By Mel Carriere
For Christmas my youngest son gave me a phone charger for my car. I actually asked Santa for this gift so at first I was very pleased to get it, but was a little disappointed the first day I plugged it into the cigarette lighter of my clunky 2001 Honda Civic and it produced a horrible whine on all the AM stations I listen to, a shrill high pitched buzz that is intolerable to the ears. Since my favorite radio station is KFI Los Angeles AM 640, or should I say was, this was very disappointing. Not being able to live with that torturous head-splitting hum gave me two choices; to either not charge the phone in the car or change over to FM, where the phone charger for some technical reason that is above my head doesn't cause that horrible sound.
Lately my phone battery barely lasts through a day of low activity, so because this online writing gig requires constant vigilance over my email and social media accounts I think it is pretty important to maintain a good charge. But the fact is I'm just not much of an FM radio guy. I like music quite a bit but for some reason when I'm driving in the car I like to be yakked at, I don't like to bang my head or shake my booty.
Out of desperation the charger situation made me decide to renew my relationship with NPR, National Public Radio, a program that is broadcast out of our local KPBS station. Several years ago I was an NPR buff, even contributing to their annual fund raising drive, but because the disc jockeys are a bit stuffy, monotone, and lacking in passion, shall we say, I found myself nodding off behind the wheel. In order to not drive into the Sweetwater River I switched back to AM, and thought I was pretty happy at KFI Los Angeles. KFI leans a bit to the right but at least provides a credible news report, or so I thought.
I think I thought wrong. Since switching back to NPR I've discovered that a lot has been happening in the world that has been suppressed from the radio listening public on the corporate-owned AM channels I have been listening to.
I understand that as a commercial enterprise under the corporate umbrella of I-heart radio, KFI exists to make money for I-heart's stockholders. The same is true for other corporate-owned radio stations. Since most radio listeners rolling down the road at drive time are indifferent about the news, to put it lightly, what dominates the corporate wavelengths are traffic reports, local-topic sound bites, a bit of national news compressed into very tiny, tasty, highly chewable sound bites, followed by social media and movie star buzz. A lot of social media and movie star scandal buzz. This is apparently what people like to listen to; this is apparently what sells advertising time. This is also pretty much what passes for news on corporate-owned radio.
Since renewing my love affair with NPR I have been reminded about a lot of things that I either forgot were happening in the world or quite frankly did not know about in the fog of all that movie star and social media buzz. Driving home Sunday, for instance, I listened to a report about a massive terrorist attack in Nigeria that was completely overshadowed by the Charlie Hebdo affair in France. Just now, on my way from work to Starbucks I heard an engaging lengthy discussion about child soldiers in Uganda. The corporations long ago became bored with the war in Ukraine, and because I haven't heard anything about it for so long I just assumed it was over. Since I plugged in my buzzy charger, however, I have also found out from NPR that this conflict is a long way from over. In listening to NPR one learns that a lot of things are surprisingly not over.
I wonder why NPR is so roundly criticized by mostly right-wing corporate radio as being a liberal propaganda machine? Just because the announcers all sound like garment-rending Utopian socialists doesn't mean that NPR actually has a left-wing agenda, at least none that I have been able to detect, unless simply reporting the truth in depth is a left-wing agenda. It could also just be that Rush and his pals don't like the competition and want to destroy public radio by discrediting its impartiality.
Corporate news radio doesn't like depth. It doesn't like detail. It wants to make us believe that we are being given the news while mostly reminding its listeners that what's her name, that Kardashian lady, is more important than 43 student protesters murdered by the government in Mexico. Giving us too much detail and depth would be a bummer. The true agenda of Corporate America is to keep our lives simple, superficial, and untroubled by detail; to remind us that we are ultimately consumers that have to follow trends and fads that the boardrooms on Wall Street have decided are good and safe for us.
As it turns out, it looks like I've been living in a protective cocoon for the last few years. I guess plugging my phone charger into my clunky Honda electrical system sort of unplugged me from the Matrix. Sometimes bad technology can be good. In a way, I've sort of plugged my brain into that little cigarette lighter too.
NPR logo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPR
I-heart logo from: "IHeartRadio logo" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IHeartRadio_logo.png#mediaviewer/File:IHeartRadio_logo.png