Archive for the 'Public Radio' Category

New York, New York, New Year (2010)

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I know. I KNOW. And I’m sorry.

It’s been a number of weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Perhaps the longest time I’ve been away since I started this blog. The truth is I’ve taken on a project or two that’s been taking up more of my free time over the couple months and I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to the Radio Kitchen as much as I would like. And I really am sorry.

I’m not giving up this blog. At least not yet. But I’m not a good blogger in the traditional sense. I’m not so good at firing off quick and succinct entries, and my posts generally take some time. And there’s usually audio involved and research and rumination and it’s rarely a quick process for me. However, if there was actually some money in it, you can be sure I’d be packin’ this thing with content almost every week.

But I was inspired the other night. New Year’s Eve. And I didn’t have a gig. I didn’t have a party to go to either, and the girls here at the house were fast asleep. So instead of ducking into some local dive bar for some holiday misbehavior, I stayed home– like Jack Horner. In the corner. Just me and my radio. (And a recorder.)

And the result is this bandscan– an hour and twenty-minute crawl up the AM band recorded in my Brooklyn apartment as the year 2010 was sweeping over America. Right before midnight, I turned on my G5 and started crawling down from the top of the AM dial. A powerful Radio Disney outlet at 1560kHz is very close to my house, and that nearby fifty-thousand watt signal wrecks havoc at this end of the dial. So I opted to start this bandscan where their signal pollution yields to clarity– with a holiday greeting from the lovely and talented Alan Colmes on progressive talker WWRL.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 1
(download)

And then, Radio Disney itself. Their transmitter (broadcasting at 1560kHz) is so close to me that I’ve heard their signal in on every possible band at some point, as well is in my home stereo and even on a pay phone down the street. On some of my radios, every frequency from 1530 to 1600kHz suffers from some form of Radio Disney intrusion.

Next up 1520, WWKB in Buffalo blasting in strong with a sleazy “get out of debt” commercial. Then a little “Auld Lang Syne” and a promo from “Federal News Radio” (WTOP 1500kHz in Washington D.C.). However, the magical odometer click itself is served Cantonese style at 1480kHz, WZRC. It’s quite exciting. Probably more so if you happen to be Chinese.

While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that this was probably a simulcast of the New Years festivities on the American Chinese-language TV network– SINO Television. While simulcasting obviously saves a lot of money, if you’re a serious radio listener you can usually tell the difference. There’s a lack of microphone intimacy, and the assumptions of visual cues make audio-only TV less interesting than real radio.

And then there’s a couple more ethnic notches on the NY AM dial– some pumping macho reverb from WNSW at 1430kHz and some kooky jubilance care of WKDM at 1380kHz. Whooooh!

And so ends all the “live” sounds of celebration captured in this bandscan.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 2
(download)

“Thank you for inviting me into your prison cells.”

At first, I thought there was going to be a punch line. Or that there was something metaphoric going on I might have missed. But no, it was all real, just like prison. It’s some regularly scheduled religious inspiration for the incarcerated (with your host– a real "retired correction captain”). Although I typically I hear religious stuff at 1330kHz (WWRV) all the time, it’s usually a Spanish language scenario.

We pass by 1300kHz for a quick ID. I think it’s the ESPN Radio station in New Haven. And how about this Spanish language drama at 1280kHz? Wow. Give that guy a hankie. Man. Then a brief interlude with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on WMTR, at 1250kHz in Morristown, New Jersey.

From 1250 we slide down to 1210– the Big Talker WPHT in Philadelphia, where they were replaying a Michael Smerconish program. He’s an odd bird, and the only right wing talk show host to support Obama in the last election. At least that’s what I’ve read on the internets. I don’t watch much of the talking head pundit shows on TV, but I gather he makes his appearances on a few of them too. And he has a shiny head.

Then on to some urban contemporary gospel from WLIB at 1190kHz. When Air America left the station to settle over at WWRL at 1600 they gave up a great signal for a pretty crappy one. That’s followed by some messy and overlapping signals. And then this clown…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 3
(download)

As if there wasn’t already enough meanspirited blather emanating from this Clear Channel owned Fox News affiliate (WWVA at 1170 kHz in West Virginia), they also see fit to let this hateful son of a bitch run at the mouth on a transmitter that might reach a third of the U.S.

