I don’t like to think of myself as someone who is easily manipulated by marketing. Advertisements normally don’t even register with me. But one day about two years ago, a few well chosen words would make me part with just over $21 every month for the last two years. It came in the form of a guilt trip and it went something like this. “If you feel that National Public Radio is a part of your life then don’t you think that you are a terrible bastard if you don’t give us some money?”
I’m paraphrasing of course, but one of those famous pleas from public radio station WNYC in New York City really hit home for me. This is because, the more I thought about it, public radio was a part of my life. Nothing was more soothing than waking up in a Sunday haze and turning on the radio to hear soothing voices provide the news about the media. I lived in a four room railroad apartment at the time and positioned a radio at either end of the dwelling so that I could wander freely around, puttering while listening to the deeply nerdy and hilarious game show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!” During the times when I left my day job in favor of a life tending bar, trying to scrape together a career in fine arts and loafing, WNYC would keep me company as Brian Lehrer kept me up on the news in New York, the City I loved so deeply. Saterius Johnson woke me up every morning. How many people can say someone named Saterius wakes them up? Nine million.
But that wasn’t enough to make me call the station and hand over my credit card number. I was sure that plenty of other people, richer than I were reaching for their wallets and pocketbooks to support public radio. Hmmm…public radio. I began to think of my introduction to jazz.
I did a little radio myself back in college. The show I’m most proud of was my stint on a show called the Jazz Oasis. I learned to love jazz when I was in high school. There was a DJ named Eric in the Evening on WGBH in Boston who provided a solid base of knowledge. I was searching through the lower part of the radio dial for a college radio station because I was an angsty teenage product of the nineties. Then from out of the static and Spanish language stations I heard a heavenly voice singing. “Who is this guy?” I asked the radio, transfixed by that voice. “That was Nina Simone,” answered Eric in the Evening.
After that, every night I would sit in my dimly lit kitchen, drinking hot cocoa and thinking profound thoughts about my angst, my future as a film maker and my haircut. All the while I would listen to Eric in the Evening give me an education on Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Nat Adderly, and living legends like Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis. I would go on to ask Eric in the Evening for an internship while I was in college. He politely declined several times. But I was persistent. And he continued to decline. But, even though I never got to work for Eric in the Evening, he provided me with an education that I am grateful for to this day.
I reached for my wallet and thought, “Well, I guess I can spare a few bucks to honor Eric Jackson and the years of jazz tutelage and angst reduction he gave me.” But, I still wasn’t ready. It’s tough to get me to spend money on something that I can’t eat or drink. I didn’t even own a couch because I figured “Why spend money on a couch when I have a perfectly nice, free chair to sit on.”
Then I sat in my free chair and began the reminisce more about public radio. I remembered when I really fell in love with the radio. It was at a time when I was commuting an hour to Boston everyday in my swanky ’89 Cutlass Calais. At this time I had a girlfriend in Vermont whose hippie house I would drive to on Saturdays after work. It was before Christmas and I was on my way for a visit to the Green Mountain State. I forgot to bring cassette tapes with me for the trip and I started looking for something on the radio. Once I was out of range of the Boston rock stations and I desperately searched for some entertainment. For some reason I stopped when I heard a slightly nasal, but ultimately soothing voice telling a story. It was the story of a man working at a department store as an elf during Christmas and it was hilarious. I don’t know what made me stop to listen to a guy talking on the radio, but it changed my life; slightly, but still changed. I don’t know if I ever had a better time driving than that night, released from my own department store job, looking forward to Christmas, driving to see my girlfriend who I was crazy about and being introduced to David Sedaris on the radio.
The love affair with the radio intensified during that period. I listened to the news every morning on my way to work. I listened to commentary on the news on the way back to work. And then on the weekends! Driving for two and a half hours to White River junction, marking time with public radio. When I hit Route 93, A Prairie Home Companion would start and somehow Garrison Keillor’s voice would keep me awake all the way to Route 91 in Vermont. The reception would start to go at that point, but I could find Mr. Keillor’s folksy banter again if I turned the dial just a little to the left when I passed the Saw Mill Road exit. Soon, as I approached the power plant on the right side of the road, a hippie woman took Garrison Keillor’s place, and kept me informed of all things New Age. I wasn’t so much into anything New Age, but would pull my window open (it didn’t roll down) to smoke a cigarette, knowing that soon I would be amongst friends and more importantly, girlfriend. I don’t have that car, or that girlfriend anymore. The girlfriend is married to a great guy and the car is probably siding on someone’s house or perhaps a soda can. I do still listen to David Sedaris on public radio though. I’m not saying that David Sedaris is always there for me, but public radio is.
So I reached into my wallet and called WNYC. I made my recurring pledge of $21 a month. They sent me a CD of radio programming that I could have listened to on the internet anyways. But, even today, I have not cancelled my recurring pledge. In all fairness, I should be contributing to my local NPR station, but I still contribute to WNYC; maybe in hopes that WNYC will be my station again one day. In the mean time, I have traded Saterius Johnson for Bill Buckmaster, who has an equally cool name but provides me with slightly less exciting local news here in the desert of Arizona.