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Thursday, 14 April 2011

National Public Radio? The BBC? I'm busy comparing the two.

The yard is full of turkeys, the snow is falling, and the temperature’s 33 degrees. Welcome to the Great Plains in April. And there’s me ploughing through the snow… Okay, no it isn’t: it’s me at White Sands, New Mexico, last year!
On to the gobblers – and unfortunately, the best picture I have yet of them was taken a couple of days ago, when spring was in the air and I was sitting with my after-work beer in glorious sunshine. And as a further reminder that the warmer weather will return shortly, I’ve added a shot I took yesterday of a species of prairie grass, barely two inches tall but already making its flower head.

I am now going to eat humble pie and confess that I have changed my mind about NPR. I am still going to allow myself a minor rant at some stage, because some of their programming does drive me nuts. But meanwhile, after some sober reflection, a good night’s sleep without any scuttling in the woodwork, and another two mice in the traps, I’m feeling a little better tempered.

My mood has also benefited, I dare say, from having found a little gem upstairs, amongst a pile of Country Music magazines dating from the mid-1970s. It’s a collection of pieces by that great humorist S J Perelman, a reminder – just when I needed it – of what great comedic talents this country has thrown up.

So, in this newly kindled spirit of amiability I have decided to succumb to NPR’s pestering and contribute to their funding drive. I shall brave the weather, trudge up that hill to where the signal lurks, and call them toll-free. There.

At home we take the good old British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for granted. It had been around well over a quarter of a century when I was born. It’s all there was until the 1970s. It’s part of the furniture of our lives. It belongs to us, The People. And so we feel free to lambaste it on a regular basis for not providing precisely what we want at this very moment.

For our American readers let me explain how the Beeb works. Everybody who has a TV in the house must pay an annual licence fee. There’s no escape: they hunt you down and prosecute you, mercilessly. You thought the IRS were hard cases? Try messing with the licence collectors.

Currently our annual licence fee stands at around £150 or $230. I say ‘around’: it goes out of my bank monthly and I haven’t checked in an age. Does it sound a lot? Well, for that we get two mainstream non-commercial stations (BBC1 & BBC2) broadcasting 24/7, and a couple of others (BBC3 & 4) that are more specialist in content.

Now, I happen to be more or less allergic to TV; I barely watch it these days. Every time I switch on I see presenters barely out of kindergarten shouting at me, laughing at each other’s jokes, then putting on strained, expressive faces to announce another massacre; either that or they’re out and about, walking through milling crowds towards camera situated half a mile away, making gestures they learned in some school somewhere that taught them what to do with their hands – and I switch off.

But – and here’s the but – even at $230 a year or so, or 63 cents a day, I get FIVE full-time, advertisement-free radio stations on VHF (FM), on digital and online. Radio 1 is contemporary music, Radio 2 a mix of older and less cutting edge music. Radio 3 is pretty much all classical, with some jazz, plus occasional heavyweight drama and discussion. Radio 4 is all talk, be that news, current affairs, consumer affairs, drama, arts, comedy. I have it on most mornings from around seven until nine, ten, eleven even twelve. And then there’s Radio 5 (AM rather than FM), for sports and current affairs. I can’t begin to list all that this station does, but every major sporting event has live commentary. I believe they even covered the Super Bowl this year.

Add to the above a bunch of minor specialist stations, plus a nationwide network of commercial-free local stations, and my 63 cents a day is looking pretty good value.

So, NPR – yes, it’s a godsend in the wasteland of American radio, but I have to say it’s pretty thin gruel compared with what we get back home. However, it is a LOT better than nothing. So I’m digging deep and making my contribution.

This was going to be about my hike yesterday, and the dead coyote, and how I met Mari Sandoz’ sister; but I guess that’ll wait another day. I’m off up that hill to do penance, and part with a few bucks.


  1. Write On! Sounds like things are off to a great start, Alan.

  2. Cheers, Kim. Wild blizzard overnight; car abandoned in huge ruts, embarrassingly close to the house!


  3. I had no idea that is how you felt about the BBC!


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