It seems that all the major religions (especially the powerful monotheistic ones that dominate our world) have a dark beating heart of intolerance and malevolence somewhere at their core that leads some twisted "believers" to spew forth the kind of filth that tumbles out of the mouth of this old geezer, rambling incoherently about “judgment” and “vengeance” and “punishments.”

The particular brand of stupidity at play here is uniquely American and Protestant flavored, which seems to the most popular type of religious mental illness you hear on the radio. If you’re interested in getting some good hate on for Obama (and all the Catholics and Muslims and almost everybody else), then you’ll probably find something to celebrate in this fulmination. Happy new year!

I let that guy carry on way too long before shuffling down dial to Bloomberg’s “business” station at 1130kHz. It’s a panel of experts on the human brain. Wow. The trouble is (again) that we’re obviously hearing some TV simulcast. And we’re supposed to be looking at some incredible computer generated images of the computing machinery of the brain. You see anything?

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 4
(download)

Then, the bewitching baritone of Art Bell from WTAM, 1100kHz in Cleveland. Since he’s retired (four times!) you don’t hear him host his old “Coast to Coast” show much these days. But he does often show up a few times a year– especially for his annual “Ghost to Ghost” program (with call-in ghost stories) around Halloween and then for his annual prediction (for the next year) show. And being a bit of a legend these days and rarely on the air, you can hear some real affection and fan awe from the callers who are able to get through to talk to Bell.

I used to be entertained by Bell’s late night sideshow many years ago. His love of everything radio has always been kind of inspiring to me. But I gotta say, he does sound uncharacteristically low-key in the samples in this bandscan. I guess he’s been though plenty of changes over this last decade. But you do hear a lot of people calling in predictions that are pretty dire and cataclysmic. And that, is typical.

Then we slide down into the lap of snarling neocon Laura Ingraham, care of WBAL (at 1090 AM in Baltimore). Then it’s 1050kHz here in the city, a frequency with a colorful history that’s been the home for a number of call letters over the years. These days it’s just WEPN– another syndicated ESPN yawner on the AM dial. Sad. And then 1010 WINS, one of the oldest all-news stations in the country (and they continue the teletype sound effects in the background to drive the point home). And here you get one of the joys of MW DXing for some, the local traffic and weather forecast. The crowds are dissipating in Times Square. And in the sky, a wintry mix. Meanwhile there’s been a few fire fatalities over the holidays. And through some unexplained turn of events New York City “apparently” has found some extra money laying around. A surplus.

And in a broader sense, I suppose that’s one of the things that make New York so appealing. Somehow, somewhere, there’s some extra money laying round. In a place like Detroit, not so much.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 5
(download)

Mike Gallagher (AKAThe Smellster”) is one of the least evolved human beings I’ve come across in the national media. A man who does not seem to actually think, but just react to things (in a predictable and ham-handed partisan manner). And when he’s not scripted well, his program can really go off the rails. Yet he kind of sounds like Rush (which may account for his radio career), and his show is powered by the same kind of boomy and barely educated bluster Rush practically invented. Also like Limbaugh, Gallagher seems to get his greatest insights and inspiration from watching professional football on television. I suppose it’s almost like going to college. The fact that this guy’s show has risen into the low end of the talk radio top ten (at #8!) says a lot about the audience for this format today.

And while I’m all in favor of heartfelt apologies, this tear-soaked confessional from some a highly-paid prima-donna athlete is just so much difficult listening. However, to Gallagher all these sniffy regrets amount to a “life changing moment.” Usually all I get from the Smellster are “station changing moments.”

Then I move up to a man speaking in a language I don’t understand on another local “ethnic” (and brokered) radio station– WPAT at 930kHz. And then at 900kHz it’s the “old time radio” programming I’ve been hearing late at night on CHML for years (They’re in Hamilton, Ontario). It sounds like we missed the setup for the joke here.

Then into the nasty IBOC sound (in-band-on-channel) sound that surrounds WCBS at 880kHz. It’s an envelope of nasty digital noise that bookends the analog signal of AM stations carrying “HD” programming. And it’s also why you don’t hear WLS in Chigago at 890kHz anywhere near the city. And not a chance of getting WWL at 870kHz in New Orleans (which reaches well into Canada for some). 1010 WINS and WOR do the same thing. DXers hate it. And in many major cities you hear it across the dial.

