What’s Annoying on Public Radio Now

On a Tuesday, this is Airbag Moments returning to air – or wifi anyway.

I notice with horror I made zero posts in 2014. I am tweeting a lot, though, so blame the siren song of social media and fear of the Riyadh Flogger for my lack of blogging. (@airbagmoments)

What has driven me beyond the 140 character restriction today, the first time in over a year? Only a brief list of weird/annoying micro-trends in Public Radio, especially NPR, that I feel need some publicity – so they can stop.

Let’s do the numbers!

1. The Daily Grind

Apparently Steve Inskeep feels our pain. (Well he doesn’t feel my particular pain, since he took to his fainting couch and blocked me on Twitter at some point – see below.) But apparently he feels the rest of you, because he has pioneered a new version of the useless day-of-the-week intro ritual (ie “on a Wednesday”) he and other hosts have adopted over the last couple of years. Now he’s taken to uttering pseudo-ominous inanities like “well, you’ve made it to Tuesday!” I think everyone out here in listener-land is pretty aware of what day of the week it is and whether or not surmounting the previous midnight is worthy of succor and sympathy.

I will go so far as to say I would not mind being calmly reminded of the date, Steve, which you never do for some reason.

2. Yay us!

NPR or its shows were mentioned in two nerdy inner sanctums in the past week, the game show “Jeopardy” and the NY Times crossword puzzle. Given the exuberant twit-storm about this from NPR staffers I can only deduce that it’s apparently everything they’ve been working towards for their entire lives. What will they do now for a second act?

This brings me to a more general annoyance, which is the self-aggrandizing vanity retweets many hosts and official public radio program feeds indulge in. I guess I’m glad that @doctormom420 cried in her driveway during the segment when Scott Simon sang “Danny Boy” to Draggy, GoryCorps creator and aptonym David Isay’s 2-legged Golden Retriever, but I don’t need to know about it.

Let’s make a deal: if you are going to retweet the effulgent praise then I expect you to retweet the trenchant critiques also, which you can find more easily if you unblock me on twitter.

Which brings me to…

3. Throwing a block

I try to be a resource for people by following every public radio personality and show I can find on Twitter, unfollowing them only when their feeds become choked with baby pics and vanity retweets.

Those of you who are familiar with the effete and grammatical pokes I take at public radio must marvel at Steve Inskeep’s (and EXCITING UPDATE “Vocal Fry Guy” Raz!) precious sensitivity. This is unbecoming in one who makes a living ostensibly asking tough questions in interviews. If Twitter actually notified users at the time when other users blocked them I could know which comment of mine tweaked Inskeep’s and Raz’s hair-trigger peevishness.

Then we come to On The Media, a show I myself have praised effulgently in this space. Yeah, they blocked me for some reason. Really, OTM? You are the show that hates censorship so much you have produced entire episodes about it. What could I, who have called OTM the best show on radio, have said to offend them so much that they would block me from their official Twitter feed? What does that even accomplish other than tainting the purity of my love for them? At least Brooke and Bob, the hosts, have yet to block me from their little-used personal feeds.

I admit that I do sometimes say things that don’t follow the public relations guidelines for human society known as “political correctness.” But I am not one of these ignorant, racist, sexist, conspiracist or wing-nut (left or right) knee-jerk public radio trollers you find in the comment sections dangling under so many segments’ web pages.

To those who block me I have this to say: no matter what you claim, vous n’êtes pas Charlie.

4. Same old pundits vs. Sarah Chayes

I have written before about how outrageous it is that Chayes, one of the most valuable voices about Afghanistan we have and a former NPR correspondent, has been ignored ever since she left her radio job to actually do something instead of just “getting a sense.” I have also written about how weird it is that smart voices only seem to appear on radio shows like Diane Rehm when they are coincidentally on a book tour.

Well the second phenomenon has, at least for a brief period, solved the first because Sarah Chayes is on a book tour, which is the golden ticket to get back on the radio. Yay!

Meanwhile most of the regular pundit slots remain filled with people whose responses are entirely predictable: either political talking points or conventional wisdom.

I’m out of time, but not out of bile, so stay tuned!

