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The many wonders of NPR

Out There
Stina Sieg
ssieg@postindependent.com

How many hipsters does it take to change a light bulb?

What, you mean you don’t know?

I love that joke. I heard it months ago on National Public Radio’s “Weekend America,” and it’s absolute proof that today’s NPR is a much cooler beast than the public radio I grew up with.

I thought by today I’d be itching to write about the election, about justice and injustice, hope and fear, but now I’d rather stick to a less controversial topic. NPR shouldn’t get anyone’s blood boiling.

Unless they have a deep animosity toward Terry Gross or Cokie Roberts, that is.

As a kid, NPR was a constant presence in my life. It crackled in our kitchen and faded in and out in our car. I remember it mostly as a sea of classical music and news shows, with a few bright spots like Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” and those “Car Talk” guys. I was comforted by public radio’s predictability, but it never felt fresh. To me, it seemed like a thing for 50-somethings with excessive vocabularies. When both Gross and Keillor both came to my college to talk, my opinions were only bolstered.

My friend and I were the only ones under 30 in the audience.

By the time I graduated, however, things started to change. Actually, they’d probably been shifting for a while, but I hadn’t taken the time to notice. When I was finally on my own in Portland, Ore. I finally had time to do things like listen to radio non-stop for two hours while knitting a sweater. What I heard kind of shocked me.

NPR was cutting edge, all of a sudden.

While I’d been exposed to a few of the “cool” shows before then, it finally hit me how important they really were. I became a maniac for “This American Life,” that one-hour look into the world of average folks, narrated by the unabashedly fey Ira Glass. I fell in love with “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me,” a news quiz show featuring the likes of Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca. I actually called and called the 800 number and tried to become a contestant, but to no avail. I even got into “The Splendid Table,” a cooking show that talked about the trials and tribulations of working with chanterelle mushrooms and such.

I think that during that time in my life, I wanted to run away from things. I wanted to go on some kind of adventure. NPR took me.

Now, I get most of my public radio fix through podcasts. I know the shows I love, and I can download them and listen to them whenever I want. Still, there’s this lovely excitement that comes about whenever I’m in the kitchen cooking or in some rented car driving, and a great piece of radio comes over the airwaves. When radio is good, it’s fascinating and so personal. In a way, I feel like whoever is speaking is talking right to me. That intimacy is awesome.

I don’t care what anyone says ” you just can’t get that from TV.


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