On WCBS you hear about the eminent retirement of Robert Morgenthau. At 90 years old, Morgenthau had been the District Attorney of Manhattan since 1975. Amazing.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 6
(download)

I really don’t know a lot about the CJBC, except that it’s a CBC powerhouse that broadcasts in French at 860kHz. And it’s the only significant CBC station broadcasting to the U.S. It wasn’t always that way. Years ago, their English service reached a large swath of North America from 740kHz. But there was a move to consolidate all thier broadcasting to FM, and the far reaching AM frequency was abandoned by the CBC. CHWO (better known as "AM740") is a unique musical presence on the AM dial in these parts, but the loss of a major CBC on the AM band is still a damn shame. That said, I think I’ve been hearing interesting music late at night at 860 AM since I was a kid. And the music varies so much that I couldn’t even qualify what kind of music I’ve heard the most on that station. I don’t know what kind of pop music is at play in this sample. It’s old. A show tune?

Art Bell again. From WHAS Louisville this time (at 840kHz). Another kooky caller. I wonder if Bell ever succeeded in giving up the smokes. His voice has that same nicotine gravitas as Larry King (and a bunch of guys who ain’t around any more). At 820kHz we find the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I’m not a fan, although he occasionally has good guests. It’s local. It’s NPR. Then the inevitable Art Bell once again, on 810kHz, WGY upstate in Schenectady.

CKLW (800kHz in Windsor) is a funny kind of talk station that you don’t hear really hear in the states. Or certainly not on a big transmitter like this. I’ve never heard a "political" show on CKLW (but lots of centigrade weather!) And listen to the promo for the nightly astrology show. “Life might feel like a struggle…” Lots of self-help and health shows in general on this station. In America, AM talk radio is about personalities agitating listeners with propaganda all day long. And while there is certainly political talk on Canadian radio, they seem to still be able to have radio stations and call-in shows that aren’t agenda driven or enslaved by the news cycle.

That said, I really can’t listen to “call the doctor” talk radio for very long. All those symptoms make my stomach hurt.

Nothing really comes in until I hit WABC here in the city at 770kHz. John Bachelor, who recently moved into a nightly slot on WABC since crazy blabbermouth Curtis Sliwa took his little red beret down to WABC’s relatively new competitor, 970 “The Apple,” where he’s their new morning-drive entertainer.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 7
(download)

Now we’re at 760kHz. Detroit. (No IBOC from WABC, so the signal is still audible here.) There’s still a little crosstalk from WABC next door. It’s an ad for a drug rehab joint in the Detroit suburbs. The announcer says they can help “teens, college students, business people, CEOs, lawyers and health professionals” with their addictions.

I guess if you want to get a handle on the marketing of drug treatment services you could probably learn a little by decoding this list of less than socioeconomically diverse list of prospective "clients. Seems like they left the majority of common folk off this at list. Every style of addict mentioned here probably can afford their services, and some might have a willing (or desperate) parent who can come up with the dough.

Then it’s the ABC News. The world’s biggest pseudo-event of the season totally obscured any other feasible healdine that night. news focus for a few hours. Their reporter spends so much time “poetically” describing the panorama of litter and debris in the street in Times Square that it’s just a little weird. And sad for a major news outlet to lend so much weight and instant nostalgia to a run-of-the-mill clean-up scene at the end of a big party.

Then there’s three more quick headlines in ABC’s top of the hour news. And they’re all sports related. The last one is regarding the contract stalemate between Times-Warner and Fox, which was resolved a few days later. And the ABC take on this little media turf war was that if the se companies wouldn’t come to a peaceful resolution agreement don’t come to some agreement that a number of “Fox” football games might not air on Times-Warner cable the next weekend. Right before WJR cuts to local weather the football story is capped off with a sound bite from some media analyst. Although it wasn’t the intention, I think his words may capture some of the spirit and passion of our great nation as we enter 2010:

“There is no hue and cry louder and angrier than if you deprive the American viewer of football.”

I’ll bet that’s true. And ABC only has two minutes to encapsulate current affairs at the top of the hour, and this is what you get. No international issues. No war updates. And certainly no investigative reporting. There is no breaking news. Perhaps because the news is already broken. Tiger Woods? Still in trouble as far as I know.