This Douchebag on On The Media

I am way too busy at the moment in my non blog life to do the necessary bloviating on what’s going on with NPR right now.  I hope to be able to do so soon.

Just a quick note to say that people who admit to listening to NPR all day long but proudly declare they don’t support NPR financially because they perceive some bias they don’t like, are douchebags.  Bonus douchebag-points if you, while listening and not supporting, also believe taxpayer dollars should not support NPR.

Really the distilled essence of holier-than-thou douchebaggery.

Krista Tippett’s Agenda: Kum Ba Yuck

Oh lord, kum bia yuck...
What's wrong with this picture?

A commenter who somehow managed to overcome the recent technical problems this blog has been having with too many people trying to comment at the same time posed the following question this morning:

What is Krista Tippett’s agenda?

This is an intriguing query.  Since I can’t hear the vocal inflection of the person who asked it I can’t tell if it’s sarcastic or serious, but it deserves exploration.  It spurred me to think and research more about the whole problem with much religious “journalism” in general and Speaking of Faith in particular.

It turns out that the agenda of SoF is a bit hard to tie down because they don’t seem to have an official mission statement on the SoF website.  Their stated priciples are, unsurprisingly, couched in a warm miasma of platitudes:

When she [Tippett] emerged [like Venus from the sea!] with a Master of Divinity from Yale in 1994, she saw a black hole where intelligent coverage of religion should be.

The black-hole-generating religion reporters who worked before 1994 have got to feel good about that one!

…she began to imagine radio conversations about the spiritual and intellectual content of faith that would enliven and open imaginations and public discussion.

She draws out the intersection of theology and human experience, of grand religious ideas and real life.

Evidently Krista didn’t study a lot of geometry at Yale Div, as I’m not sure how you “draw out an intersection.”  I just can’t tell if she means “clearly delineate” or “smudge beyond recognition.”

So an outright mission statement from SoF seems a bit elusive, maybe ineffable or even transcendent.  Sound familiar?  Maybe you can only have a poetic way of knowing the agenda of Speaking of Faith.  Maybe you have to look at it sideways.

Or maybe you need to look at their sponsor.

A primary sponsor of SoF appears to be, from the prevalence of their ads on the SoF website, the Fetzer Insitute. Luckily for my purpose they aren’t shy about articulating their mission statement:

The Fetzer Institute advances love and forgiveness as powerful forces that can transform the human condition.

Wow, who could be against that?  “Advancing” is a weak, vague verb to use in the context of love and forgiveness, however, so let’s take a closer look what they actually do.  Their programs range from extremely laudable sounding, if quixotic, world peace initiatives to less universally approved-of claptrap consisting of new age healing and spiritualism mixed with junk science some of which reads exactly like jacket copy for Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

So what we’ve discovered is nothing less than a teeming nest of modern Theosophers.  These folks find the hardscrabble wonders of rationalist secular knowledge to be unfulfilling, uninspriring unless they are spiced with heaping helpings of tired, intellectually empty and dishonest but highly decorated teleologies.

These sentiments have a corrupting influence on public discourse and encourage what atheists call “woo.”  Woo is a helpful category that refers holistically to irrational beliefs, especially in the realm of health care.  The problem with woo is that it can kill.  When Christian Scientists or Jehovah’s Witnesses or New Age cult members refuse modern medical help for their children, and the children die, that’s the dark side of all this spiritual role-playing.  What if deluded, costumed, Klingon-speaking Star Trek fans refused actual medicine in favor of a spray painted salt shaker they claim is a treatment from the 23rd century?  What really makes that different?  And should we really be spending money on trying to detect souls with fMRI machines when, for example, vaccine production is so slow and antiquated?

The real “black hole” in religious journalism, at least since the “emergence” of Tippett, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Karen Armstrong and the rest of the weak teleologists, is the inability of such people to be objective.  They see a noble heart in, as far as I can tell, every religious or spiritual idea they’ve ever covered.

Isn’t it frighteningly easy to imagine a friendly hour-long interview between Krista and, say, Jim Jones, or Charles Manson?

Ultimately what fails to satisfy about Speaking of Faith is the extreme ecumenicism Tippett’s “agenda” requires.  It’s intellectually crippling, akin to a restaurant which tries to delight both big game bush-meat lovers and vegan PETA activists.  Everyone likes to eat, right?  They have that much in common, so it’ll be great!

