If you're a public radio fan, like I am, try this exercise. When you turn on your local station, heed the first phrase you hear. Here, for example, are some that I've noted.
I cried in my car
Sixteen stingrays died
This is NPR.
There's a peculiar gloominess of that first-heard snippet that defies the odds. Noticing this, my husband and I began to play what we call The NPR Game.
At 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving for example, after a joyous day spent with friends, we got in the car for the drive home and punched the radio button. The first words we heard were, "With Christmas months away, this news could not have come at a worse time." I jotted them in a notebook, where they took place next to "The plants are dying, the sheep are dying, everything's dying."
Downbeat as National Public Radio news insists on being, we love our local public radio station's full programming (which includes more than NPR news) too much to stop listening. There's The Moth and All Things Considered. When A Prairie Home Companion aired from Milwaukee, where we live, we were in the audience. I walk to work listening to podcasts including Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and A Way with Words.
But between these engaging shows is NPR news, its signature unvaried tone stamped on reports about terrorism, global warming and suicide bombings. When I turn on the radio and hear "A middle class mother finds herself at a food bank" I don't know the whole story, but I am certain who is telling it.
An On the Media program in September highlighted recent studies showing that, despite claims, NPR does not have a liberal bias. OK, fine, but what about a depressive bias? In the car, kitchen, the bedroom, we've turned on our local public radio station -- WUWM -- and the first words have been about...
"Everyone has to remember that in only 30 seconds last night, this country's economic output was cut in half."
"He smiled at me, then he shot me."
"Savagely beat the family's 6-month-old German Shepherd with a rock."
"It usually leads to infections."
"My city is run by gangsters. My city is run by the mafia."
"I could see in slow motion, this line of vomit."
And . . . Enough Already
"What the Red Cross reported was unending months of torment."
I sometimes wonder why we don't listen to something more uplifting, say a reading of Sophie's Choice.
When I cleaned out my car recently, I found a notebook with phrases dating back to 2011, when we started our NPR game.
"This time, though, someone showed up with a gun." (June 22, 2011)
"Ideas about democracy never fully took hold." (Aug. 21, 2011)
"And he threw it down the staircase." (Sept. 31, 2011)
"Assault rifles which had their serial numbers removed to make them more difficult to locate." (Oct. 25, 2011)
"Have you totally given up on that dream?" (Dec. 23, 2011)
"Homemade humus, apples and pretzels..."
Homemade humus, apples and pretzels? Hey, how did that get on the air?
So National Public Radio affiliates, I'm asking you -- in this era of endless reports on ways people are hurting the planet and each other -- to occasionally broadcast some temporary relief. Perhaps you could sneak in homemade humus, apples and pretzels.
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