At 750kHz you can hear WSB in Atlanta. But it’s not pleasant. Some nights this station comes in pretty clearly up here. But then again, often I come across a Neil Boortz rebroadcast on this station. This noise is more pleasant.

AM740 is a big bunch of noise as well, which is unusual. In 2008 this station changed hands, and changed call letters. No longer CHWO, it’s now CFZM. I don’t hear much beyond the overnight programming, and at that timeit’s still a MOR/nostalgia mix, only with more classic rock. But it’s still the only full-time music format blasting out a full (“clear channel”) fifty-thousand watt signal in this part of North America (WSB at 650 in Nashville is the only other one you’re likely to hear in this area). AM740 has actually been coming better than I’ve ever heard it this month. Like a local. But on New Year’s Eve the reception wasn’t so hot…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 8
(download)        

Let’s listen to the radio horrors of wading through that IBOC racket once again as I approach the “analog” version of New York’s WOR at 710. (Which denies us the chance to hear both CKAC in Montreal at 730kHz and WGN at 720 in Chicago.)

The local news is still underway on WOR with Pat Wallace. The news is a little more substantial than the trivial world synopsis offered by ABC. The Joey Reynolds show reconvenes after the news. As an intro (instead of playing one of his many “theme songs”) Joey plays some old comedy bit he recorded during his top-40 heyday in the 1960′s. Let’s just say some types of humor have a longer shelf life than others.

As I’ve written before, the Joey Reynolds show is kind of an anarchic affair. While there are some focused interviews, more often than not Joey gets a few folks behind the microphone and lets it rip without much of a game plan. When it’s not good it’s pretty bad. And in this particular clip it’s not so good for Joey as an unidentified guest (a local restaurateur who apparently knows Reynolds and his thrifty nature rather well) gets the better of the old "shock-talker."

However, the real roasting occurs when Reynolds makes a few cracks about Dick Clark’s brief appearances during his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” spectacular. As you probably know, Clark suffered a massive stroke a few years back and the once glib "eternal teenager" now speaks in a somewhat slurring and halting fashion these days. While trying to avoid sounding cruel, Reynolds makes a few lame jokes about Clark’s performance that night and then wishes that he just wouldn’t appear on TV at all. As you can hear, the guest (sporting a hardcore NYC accent) directly takes old Joey to task and doesn’t let up. You don’t often hear a radio host let a guest chew him up like this on the air. Instead of standing his ground, or taking on the animosity directly, Reynolds keeps running away, trying to change the subject. Odd.

If it wasn’t for the IBOC digital garbage on each side of WOR’s signal, powerhouse WLW in Cincinatti would almost certainly have been audible here. But not anymore. The first credible AM signal I came across is a messy read of a Bob Seger song at 690kHz. I don’t know what station this might be. Typically I get French talk radio from Montreal here. There’s an oldies station in West Virginia at this frequency, but I see they’re running at all of fourteen watts at night, And then at 620kHz– WSNR, kind of a sad brokered station hanging out there in the breeze. Here they’re broadcasting something in a language I do not know. Hebrew perhaps?

Nearing the very top we find the once mighty WMCA at 570kHz. Once a top 40 giant, then a pioneering talk radio station in New York, WMCA is now it’s a lowly Christian outlet with a lot of brokered hours up for grabs. This is some kind of religious self-help talk show, featuring a woman complaining about her sister making the rest of her family miserable in the name of Jesus.

    “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”

The answer of course is “yes.” Her sister reminds me a little of a certain scary relative my family tries to avoid. And it seems like a good place to close as well– because more significantly, there was something wrong with 2009 too, wasn’t there?. After that one night a year ago, when it was new, it wasn’t much of a "happy year.” And it seems stupid has become the new smart. At least we have football. And Jesus.

But I think things are going to get better. I really do. But I’m not counting on 2010. At least not yet. It certainly didn’t start out so well.  Maybe by 2012 will bring some good luck for us. And from what I understand, a lot of people are looking forward to that year anyway.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to you soon. And to get another post up where before so much time goes by next time.

I suspect if you’ve gotten this far, that you might just have more than a passing interest in radio. (And if you got this far by skimming over this post, maybe might wanna read this. Or at least look it over…) And in closing, there’s two things I’d like to mention. For one, the Winter SWL Fest is coming up soon in Kulpsville, PA (March 5 & 6), which is a completely unique and entertaining way to spend a weekend. I certainly recommend it. I had a lotta fun there last year.