Imagine if “On the Media” had a similar mission?  The whole point of the show would disappear.  No malefactor would be thoroughly investigated or subjected to cleansing, well-deserved ridicule.  So when an agenda like that of Krista’s Theosophical Sunday School infects public radio for two hours every weekend, taking up space where a superior program might thrive, it annoys me.  And I’m not alone.

You may not be surprised to learn that one of the most common google search queries leading people to this blog is as follows:

Krista Tippett Annoying

Web 2.0 The Humanity! (aka NPR Media Player Epic Fail)

I have been both listening to public radio and using the internet since long before NPR’s awkward, vaguely Luddite first encounters with the World Wide Web.  I recall vividly Linda Wirtheimer’s bemused tone as she gingerly announced that listeners could finally provide feedback via “the email”.

Gradually, and mostly to great advantage, NPR began to make online services available that acted as force multipliers for listeners.  We could email questions to Diane Rehm or Talk of the Nation instead of wasting time hanging on the phone.  We could look up broadcast schedules.  We could break annoying outmoded regional monopolies by listening to distant stations’ live feeds.  (Local stations HATE this.)

More important than all of this, we could listen to any episode from almost any show at our convenience.  This, at least to someone like me who actually owns a dusty cassette tape of an episode of Morning Edition I ordered by snail mail, was the real revolution.  By now, being human, I’m a little jaded about it, but I can still remember being a bit drunk with power at the ability to call up any story from any episode of All Things Considered going back years.

My how things have changed.  A charming mild suspicion of the more laughable and faddish aspects of Web tech (still appropriately evinced by On The Media) has, on most NPR shows and in its executive conversation pits, transmuted into a gushing fanboi obsession that is echolalic at best and gigglingly hysterical at worst.  It reminds one of certain scenes in “Reefer Madness.”  The indiscreet charms of Tweet-By-Night Web 2.0 social media, their nauseating, Octomom- like fecundity, and their ultimate shallowness, have not been kind to NPR as it attempts to mainline all of them simultaneously.

Diane Rehm’s Tweets accidentally got routed via LinkedIn through the Facebook page of Krista Tippet’s podcast and then into the comment stream of Danny Zwerdling’s blog.  Tragedy ensued when Terry Gross naively gave it a Digg, Buzzfeeding it back to WAMU’s RSS reader, ultimately causing the Minnesota Public Radio’s Streaming Server to become sentient and go Cloverfield during a recording of Prairie Home Companion.

Or at least that’s what I imagine is the reason my now thrice-damned Media Player won’t let me listen to an only slightly stale episode of Fresh Air.

I’m not actually overreacting here.  The problem is one I expressed concern about in my original positive review of the NPR Media Player (which I am now dubbing the “NPR Media Gatekeeper”): it’s a giant step backwards  and makes the internet worse.  Congratulations.

In the good old pre-Gatekeeper days you could stream or download many NPR programs, and it seemed like it would soon be true of all of them.  This is the best of all possible worlds for listeners, but for NPR itself there are some major problems with this whole “information (media) wants to be free” ethos:

1. It’s difficult to manage advertising in this kind of model. For one thing it’s not easy to keep the ads current.  If they, for example, pre-encode a commercial for Archer Daniels Midland in a downloadable podcast then it’s there forever –  even if ADM stops its sponsorship when NPR reports on something unflattering about them involving melamine.

2. It screws local stations.  Why should I listen to my local affiliate or even go to its website if I can listen to my favorite show live or at any later time from NPR’s site?

NPR appears to have adopted two stratagems to deal with this.  They don’t make shows available to listen to live, and after-the-fact they want to force you to use the Media Gatekeeper to listen to them.

The Gatekeeper, of course, has the nefarious power to insert ads live, though I really don’t resent that in principle.  What I do  resent is that when the Gatekeeper doesn’t work, which in my experience on numbers of different computers happens frequently, you find yourself unpleasantly back in the early ’90s before Susan Stamberg’s smith-coronaphilia had ever been troubled by the phrase “web site.”  It’s 2009, and while we don’t have flying cars  I absolutely refuse to lower myself to ordering a cassette tape.  What would I play it with?

