This I Believe: I Believe In Public Radio

Apr 2, 2009

Essayist Virginia Squier with her old school boombox.

For many people, April 15 is TAX DAY! April 15 for me, however, has a different significance…

In 1982, I moved to a small mountain town in Colorado. I thought I’d found the perfect place to live. But there was one thing missing. No public radio. I used to spin the FM dial searching for the voice of the community.  All I would hear was canned music or talk programs packaged somewhere far away and made local only by the commercials injected.

You have to understand, I grew up on radio. It has always been important in my life. As a child growing up in Milwaukee, I remember lying on the floor and listening to the hoof beats of Silver as he carried the Lone Ranger across the Texas prairie.

In High School I would wait up every Saturday night for “The Dark Side of Midnight,” a local jazz and commentary show.

In College, WORT and WHAD in Madison became my connection to the community. Michael Feldman was local then; and he aired live from a small greasy spoon named Dolly’s. Bob Edwards and Susan Stamberg served me national news, and locally Ken Ost read a chapter a day from a variety of books. I actually scheduled my course work Junior year around his program so I would not miss one chapter of Les Miserables.

So when I found my “perfect mountain community” didn’t have any public radio, I was dismayed.

Then on April 15, 1984 Carbondale’s Community Access Radio went on the air. The programming was as eclectic as the small community it represented: once a week Libby Lewis would give gardening tips for coaxing blooms in the high mountain air. Later Mary Ferguson spun oral histories of that small former cow town. Serena Matchell, age 8, would recall what school had been like that week.

The community was exercising its voice. Live remotes were broadcast from City Council meetings, the High School football field and Glenwood’s hot springs pool on New Years Eve. KDNK fostered open lines of communication. It was a place where the community could discuss ideas and present dissenting views...a place where ALL community groups could express themselves.

When NPR began the This I Believe program again, I wondered: what shapes my decisions and actions on a daily basis?

Finally it hit me. I know I’m going to sound like the poster child for fundraising week. But the answer was clear: What shapes my thoughts, my actions, and my conversations on a daily basis is public radio. I believe in discourse, dialogue, and in the open exchange of ideas. I believe in public media. I believe it makes for more informed citizens and therefore stronger communities. But, I not only believe in public radio, I support it.