Also, if your DXing habit fell by the wayside during the interminable solar minimum over the last couple years you might wanna dust off your old receiver and try scanning around again some time. The sunspots are back! And although I haven’t been able to do much serious monitoring lately, I have noticed my portables seem rather lively lately when I’ve taken the time to sample HF the bands, with improved reception across the board.

Meanwhile, thanks a bunch for listening. And good DX to you!

The Unfairness Of Balance

Monday, November 7th, 2005

Want to hear some really bland talk radio? Check out WNYC here in New York from 10 to noon weekdays. It’s the home of "The Brian Lehrer Show," a program so uncharismatic that it’s hard to believe that it’s broadcast on two powerful transmitters to the biggest city in America. With monotonous tooty groove bumper music and a host who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular, it’s what you’d expect to hear in less popular slot on a small town public radio station. It’s kinda sad.

There’s obviously a lot of work that goes into the Lehrer’s show, but the end product is so invertebrate that it’s telling of the leadership and vision of WNYC, and indicative of the lack of bravery in general at NPR. Although they often have big name guests, there are almost no great moments on Lehrer’s program. They try so hard that you feel sorry everybody behind the scenes. For a while, Lehrer was host of NPR’s "On The Media," and it turned out to be one of NPR’s best shows, AFTER he left. While Lehrer is no longer a national NPR figure, he does a high profile program on one of NPR’s most important stations, and his show is the only talk show on WNYC focusing exclusively on current events. You’d think it would make for good listening, but instead it’s a lame balancing act, often lacking courage and at times as compelling as a traffic update.

It’s not that Lehrer’s show is without content or occasionally energy, but it chronically comes across as a utilitarian effort that never seems to inspire. And the program suffers from the same two-dimensional vision that has affected news and issues programing in television and radio– you have to match pro with con, left with right, and yes with no. It’s a methodology that was forged with the onset of cable TV pundit packed panel shows in the 1980′s, and now that same kind of thinking goes into much of the programming of NPR and their affiliates.

In this era of Bush II and the rise of Fox News, NPR in general is feeling even more pressure to be "fair and balanced." Along with PBS, the network has been under fire from Bush lackey and former editor of the heralded Reader’s Digest Kenneth Tomlinson, who was head of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting before he resigned yesterday. (Like Libby, Rove, Delay, and Frist, Tomlinson has been under investigation for shady practices.) Tomlinson has been fighting a multi-front war against NPR and PBS in hopes of not only limiting government money to our public TV and radio networks, but also to reduce the actual hours of news programming they feature. Why? It’s that pesky liberal bias. And while Tomlinson stepping down would seem to be good news for public broadcasting, there’s still plenty of like-minded Republicans at the CPB who wish the network ill.

It’s damn sad that it’s come to this. Compare the situation to what’s happened in Britain. The BBC, the best government-funded news network in the world, is able to criticize the Blair government and their partners in crime (the Bush administration) without similar threats, NPR has been trying to appease the American right wing for years. Of course, the neo-cons and the religious right aren’t going to approve of any government funds going to NPR until they parrot their views without giving the opposition credence or coverage in any meaningful way. Of course, they won’t do THAT, but what NPR has done is comprise their journalism in the name of survival. To quote former NPR host Bob Edwards– "In today’s media, we seem to bring on the liars in order to balance the truth." It’s enough to make your stomach hurt.

While you hear the worst of NPR’s "balance" efforts in their high-profile national news programs, Brian Lehrer’s local show on NPR’s biggest station is a great example of spineless radio. When you do hear some guest making a case against corruption, torture or war, you’re probably also be subjected to some apologist explaining that corruption, torture or war is really okay (or they’ll just deny it’s happening at all). And if there’s not an opposing guest, Lehrer himself will play devil’s advocate and challenge the person with material his staff has grabbed off the web from writers or politicians who defend corruption, torture or war. The net effect is that Lehrer totally cloaks his own opinion on almost every issue, and the content further encrypts him as a journalist or political thinker.

And if that isn’t bad enough, the show rarely gives more than a dozen minutes to most issues and guests. I suppose Lehrer and his staff think it makes for a fast paced show, but instead it’s a superficial herky-jerky two hours of radio which neither enlightens nor entertains. Too many segments on the show end with Lehrer cutting off a guest in mid-sentence because he is "out of time."