This restriction to using the Gatekeeper or nothing  is what’s known in the world of corporate I.T. as “business logic.”  In other words the question becomes, as Diane Rehm so likes to say, not what NPR can offer on the internet but what it chooses to offer.  This is bad behavior by a network that is directly funded by its listeners.

So here’s my oh so unsolicted advice to NPR: find a happy medium between your former web ignorance and your current Web 2.0verload.  Spend less effort chasing every MyblogSpacebookfeeder trend that comes along and more time making your content available to all in every form they’d like to have it.

We’ll see if NPR’s new boss “gets it” and takes this in a better direction.

Missing the War

NPR has done a really wonderful job of reporting on the trees, but they just don’t get the forest.

Mandelit Del Barco has heroically chronicled the struggles of L.A. gangland. Sylvia Poggioli, just today, has bravely told us of the struggles of Italy against the Neapolitan mafia. Countless reports about the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon are delivered by myriad reporters. Tales of Columbian and Mexican drug cartels are easy to find. Then there are the reports about the lawless border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And yet, somehow, the connection is never made.

” I’m missing the war
Till beads of sunlight hit me in the morning
So much time so little to say ”

Don’t let Ben Folds’ lyrics be our cultural epitaph.

Read your William Lind.

These are all the same thing, and have been since World War I. But nobody talks about it.

The crisis of the legitimacy of the state.

Storygore

Dear reader(s) and NPR,

I do have a software company to run, so sometimes typing pointless, obsessive, and grandiose opinions about public radio into the great silence of the interwebs has to take second fiddle. Go figure. (I blame blogosphere sexism.)

But close students of Airbag Moments will have noticed that a number of the trends I’ve previously identified, named, and railed against have continued unabated on public radio throughout the summer. If anything, public radio ombudsmen seem to have spitefully incorporated my most strident peeves into their style guide rules.

Take for example the news of Estelle Getty’s death. NPR, in its brief piece on this “Golden Girls” comedienne, found the time to report about the severe dementia that made her final years a tragedy and eventually killed her.

Happily, although I may be the only reader of this blog, I found out I am not the only person to be annoyed by this bizarre compulsion to ghoulishness. They actually read a listener letter complaining about the gratuitous privacy-ignoring and dignity-destroying aspect of her obit.

But here’s the problem: They read the letter, but did nothing to address its contents. That sort of complaint absolutely requires a response either defending this grim editorial bias or promising to do better in the future. Just reading the letter on the air does nothing but beg the question, sort of like a passive aggressive non apology, a middle school mean girl forced to say something like “I’m sorry what I said about your not being pretty hurt your feelings.” Brooke? Bob? Where are you guys on this media absurdity? Do you approve of this practice? If so, you must be really looking forward to hearing all the disturbing details of the final struggles of Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan in the coming years.

Meanwhile “storycorps” today continues its almost unbroken streak of tearful deathbed diaries.

What is it, NPR?

The war and economy aren’t depressing enough for you?

Sincerely,

A.M.

Necrophiliac Public Radio

Ghouls, those vile creatures of myth who make graveyards their home and feast on the dead, can’t compare to journalists in the area of necrophilia. It’s unseemly.

Yes, it’s important to know that Ted Kennedy has a very serious illness. Perhaps, because he is a senator during a time of frequent close votes, it’s even valuable to know something of his prognosis. But the news media treats this sort of situation as an occasion to obsess and, worse, speculate about symptoms, treatments and anything else they can think of to drag out the coverage. It’s as if the moment someone with any fame becomes ill or dies the entire world has the same right and obligation to know every gruesome detail as consulting physicians or anguished members of the patient’s immediate family.

Today NPR spent many more minutes on what should be private details of Kennedy’s disease than on the situation’s actual political consequences. And, if that weren’t enough, Carl Kasel’s news update during Morning Edition about Hamilton Jordan’s death told many details about his years fighting illness to the exclusion of all other information. Was that really the right focus? The update should obviously have focused instead on what made him a public figure, not his personal medical history.

