C.J. and I really hate NPR (National Public Radio), but it remains the station our alarm clock is set to. C.J. says we have our radio set to NPR because when the alarm goes off in the morning, NPR will get us out of bed the fastest.
We hate it so much that we’ll leap out of bed to turn the radio off and then start getting ready for work.
This is a good idea in theory.
But there are days, most days really, when we end up lying in bed listening to NPR. C.J. still loves Nina Totenberg’s coverage of the Supreme Court and there is still the occasional story that actually proves both interesting and pertinent. But NPR is just not what it used to be.
It used to be smart. Listening to it used to make me feel smart. I fully acknowledge how elitist this feeling was, but it felt good. We used to have it on all the time, so much so that our parrot took to screaming “NPR!” whenever she was upset at being put back in her cage. We now scream “NPR!” but for different reasons.
A few years ago NPR switched up how they do things, fired Bob Edwards from their morning show, and really started dumbing things down, way down.
Now, instead of reporting a story like intelligent journalists writing for an intelligent audience, the way they still do at BBC4, NPR sets things up like a little dialogue. There’s a host in the studio who talks to a reporter who’s covering the story. The host asks a series of incredibly dumb questions like, “Nigeria, that’s in western Africa, isn’t it?” The intent, I guess, is to fool the audience into thinking that the two are having an off-the-cuff conversation about the subject, but the effect is more like listening to a mediocre script reading in a Freshman playwriting class, the kind where the students are still writing dialogue to explain away holes in the plot.
And their assumption is that the listening audience is stupid. Though judging from the call-in shows that follow Morning Addition, this assumption may be correct.
So my commute listening has switched to BBC podcasts for the most part. When I run out of podcasts, I do sometimes go back to NPR in the hope that Silvia Paggioli will do a story from Dakar, but I haven’t heard much from her lately. (Just in case Steve Inskeep reads this, Dakar is in Senegal which is in West Africa.)
Our local station runs these annoying perspective pieces throughout the day. These used to be the time broadcasters were required to give to anyone who wanted to present an alternative point of view. Should the station endorse candidate A, you could get a minute or two of airtime to speak about candidate B, C, or D. We don’t have actual political discourse on our local public radio station anymore. What we have is Steve Inskeep asking another reporter dumb questions like, “Are the Republicans in congress objecting to the president’s new immigration policy?” “Why yes, Steve, they are. Don’t you listen to the radio or are you really as stupid as you pretend to be day after day?”
Instead my local public radio station has these little perspective pieces featuring someone from an upscale town like Mill Valley, talking about the challenges of balancing a career in non-profit visual performing arts with the demands of a new baby. How the people of Mill Valley suffer.
The best thing about the perspective pieces is that they almost always get me out of bed in the morning. Listen to someone drone on about why their puppy needs a special organic lunch or get ready for work. I guess I’ll get ready for work.
But this week, on the way to work, there was a rare good perspective piece. A woman who moved to California a few years ago talked about how she and her husband decided to spend the night in every county in the state as away to really get to know their new home. Sounds fun, I thought.
I’ve no ambition to spend the night in every state in America, which is a thing many people do, especially after retirement. Nor do I really have the money to pay for it. And the thought of all the plane rides it would take fills me with inertia. But we could drive to every county in California.
So during lunch, I printed off a map of California counties and began shading in the ones C.J. and I have already spent the night in. I came up with 15. When I got home and told C.J. about the story, he told me that he had heard it too and had already made a spread sheet listing counties we had stayed in and whether or not we stayed in a hotel or a private home. He remembered three that I had forgotten, so we’ve already spent the night in 18 counties.
That leaves 40 for us to visit. California has 58 counties, most of them in the northern half of the state because they were drawn up prior to 1893 when most people in the state lived where the mines were. We have the biggest county in America, San Bernardino which is larger than both the state of Maryland and the nation of Israel. We also have more counties named for saints than any other state in the union. Thank you Wikipedia; you rule.
There were four counties on the map that I had never heard of, including San Benito which is just east of Monterey County. C.J. and I have decided to pay San Benito a visit during mid-winter break.
With a population just over 55,000, San Benito features two major attractions, Mission San Juan Bautista and Pinnacles National Park. The county claims to have many terrific undiscovered wineries, but every county in Northern California says the same thing at this point. We can load up the iPod with podcasts and take Sigorney, our new car, for a drive down, see the mission, stay overnight, visit Pinnacles, then drive home, leaving only 39 more counties to go.
When were done with all 58, maybe we’ll do a little perspective piece for our local NPR station. Perhaps Steve Inskeep will want to interview us on Morning Edition.