On Wednesday, progressive scholar and curmudgeon Gore Vidal was his first guest. The initial topic was his involvement in a National Day of Protest against the Iraq War. But what you hear in this interview is Lehrer attempting to neuter the opinions of the eloquent Mr. Vidal, and then bragging how comprehensive his radio show is. When Vidal brought up the fact that he believes that Bush stole both elections, Lehrer tried to steer him away from the controversies by saying that his show already covered those elections and there’s nothing new to talk about regarding them. Vidal nails him by pointing out that the war and the obscene foreign policies of the Bush regime were all made possible by stealing elections.

Then after twice trying to divert Vidal, Lehrer pulls out a New York Times Magazine piece that paints Vidal as an "America hater" with Harold Pinter. And then Lehrer uses Pinter’s opinions expressed in the piece to see if he can get Vidal to equate the dual invasions of the Bush presidency with the UN military action in Kosova during the Clinton administration. Gotta keep that "balance" after all.

And then after Lehrer isn’t able to successfully counter Vidal in any appreciable way, BOOM– another interview comes to a screeching halt. Total time, just over 11 minutes. The listener learns almost nothing, except that Lehrer is an incompetent talk host with an inflated opinion of his own program. It’s pointless radio with a great guest. Have a listen…

WNYC – Gore Vidal on the Brian Lehrer Show – 11-02-05  12:38

(download)

And if you want to hear another brilliant old fart really chew up Lehrer, you ought to hear his interview with Mort Sahl from April, 2004. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a talk host slammed so hard on their own program. Sure, Sahl is a grouchy contrarian and it sounds like he’s just gotten out of bed in this clip, but whether he’s fully awake or not he takes aim at the alleged balance of Lehrer and NPR with deadly accuracy. He outs them both for what they really are–  a closeted liberal talk host and a liberal radio network too afraid show anything but chronic and disengenious moderation to the public at large.

In the interview, Sahl brings up Air America and says if NPR had done its job they wouldn’t have had to create a commercial liberal talk network in the first place. While that’s an arguable idea, he makes a valid point. By their constant balancing act, NPR and hosts at their affiliates like Lehrer aren’t just hypocritical, but they’re polluting the news intake of the millions of NPR listeners by putting on liars and conservative apologists and taking extra effort to not irritate the Republicans who hold the purse strings for the government dough they depend on.

This clip is rather amazing and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of a host roast…

WNYC – Mort Sahl on the Brian Lehrer Show – 04-29-04  18:01

(download)

To be fair, there’s some fine programming on WNYC. Leonard Lopate, who follows Lehrer every day, has some compelling moments. While it can get a little precious now and then, he does have some great guests from time to time and you never feel like they’re being cut off before you get hear them complete a few thoughts. Unlike Lehrer, Lopate has interesting bumper music and never masks his political leanings. And if he happens to challenges a guest you know it’s coming from the heart and not some exercise in balance. Speaking of a lack of balance, you oughtta check out Steve Post’s "No Show" on WNYC. Dark, hilarious and as real as anybody you’ll ever hear on the radio, his one hour show is a real jewel in the WNYC schedule.

And at least two national NPR programs that originate from WNYC are actually quite good. I already mentioned "On The Media," the only real dirt digging news magazine in the NPR line-up. And "Selected Shorts" is a wonderful way to ingest some literature via the radio.

However, two others– "Studio 360," and "The Next Big Thing" are just awful. They’re both wine and cheese car wrecks, with so much shiny urbane smugness that you just want to grab your palm pilot and London Fog and take a spin in your new Jaguar after a good listen.

And that’s the thing about WNYC in general. There’s an elitist air to the whole station that reminds me of a Mac ad campaign. Their promos constantly tell you how smart, deep, and worldly WNYC and NPR is, and when they’re begging for money they coddle their listeners with similar praise exclaiming how you’re an erudite individual who demands great radio and comprehensive coverage of every important issue and event of the day. Barf.

During their fundraisers, WNYC’s appointed beggars are as bad as the evangelist shysters who crowd the radio dial pleading for prayer offerings and fleecing their radio flock. In short, they’ve been trained to manipulate and guilt their audience into giving their money. In general, public radio across the board has a parasitical relationship with their own audience, constantly hitting them up for cash while they continue to take huge sums from corporations, advertisers and the government. It’s disgusting. It didn’t used to be this way.