I first started noticing the extremity of this instinct on the part of the news media in general and NPR in particular with the death of a somewhat famous classical musician last year. I say “somewhat” because, while a large number of classical music fans knew of his talent, few others did. Yet every twenty minutes we received a detailed description of his lengthy battle with illness. Why is it necessary for people who have barely or never heard of this man to be privy to the saddest and grimmest details of his end?

Whatever happened to “natural causes?” Is that seen as some kind of journalistic failure? I presume so given the disappointment and humiliation I often detect in the voices of newsreaders forced to report that posthumous details aren’t available.

This practice is odder still in a country so paranoid about the privacy of individual health records. After all, one of the roadblocks to a national health ID card connected to a computerized patient record system is fear of loss of privacy. We’re so concerned about our health records that even our doctors have a hard time getting them and often have to employ paper filing systems from the 19th century. Yet the news media shouts detailed health information like a gossipy aunt to anyone who’ll listen every single time someone of fame dies or becomes ill – and the very same society acts like it’s normal, even required behavior.

This bad habit plagues public radio interview shows as much as it does magazine and news shows. Diane Rehm demonstrates a particular fascination with the diseases of her guests, the more horrifying the better. I’ve heard her force actors who are just trying to promote a movie to discuss their traumatic health problems at great length. At least she holds the same standard for herself. But is it really necessary that we be informed every time she’s on leave for her voice treatments and not a vacation? And if she must tell us, shouldn’t we have some input in designing her treatment plan? Why not?

I realize that the gruesome and gory have always been mainstays of journalism, but the more ingrained a practice is in a field of endeavor the more it’s usually overdue for scrutiny.

I challenge all NPR producers to reconsider how much medical detail is really necessary and appropriate for broadcast.

Since that clearly won’t happen, I also challenge Bob Garfield or Brooke Gladstone of On The Media to address this issue directly.

Hypocritical Mass

From meteorologists we know that storm systems are created when air masses with different qualities encounter each other. High pressure meets low, warm meets cold, dry meets moist.

In politics and business hypocrisy is created when two idea masses with different agendas collide. Generally the conflict is between what needs to be said and what needs to be done, or between what should be done and what various interests would prefer to have done instead.

Any regular public radio listener can tell that the world is enduring a perfect storm of hypocrisy, and it seems to be intensifying.

A small case in point: I don’t actually believe writers should use the worn out cliche “perfect storm”, but there it is anyway. It is what it is.

Actually, I really don’t approve of that ever more popular tautology, “it is what it is,” either.

And I hate blogs!

In light of these unfortunate facts, I feel I must apologize to my family, most importantly, and, of course, to the American people.

Let’s take a look at the map of the category 5 hypocricanes that have made landfall recently, each covered by brave public radio correspondents on the scene yelling into their microphones in an attempt to be heard over powerful, putrid winds.

The Florida & Michigan primaries

Florida is a well-known magnet for hypocricanes, but rarely do they stretch north all the way to Michigan. Obama and Clinton have each created high-minded sounding arguments why the primary fiascoes in those states should be handled one way or the other. By amazing coincidence each camp’s moral calculus has come out in such a way that they support the answer most likely to give them advantage in the delegate count. What are the odds? Wouldn’t it be refreshing if each just said “Look, I’m running for president. I’m obviously going to want the solution that serves my cause, no matter what the rules said when the states intentionally broke them.”

The Boeing/Airbus Contract

This is another massive system stretching from Washington, D.C. to Washington state, and reaching as far south as Alabama. Like the aforementioned Hypocricane, this one is accompanied by a deafening whining sound.

Autonomically allegiance-pledging Boeing union workers interviewed on Morning Edition had the nerve to mouth flag-draped inanities like “hey, we’re not going to have a French-made product protecting the United States!”

First of all, France is our ally, not our enemy, as much as Republican demagoguery would have you think otherwise. Second, you work for Boeing, you jingoistic meat-head. Think about it for one second. Who buys billions of dollars of Boeing-made military equipment? That’s right, OTHER COUNTRIES!!!! What if they, like you, sit around their union halls (somehow making double-overtime I’m sure) demanding that only planes made by domestic companies (i.e. not Boeing…see where I’m headed?) are good enough to protect their troops?

