Thursday, May 5, 2011

NPR at 40 - no longer hip (revised)

For those of us growing up in the 60s & 70s, conventional wisdom was that anyone over 40 was terminally un-hip and definitely not cool.  Well as we, and our heroes, aged, we had to revise the view somewhat.  Over 40 is probably still not hip, but now we see it as something even better; we're cool and wise, rather than just cool.  Or something like that.
Well the point of this is to recognize NPR's 40th birthday, and recognize its contribution towards expanding the programming options available on the radio dial.  Personally, I don't think NPR "revived" or "saved" radio as NPR's Scott Simon suggests in an Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune, nor has it effectively "harnessed radio's special immediacy, mobility, and personality to tell stories from around the world."  It's provided an outlet for people who think that way, that they and their programming is "special" in the best sense of the word, if only because it's not "commercial.".  But what has NPR accomplished in its 40 years?
NPR has helped to start and fund a large number of noncommercial "public" radio stations across the US, and provided an outlet for a certain type of "alternative" programming.  It's given a large share of the American public access to an alternative. For that, at least, NPR needs to be recognized for a job well done.
But it's also enforced a certain world view as to programming and station operations that's at least as narrow and restrictive as what they see as the evil of commercial radio.  NPR has evolved into a network of programming and stations that in many ways has homogenized what used to be a free-for-all world of experimentation.  NPR's rise and dominance has made it more difficult for the truly alternative and innovative to find a home in broadcast radio.  Thankfully, those folks now have a new home on the Internet.

Source: "Here's why NPR really matters," Chicago Tribune

Revised - I had to fix a number of typos I missed, and corrected title.  BJB

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