It’s about time NPR sprouted some testicles and just got off the government dole. Sure, it works in Canada and Europe but there’s rampant mental illness in America that seems to rule out being able to fund a brave or excellent public radio network. It has something to do with rampant Christianity and some inherent super-greed that prevents us from having a mature republic that takes care of itself and helps other countries in any meaningful way. The fact that we’re the richest country in the world and we don’t have national health care, we have a failing infrastructure and a hopelessly inept disaster relief program, AND we contribute a shamefully microscopic portion of our GNP in foreign aid to poor nations are ALL symptoms of our pray-and-pay way of doing things in the states, which has ultimately led to the corruption of journalism at NPR.

So it’s sad, but NPR needs to get real. Their affiliates need to quit running the polite little advertisements they call "underwriting" and just run real commercials. Sure ads are disgusting, but they’re real. Radio is a dirty business, and it’s really expensive. But the dance that NPR does every day, pretending that you’re not hearing advertising and that you are so damn smart for listening to the ads and pretending you’re not, is absurd. And the constant begging for money is very tiresome. If all the pleading will hold an audience that advertisers will pay for, then go ahead and beg away. But it’s just plain embarrassing. BBC, CBC, Radio Netherlands, and any other western public radio network I could name doesn’t get on their knees and weep at their audience.

And as far as WNYC goes, it seems like they could do a little trimming to get their budget in check if the government cash dries up. Did I mention the $400,000 salary of their General Manager Laura Walker? I meant to.

Of course, WNYC isn’t all bad. And I’ve heard Brian Lehrer is a swell guy to work with, but being nice doesn’t necessarily translate to good radio. The real tragedy is that WNYC is NPR’s main affiliate in the biggest radio market in America, and it oughtta be better, much better. But more importantly, the NPR mothership, needs a serious retooling if they want to survive and be relevant into this new century. And I don’t think that firing their long-standing morning host or creating a mid-day magazine program that’s even softer than "All Things Considered" has done anything to improve the outlook for NPR. Every programming move the network makes smells of the efforts of demographic number crunchers, and they only seem able to do more of what they’ve done before, with extra balance of course.

There was a time when "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" were essential portions of my media intake. Nowadays I can’t listen to either without eventually having to either turning the volume to zero, or switching the station. Why is it that NEVER happens when I listen to similar shows on BBC or CBC? For every interesting deep news story I hear on NPR I’m subjected to some warm and fuzzy anecdote about grandma’s kitchen or a story about stuffing the kids in the station wagon and heading to the box store. There’s almost no edge or guts to NPR anymore. Okay, there’s Daniel Schorr.

Am I suffering from memory loss, or didn’t public radio in this country used to be creating a superior product without pandering to make itself more popular? These days, NPR is in the business of super-tweaking their programing across the board to make it’s programming more attractive to suburban college educated homemakers, young white collar dudes, or some other type of human being that I am obviously not (and don’t want to be). I want information, entertainment and cogent opinion now and then, but when I hear some inane commentary on NPR I wanna scream– "Take the goddamn pink fuzzy blanket of feel-good radio off me, NOW!"

Just to end this critical rant on an up note, let me mention a really great NPR program. If Harry Shearer‘s "Le Show" isn’t the best show on NPR, it’s damn sure the funniest. It’s a packed hour of Music, comedy and cutting commentary that doesn’t suffer from weak-kneed "balance" and is never cute or cuddly. In fact, it’s so good that it isn’t even on WNYC. Apparently they tossed it into a late night time slot and pissed off Shearer, who took it from the station. It can be heard locally on WNYE (91.5 fm) on Monday nights at 9 p.m. You can also stream it or podcast it. Check his site for details.

Meanwhile, if after reading this you want to check out Lehrer’s show, it’s on WNYC (93.9 fm and 820 am) Monday through Friday from 10 to noon, and is rebroadcast from 1 to 3 a.m. on 820 am. You can also podcast it or listen to individual segments at WNYC’s website. There’s also an official blog for his show which you can check here. Last time I looked it featured a menu from the White House dinner being held for Prince Charles. But don’t be planning to leave any comments on his blog. Balance is best left to the experts.