This particularly transparent example of American exceptionalism is so stupid that it will, if its principle is followed to its logical conclusion, result in the opposite of its own thinly disguised agenda.

Then of course we have the politicians. By another stunning coincidence the feelings of the various congress-people involved in this matter line up exactly with money the states they represent stand to gain or lose. Coincidences are to hypocricanes what downed tree limbs are to hurricanes.

Eliot Spitzer

A crusader against corruption and, so sadly for him, prostitution rings, is found to be an enthusiastic repeat customer of “Emperor’s Club VIP”. I guess VIP stands for Very Ironic Politicians.

Full disclosure: I, myself, once tried their much more reasonably priced service, Emperor’s Club VIB. (Very Ignored Bloggers) I don’t recommend it.

Okay, Spitzer looks bad and everyone is calling for his resignation, especially Republicans. I wonder if ostentatious non-resigners Senators David Vitter (R-Louisiana) or Larry Craig (R-Men’s Room) are among them? God, for the sake of this blog entry, I certainly hope so. And let’s hear from our self-appointed moral compass gazers on the religious right about this matter. Somebody get the reaction of the not very reverend Ted Haggard.

(Hey, Bob and Brooke, isn’t it lucky for OTM that the Spitzer thing came out on a Monday?)

In Conclusion and In Summary

As a staunch small-government conservative I propose a massive new federal program based on FEMA to help deal with damage caused by these terrible hypocricanes. Let’s call it FIMA, the Federal Irony Management Agency. I’d like to suggest we appoint someone as brilliant as Michael Brown to run it. How about Senator Tim Calhoun?

We’re going to need enough FIMA trailers for the whole nation at this point. Aren’t you excited to discover what industrial poisons their insulation is ironically made of.

Theme Music Omnibus, part 1

Ahh, the theme music of public radio. I’m not talking about actual songs with lyrics like the exhausted one that opens Prairie Home Companion, I’m talking about the music that begins each show and plays behind the front end teasers.

Through repetition they become quite ingrained.

Can you identify which theme this is?

(slowly)

Da da, da da

Da da, da da

Da da, da da

Dum dum DUM!!

If you are a true public radio-head like I am I’m sure you pegged that as the spritely and lovable opening music of All Things Considered, composed originally by Don “even NPR can’t spell my name right” Voegeli. (Apparently they have now corrected his name on that page, surely as a result of this post. You’re welcome, Mr. Voegeli, Planet Earth, and the concept of truth in general!)

That theme has become jazzier and a bit more flatulent over the years, and every time they tinker with it I initially despise the new version, then I get used to it, and finally I begin to enjoy it. I’ve realized something: it’s not that I like the music qua music, it’s that over time I simply develop a positive Pavlovian association between the music and the content of the show.

There, see, I said something nice. Read it again, it’s in there, I promise.

Morning Edition, meanwhile, has an opening tune by the prolific giant of public radio music BJ Leiderman that sails dangerously close to the shoals of elevator music, especially when the guitar takes over the melody, but again it’s saved by sentimental attachment.

My favorite Leiderman work is another slightly muzak-ish one he created for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the super-human tightness of the final section, heard at the end of each episode. Dah-dahh, dah da-da da-daaaahhhhhhh *bleeng*.

The Diane Rehm show has quite a theme, heavy on astonishingly athletic piano. It’s bombastic as all heck. The left hand does this constant “bing-bong, bing bong” as if a town crier is calling everyone to the square to announce the eminent arrival of the sovereign or the black plague. Listen for it next time you turn on the show. It finishes with a show-off complex run up the entire keyboard. I always picture the musician falling off the bench unconscious after the effort. I once heard Diane say as an aside that she’d never change the theme, and I agree.

Finally, in honor of their recent win of a coveted “baggie” award, I’d like to bring up the creepy and disturbing ditty that begins each edition of On The Media, written by “bassist/composer” Ben Alison.

But first I have a question. Why are they always so careful to say “bassist/composer Ben Allison” at the end of every episode? Which is it? Bassist or Composer? Pick a side, sir, we’re at war!

He must have instructed them to credit him just this way, which implies he’s ashamed of being a composer and just wants to play bass all the time. His parents must love that. “It’s not enough you want to try to make a living in music, son, but you want to be a bassist? Don’t tell your mother!”

