Sedaris being interviewed about and reading from his new, at the time, book Me Talk Pretty One Day. I was sitting at the intersection of  Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street in Birmingham. Who was this hilarious person? I thought he was a woman who smoked a whole lot. Imagine my surprise when I found out he was a he.

I remember hearing about a book that was coming out that was so satanic and evil it was being banned. Banned, I tell you! I was at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 39th Street in Avondale. Of course talk of a banned book caught my attention. What was it and where could I get it? It was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’ve since read that book and every other one J.K. Rowling published, and I don’t really think I’ve got a one-way ticket on the Hell Express.

Then there was the story about the migration of monarch butterflies to Mexico. I was on I-65 North at about 7:30 in the morning, screaming down the mountain from Alford Avenue toward Birmingham in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. Three minutes before, I could not have cared less about butterflies headed south of the border. But this story was so beautifully told, I almost got a little misty. I was so nearly transported away in flight with these butterflies, that I forgot that I was, indeed, screaming down the mountain from Alford Avenue toward Birmingham in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic and nearly had a wreck.

There have been countless other times when I’ve sat in my car either in my driveway or some parking lot to hear the end of a story before I got out of the car. In this climate of sound bites, memes, and barking commentators, it takes a lot to hold my attention. Public radio holds my attention.

Now I’m lucky enough to work for Birmingham’s NPR affiliate station, WBHM. It’s good work, and hard work, and work I’m proud every day to do. I’m grateful that I get to be a part of a truly independent, publicly-funded news organization that produces amazing journalism. News that is comprised of research and facts and context, not rant or rave or reaction.

But this kind of journalism comes at a high cost.

That’s why public radio stations have fund drives throughout the year. And that’s why my country-sounding self will be on the radio this week — I’ll be asking you to support this good work, this hard work, this work I’m so proud of. But don’t do it for me. Do it for you, for freedom in journalism, for unbiased coverage of world and local events. Do it for the moments you’re transported from your car to Mexico with the butterflies. Do it for the times you sit in your driveway, car idling, unable to turn off the key until you hear the end of the story.

Support my station, WBHM, or support whatever your local station is. Either way is fine with me. The important thing is that you do support it.

Another thing about the fund drive? It keeps me so busy that this will be my only post this week. And then next week, I’ll be taking a week off to recover, so I won’t be posting then either. But I’ll be back the first week of April, and I hope you will be too.

Until then, I’ll see you on the radio!