I believe in public radio. Now, before you start thinking “what a shameless way to get your essay chosen for air-time on NPR,” please bear with me. I believe in public radio, and specifically Montana Public Radio, KUFM in Missoula, for three important reasons: (1) its devotion to excellence; (2) its commitment to the community it serves; and (3) its celebration of diversity. Two events have prompted me to offer these thoughts. One, Montana Public Radio recently concluded its annual pledge week, in which it joyfully, playfully, seriously, and relentlessly raised over $450,000 in seven short days; and, two, as I was driving my husband’s car one Saturday and the radio dial had been switched (not a big opera fan as it turns out) from KUFM to a rock station, I thought, what is the likelihood that a commercial radio station would ever raise that amount of money in that amount of time to support its continuing operations. Zero to none, right?
Year after year, KUFM broadcasts its devotion to excellence over most of the western half of the state of Montana, reaching nearly half of our population. From news programs to opera to children’s shows to “The Listener’s Bookstall,” the staff and on-air hosts impeccably deliver news for our edification and radio for our pleasure. The beauty of the music, from Haydn to Horowitz to Hendrix, haunts and heals our souls. The news stories penetrate below the headlines, stretching from the most local to the farthest away, from the latest bickering at a city council meeting to the nearly daily bombings in Baghdad. And, every year, when the annual fund drive occurs, listeners respond to this excellence with an enthusiastic pledge of financial support and a heartfelt thank-you for this dedication.
KUFM is committed to serving the community. Your dog is lost? Call the station. Your choir is performing? Call the station. The school buses are running late in Arlee? Call the station. What this means to me is that KUFM serves as an umbrella under which numerous Montana committees find shelter from the rain, learn about one another, learn from one another, and maintain links to the Big World out there. And, every year, the community responds as we listeners express our gratitude for this service. We make our pledges, yes, but we also volunteer to answer phones; we offer “premiums” (a homemade pie of your choice every month; a sailboat ride on Flathead Lake complete with gourmet lunch; an edit of your manuscript) to entice others to pledge.
Finally, KUFM celebrates and honors diversity. In an age when every problem under the sun seems attributable somehow to illegal immigration, and when the box stores and the fast food joints have homogenized everything from toiletries to tacos, this public radio station applauds and appreciates diversity. Where else other than public radio will you hear stories about H. M., the man who has no short-term memory, who cannot remember what he had for lunch, yet who thinks that if studying his case will help doctors help others, then it’s all still worth it? Where else will you learn about Leon Fleisher, the virtuoso pianist who struggled for decades to regain the use of his right hand, but in the meantime mastered songs written for the left-hand only and never lost his determination to play with both hands again? Where else can you enjoy the storytelling genius of Garrison Keillor and learn from the political insight of Daniel Schorr? So, every year, the community of listeners supports this diversity. From the little town of Vaughn to the growing traffic snarl of Missoula, from Arizona to Australia, we call in to ensure that this devotion to excellence, this commitment to community, this deliberate diversity, will continue to grace our airwaves for yet another year.
I believe in public radio because it helps us examine conditions in Baghdad, Bosnia, and Darfur; Vaughn, Missoula, and Kalispell; the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation or Hellgate Elementary. I believe in public radio because it exposes us to humanity’s disciplines and explorations that inform us who we are and invite us to be more: history, literature, art, music, science, medicine, philosophy, spirituality. I believe in public radio because of all it gives us everyday, every year; and more, I believe in public radio because it gives us one more thing—the chance to give back.
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