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We’re in between pledge seasons at NPR right now, but I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment while I sing the praises of one of our national treasures: National Public Radio.

I am a young man, so you’ll forgive me for counting NPR among my most recently acquired tastes. As a boy, I caught snatches of NPR’s programming while I was in the car with my parents, or would sometimes hear it playing quietly from an old stereo in a corner of a doctor’s waiting room.

Despite these brief glimpses into a larger world, it took me a number of years to gain a true understanding of just what it is that NPR stands for. And I’m not talking about the acronym.

One Simple Change

Several months ago I set the radio in my car to WITF, my local NPR member station. Since then, I haven’t looked back. It’s now the only thing I listen to while I’m in the car, with the exception of longer trips. I catch Morning Edition every day on my way to work, and I drive home with Terry Gross and Fresh Air.

Making this simple change has improved my life in some remarkable ways, not the least of which is the effort I save myself by leaving the iPod and its messy cables at home where they belong. In fact, I don’t bother listening to music in the car at all these days, unless I’m in for a long car ride.

More to the point, I’m simply a better informed citizen than I’ve ever been. And it’s not just about keeping up-to-date with political and social issues—it’s also about pure, simple learning. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t learn something that makes me say something like “Why have I never asked that question?” or “I can’t believe I didn’t know that.”

Because it is, at its heart, a non-profit organization, NPR is by definition one of the purest sources of information we could hope to have at our disposal. Unlike 99% of what you hear on the radio or see on the Internet, NPR programming does not exist exclusively to make money. As a news, entertainment, and information platform, it exists simply to, well, inform. I’d have a hard time saying that about the other vacuous morning shows you might hear during your commute.

If Liberalism Is Wrong…

So what about NPR’s apparently famous “liberal bias”? Certain people close to me seem determined never to listen to NPR, and have even gone so far as to claim they “hate” what it stands for.

To begin with, let’s look at the word liberal for a moment. We’ve turned it into the antithesis of conservatism, and so, by that definition, NPR is definitely, substantially, liberal in nature. If conservatism is performing the same action over and over again hoping for different results (How about those 60 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act? Or the many failed attempts to curb income inequality with trickle-down economics?) then I want nothing to do with all that.

If we use these well-established definitions, there’s little doubt that NPR subscribes to liberal ideology—if you want to call it that, rather than simple common sense. But the fact that they can discuss and even champion liberal politics and policy without verbally abusing their dissenters is something you may well have given up hope of seeing in your lifetime. NPR isn’t about partisan bickering—it’s about how to move the country (and ourselves, on an individual basis) forward.

How to Support NPR

How often do you buy coffee at a coffee shop? Do you think you could do with one less coffee every month? That’s what I did when I became a Sustaining Circle member for my local NPR station in Harrisburg. The minimum is just $5 every month. And you get a cool coffee mug, besides. You can check here to find local NPR stations to support—or, if you’re already affiliated with FirstGiving, you can also use their platform to make a contribution.

Not everyone reading this right now has disposable income to pledge to charitable causes. But if you want to voice your support for high quality, informational, and educational programming, I can’t think of a more worthy way to spend a few bucks each month.

Oh, and if some of you are still hung up on Mitt Romney’s tirade against public funding for NPR and PBS, I’ll remind you of the facts: just .012% of the federal budget goes to public radio and television. If that’s not a price worth paying for continued journalistic excellence and programming that actually educates the public, then I don’t know what is.

Dan Wilhelm
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Copyright 2015 The Moderate Voice
  • DdW

    Thank you for that great piece, Daniel.

    I used to be a masochist — i.e. I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh. Then one fine day, I found NPR and, as you say, I haven’t looked back.

    I don’t slam the dashboard or the table anymore and I don’t kick the dog or the wife (kidding, kidding) anymore, but more important, I have probably added five more years to my life.

    And thank you for the reminder to get that cool coffee mug.

  • The three most commonly pushed radio buttons in my car are two different NPR stations from different nearby cities and the NPR XM station.

    I also listen to them a lot on my phone (often streamed to a blue tooth speaker). Besides the NPR stations, if you listen on a phone or tablet check out the NPR One app. It is like Stitcher (for those familiar with it) but all NPR. It takes NPR stories from a variety of shows and streams one after another. Of course you can skip any story in case you don’t like it or already heard it.

  • archangel

    Thanks Daniel. There are some great shows on NPR and affiliated COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS which are not NPR, but carry some of their shows, but also carry Native American News, Latino Hour, Asian World and other far more diverse programs. Community radio stations are more and more pressed by NPR to pay higher and higher prices per year for say, ‘all things considered’ and others. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for community radio, say on the Navajo Reservation, or the small towns across America that bring the national and local programming to their avid listeners. PRI and BBC are other contenders for community radio dollars. Some of NPR interviewers are puff-pastry in terms of penetrating questions, but that’s a local NPR affiliates’ stations’ issue too. Too many milquetoast laughing and enjoying themselves old guard, not enough tough young interviewers.

    Radio Lab is cool, but NPR’s major show with Ira Glass left because the squeeze apparently is on to lowball talent at NPR, so some of the most spectacular talent has gone indie and will definitely make it for their shows are high qual. Ted talks are occasional, which is ok, they are edited which is too bad. Coverage of world news in depth is nearly entirely missing. Lots of book reveiws by people reading off a script. Very few diverse voices.

    And, I’d agree with Dorian and Ron, npr is better than alot of the scut that is on radio. Growing up in the so-called golden age of radio, I dont know how we went downhill from original programming with great talents and personalities, to ‘screech radio’ with mocking faux ‘psychologists’, nonstop radiovangelism condemning everyone to whatever, and music that does not teach, and the equivs of Father Coghklin [sp] and Tokyo Rose screaming prop non-stop.

    But, I wonder how they are going to capture the young who are not much interested in the same things as those far older.