Tag Archives: NPR

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Listen To The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the many pleasures of living in the U.K. is that I have unlimited access to BBC Radio. I remember back when I lived in the States – and worked at Chicago Public Radio – I used to feel a bit put off when BBC programming came on. It felt too distant, too proper and – let’s face it – too mature.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I can’t get enough of BBC radio, and here are five reasons you should be listening too:

1. It’s combative. Much as I love National Public Radio in the U.S., NPR news programs can feel a bit…polite. Perhaps because the network is trying really hard to fight the perception that has a liberal bias, the talk show hosts go out of their way to be deferential and even-handed. Not here. Sure, the BBC tilts Left, but the “presenters” (as they’re called) are just as rough on Gordon Brown as they are on David Cameron. Have a listen to Radio Four’s James Naughtie interviewing just about anyone and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anything like it on Morning Edition. It’s really refreshing to hear journalists who aren’t afraid to take the gloves off, without devolving into shrill partisanship.

2. It’s broad. The range of programming offered is – frankly – amazing. Just the other day, I was listening to some in-depth analysis of the latest bank restructuring over here. Next up? A retrospective on Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding. And it’s like that all week long. One of my favorite programs is something called Desert Island Discs, where some famous person is interviewed about the eight pieces of music they’d bring with them if they were stuck on a desert island. What a concept!

3. It’s Informative. I think one of the sticking points for US listeners is that the BBC reports on such a broad range of topics geographically. This is true of domestic programming (Radio 4) and especially true of the BBC World Service. Americans just aren’t used to listening to *that much* foreign news. But once you get used to hearing about the latest governance debacle in Zimbabwe, it’s incredibly eye-opening and informative. (And, BTW, they do a great job with American coverage, in particular.)

4. It’s Quirky. Because – relative to NPR, at least – the BBC is incredibly well-funded, it can afford to do all sorts of odd, quirky programming alongside its flagship news shows. So, for example, radio plays are hugely popular over here. When I first moved to London, I found myself switching off The Archers (the longest running and most popular of these) whenever it came on. Now, three years later, I’m oddly drawn into this ongoing saga about families in the Midlands and have developed a sort of affection towards it.

5. It’s on all night! At least if you live in America, you can often hear top-drawer BBC programming in the middle of the night. And since we’re all insomniacs anyway, what’s there to lose? Have a listen…and see for yourself.

Image: Radio Daze by Ian Hayhurst via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Is Public Radio Too Middle Aged?

Public radio has hit hard times in the United States. According to recent accounts in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, National Public Radio is having budgetary problems resulting in show cancellations as well as tensions with its member stations over fundraising.

I worked at Chicago Public Radio for four years, so part of my interest in these developments is purely personal. But I wanted to talk about it here because it’s also the case that listening to public radio – in America, at least – is and always has been a much “older thing” to do. No one I know in the States began listening (or much less contributing money) to public radio until they were well into their thirties. I distinctly remember the first time that I began to identify with a local station – WAMU in Washington, DC. I was thirty-four.

I’m not sure why listening to public radio has become synonymous with maturity, exactly. It could be the long form interviews…the more in-depth news analysis…the sometimes esoteric programming…or simply the age of the average guest/host that somehow, combined, demand a longer attention span. The sort that comes with age.

There’s certainly been a lot of handwringing within the public radio world over how to reach a younger demographic. Chicago Public Radio responded with something called Vocalo. Others may remember the short-lived Bryant Park Project which was meant to cultivate a younger, more diverse NPR audience. (A friend of mine who’s an economist once appeared on a BPP segment via telephone. As she waited for her interview to begin, she listened to the hosts talk with some hip, young guy about his “podcamp” that was spreading like wildfire. Then, when they segued to her story, they literally said: “So, there’s something going on in DC about health insurance programs. No, don’t reach for the ‘off ‘ button on your Ipod! This is actually interesting…” Ouch.).

I don’t know how NPR is going to square this circle. Apparently, listeners are at an all time high, but they are tuning in for shorter and shorter periods of time. We here in Great Britain face our own travails with the BBC (more on that some other time), but at least I don’t have to worry that my beloved (lengthy, overly-intellectual and decidedly middle-aged) programming will end any time soon. Phew.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just tune out of this whole dilemma and go back to that great Aldous Huxley retrospective I was just listening to on Radio Four…


If you are a public radio junkie, by all means visit a new website created by two of my former Chicago Public Radio colleagues –  Radiopublic – where you can listen to and talk about your favorite shows, as well as catch up on what’s going on inside the industry.

Image: National Public Radio Headquarters by SavetheDave via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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