The left seems awfully worried about the right’s AM dominance, but for years, while we hauled our kids around to lessons and when I was running the shop for 16-hour days, the local public station played in the background. When she was in junior high, my middle daughter wrote a poem to Martin Goldsmith. It wasn’t a school girl crush, but rather about the pleasure she felt in the music he introduced, in his voice, in the peace those lovely string quartets brought to her radio every night. His show, Performance Today, is now hosted by Fred Childs and with her out of the house, I go back to my more regular fare. Still, it provided a wonderful experience, even for someone as musically illiterate as I am.
My youngest daughter is in training at the local alternative station – she and her friends want to put on a show that plays local bands, reads local poetry, and, in general, is true to that station’s mission. Its motto is “the left end of the dial done right.” Besides shows devoted to Dr. Demento and eighties music, listeners can find a wide range of opinions – from the BBC to Pacifica to a show put on by The Nation. Even Austin wasn’t giving Jim Hightower (America’s #1 Populist) an outlet for a while, but he’s on this station. Not surprisingly, the ratings aren’t high.
My point is – if the left has something to offer, we listen. The tone and slant of All Things Considered or Morning Edition is pretty far to the left, but the content of much of what these shows do has less to do with their politics than a genuine curiosity about people. Sure they don’t always seem to know much about fly-over territory and religion; their take on American history can be simplistic and seldom celebrates heroism. And yes, they are supported by all of our taxes. All in all, however, they wear well. Today, a charming interview with a violinist who plays Bach cheered me on my way home.
And it seems to me if we are going to start doing much with the fairness doctrine, then the left might lose one of its real tools. We’re relatively conservative, but we generally have on one of three stations – the local public, the local access one, or the local country. Two of those would have to be considered on the left by any honest listener (though irritating as Terri Gross can be at her worst, her best can be good and she never reaches the state of, say, Democracy Now). It is the country station, of course, which is very careful to not indicate political preferences. Its hourly ABC news slants to the left; however, they play Toby Keith a good deal more often than The Dixie Chicks.
So, a real relationship with the community – such as drawing teenagers in to do their own program – and damn good interviews & thoughtful hosts in the other can lead to an audience that doesn’t agree politically. As I’ve become more political, I’ve got to admit, NPR irritates me more than it used to and I listen less often. But I suspect that I stayed with a much more leftish take on current affairs for years because I liked the rest of what they did; thus, that was where I got much of my information. And I thought, well, they are a little slanted but surely this is the truth. I have more doubts, but suspect most of the time, it is still the truth. It’s just that there is so much out there & they select truths that fit their patterns – patterns I no longer see as quite so valid (about politics, the war, childraising, religion, etc.).
If the “fairness” doctrine really went into effect, it is more likely to divide us than unite us. If it didn’t count such stations, it would be grossly unfair. But a station that is capable of beguiling us into listening even when we don’t agree politically is likely to gain at least a hearing from the opposition; one that, like Air America, preaches not just to the converted but to the converted fanatic is only helpful in raising a mob (and if their popularity is any indication, it would be a very small mob indeed).
And, if Kucinich dreams of a left Rush Limbaugh, I think of a right All Things Considered.