Or maybe he just thinks chicks dig instrumentalists. But if he’s going to force the show to list non-composing traits and abilities in his composing credit, why stop with bassist? Why not “our theme was written by bassist/composer/dog lover/morning person Ben Allison.”

Sorry, I’ll now return to the topic at hand, the music itself. What are they trying to say? What atmosphere are they trying to create? I really want to know what they asked for from Ben and how they felt about the results.

Maybe they said “Give us something like All Things Considered, only, you know, for media. A tune that ‘All Media Considered’ would have. Or ‘All Things Media.’ See what I mean?” If they said that then it clearly didn’t work out. In fact, if that’s what they said I hope that Ben’s “bassist/composer” credit is all he got in return.

But maybe it was more like this:

“Okay, Ben, what we want…uhmm, Ben, maybe you could put down the bass for one minute while I’m talking to you…thank you…anyway, what we want, and I think I can safely say “we” – though I haven’t actually spoken to Brooke about this yet – what we want is a kind of slow, melodically disturbing horn section that makes you feel the way you do when you see someone you recognize striding purposefully toward you, but then you realize they aren’t who you thought they were, and in fact they’re kind of scary looking, and they’re coming right over to you and you suddenly realize there’s no one else around and you start to try to come up with some kind of an escape plan, and then they’re right up on you and it’s too late, and you’re feeling light-headed with panic, but then they just walk right by you, and you just stand there wondering what happened and why you got so freaked out. You know that feeling, right? What’s that? Yes, you can play bass in it.”

If they said that then it worked out perfectly, and I hope Ben was remunerated well enough to get his parents off his case and purchase whatever the Bass equivalent of a Stradivarius is.

I am now suspicious of and disoriented by the popular media, and for that I guess I’m grateful to OTM, and, more specifically, grateful to the music of bassist/composer/cavity fighter Ben Allison.

The Best Show On Public Radio Is…

Just in time for Oscar night!

Okay, my favorite NPR program is “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me“, but I feel the need to give the award to something with redeeming social value.

The best serious show is clearly NPR’s “On The Media“, hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.

Let me count the whys.

  • The piquant bouquet of truth, unexpected from an advertising industry guy (host Bob Garfield), that cuts right through the more outlandish inanities of mediated consensual reality. On second thought it makes complete sense that an ad guy would have the most sensitive “lie-dar”(c )2008 Airbag Moments(tm).
  • The pointed interviews are the most probing in American public radio. The questions are usually genuinely challenging without the strident partisan sneer indulged in by the modern BBC.
  • The wry attitudes of Brooke and Bob. It’s not so much one of liberal bias as it is a refreshing and healthy amazement/incredulity at the news of the day. Isn’t that how everyone who pays attention to current events and trends feels? Isn’t it odd when newsreaders and correspondents lack that tone?
  • It’s actually funny on purpose. Most public radio attempts at humor (“Wait, Wait” excepted of course) fall flat due to rigorously enforced harmlessness. Witness the many recent attempts to explore political humor during the writers’ strike. OTM manages to make it work more often than not, which is saying a lot for public radio.
  • Keeping the “sense” questions to a minimum. Enough said.
  • Consistency. Of course not every story is as gripping as every other, but in the main they pursue consequential topics with admirable clarity and thoroughness.
  • The cute little pause after “Edited…” and before “…by Brooke.” This weekly touch implies a warm but healthily competitive relationship between the hosts.

What’s not to like? The most tedious stories tend to involve Baby Boomer preoccupations. How long was that piece on the Beatles & the Maharishi last weekend? 20 minutes? I love the Beatles, but suddenly the show felt a bit like an overstaying dinner guest who keeps failing to notice the hosts loudly doing the dishes. How must it have seemed to people who share no interest in Beatlesiana? (I’ll explore in a future post how 20-minute segments featuring esoteric and/or ancient musicians is Kryptonite to way too many public radio programs.)

But these problems are nothing in the face of years of important stories which are often ignored by the rest of the media.

So congratulations, Brooke & Bob, you win this year’s “baggie”. You’ll be receiving your little statuette soon.