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April 12, 2009



Thank you. I try not to celebrate Easter, but your excellent list has made it most difficult this year.

John McCabe

great post I have a love hate npr relationship too but WFMU is all love

fatty jubbo

Not necessarily Ira Glass, but I would stick This American Life in the garbage pile.


If you come to the UK listen to Radio 4 for a similar experience


NPR: Dissecting the world with blunt instruments for banal purposes.

NPR: It's National. It's Public. It's Radio.

NPR: The last place to look for bondage gear.

Mike Flugennock

Here in Washington, DC, we have two major outlets for NPR -- or, as I call them, National Petroleum Radio: WETA, the fat, old, corporate dick-sucking NPR station featuring your standard NPR fare for geezing old liberals; and WAMU (out of American University), the slightly-less annoying NPR station, featuring more goddamn' bluegrass and early-60s folkies than you can stand, for the Volvos-with-Free-Tibet-stickers crowd.

To tell the truth, I don't listen to NPR if I can help it -- hell, I hardly listen to the radio at all anymore, except for WPFW (Washington, DC Pacifica outlet) or the WFMU mp3 stream. Still, from time to time, when spending any amount of time in the car with my wife, she insists on assaulting me with either NPR station -- delivering pro-Democratic Party spin, bland quiz shows, and NPR News, all delivered in a smooth, well-modulated, imperious, pompous liberal intellectual tone -- so that she can "stay informed" and, needless to say, when I groan and roll my eyes at yet another steaming heap of pro-Israel or pro-DP spin from All Things Considered and ask her to switch over to the CD player, she gets all huffy and grumps, "oh, be quiet, take a chance, maybe you'll learn something". Well, I've already learned something: NPR is a big, fat, fake; NPR is a corporate tool; NPR is culturally hidebound and insular; NPR bores the living piss out of me. I actually find myself feeling jealous of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News -- not because I agree with them at all, but because they remind me of how boring and humorless Liberal/Leftie radio is, how irrelevant it is to those of us of a Left persuasion who are really concerned about real issues and want real news about them, and how it just can't quit taking itself so goddamn' seriously. For me, the last thing NPR did that was worth a damn' was their last live broadcast of the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve show from San Francisco, carried locally on WETA; they broadcast them every year from 1983 through '91, and it really shocked the hell out of me, considering NPR's usual insufferable cultural chauvanism (Holy shit! Rock'nRoll on NPR??).

That said... good lawdamighty, Henry, how could you do a slag on NPR without mentioning Ira Glass or Diane Rehm?

I think that if truth-in-labeling laws applied to radio shows, they'd have to change that name of This American Life to This White Upper-Middle Class Liberal American Life. The last one I remember featured some college girl with some brain-numbing essay about growing up lesbian -- a white upper-middle-class, university-educated, cushy-living lesbian, no doubt. I can't think of a single segment of TIL that didn't feature some boring-assed, inconsequential, irrelevant story from some boring-assed, inconsequential, irrelevant person.

As far as Diane Rehm goes, I can't think of a more irksome, tedious excuse-maker for the Democratic Party anywhere on the air today, let alone just NPR. It's not just her matronly, quavering voice that makes her sound as if she's going to have a stroke any second, it's the fact that she never misses an opportunity to defend the Democratic Party, no matter how craven their behavior. The last Diane Rehm show I sat through, in the late '90s -- trapped in a car with my wife and one of her folk-musician friends -- she spent the better part of the program defending Bill Clinton's decisions to bomb the living piss out of Iraq and Serbia, and his threats to invade Haiti and Somalia. Jeezus, what a goddamn' tool that woman is.

But, aaaaaanyway, I've got a item or two or three that may not fit into the top ten, but which stand out in my own mind nonetheless:
Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me: I don't know what it is that bugs the shit out of me about this program -- the host's smug tone of voice, the stylistic throwback to a '50s radio quiz show, the bland musical segments, or maybe it's just this vibe I get from it, a vibe that says we're so much smarter than you that it hurts.

Pretty much any of the folkie/bluegrass programming on WAMU: Yeah, yeah; I know, I know, forgive me, Liberal Amerika -- I know this music is supposed to be historic, and part of the fabric of the rich cultural heritage of America, and all that crap, but I'm sorry: I just can't get into it. It drives me up the friggin' wall. I feel my forehead beginning to protrude and my IQ dropping with every bluegrass tune. With every goddamn' old folkie tune I hear, I feel more and more like Bluto in Animal House, in that scene where he breaks a guitar over some guy's head. Despite the evolution of cultures, societies and technologies and the way they've changed the nature of "peoples' music", the folkie DJs on WAMU have an image of folk music frozen in the form of a romanticized idea of American folk music as it was in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and in their minds are still back at that good old 1962 campus chapel basement "Ban The Bomb" hootenanny, still singing about what they'd do if only they had a goddamn' hammer, Still, my wife -- about ten years my senior -- is an old folkie from back in the day, so I tolerate it, even though my own favorite protest music is stuff like CSNY's Four Dead In Ohio, Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers and The Clash's London's Burnin'.

All Things Considered -- or, as I like to call it, All Things Censored, your one-stop shop for pro-Israel, pro-Democratic Party, pro-Corporatist spin. When the IDF bombs the living piss out of a Palestinian village, bulldozes a Palestinian village, shoots at ambulances trying to rescue the wounded from a Palestinian village the IDF has bombed the piss out of, or shoots Palestinian children for throwing stones at them, without incurring any casualties of their own, this is reported by ATC as "a lull in the violence in Palestine". I also love how ATC's idea of "economic news" is reporting on the problems of investors, or passing along investment tips, with little or no attention paid to the millions of people who've lost their jobs and pensions and homes and are forced to work at starvation-wage jobs while living in their cars, or in motels or tent cities. ATC's segment-reporting style always sets my teeth on edge as well -- the smooth, detached, dispassionate voices droning over sonic atmospherics that seems to be the style for radio reporting today. Sometimes, when my wife and I are visiting one of her friends, and they're listening to a "news" segment on ATC, it almost sounds as if there's a TV set on in the next room.

American Roots: I've heard so many episodes that I ought to be able to remember the host's name, but somehow, I can't. What I do remember, though, is how he sounds like some college kid working on his thesis in anthropology or something. Sometimes, American Roots, like most NPR reporting on popular music -- especially black popular music -- seems just this side of safari journalism. It doesn't matter what genre of popular music he's reporting on, he seems to be treating it as if it were a million-year-old fly preserved in amber, and manages to come across like a perfect square while he's doing it. I'll never forget an interview he did with Chuck Berry; I'm no clairvoyant, but I found it easy to imagine Berry at the other end of the phone line thinking God damn, man, what kinda' bullshit questions is this square-assed white boy asking me? Shame, too; I've gotten to hear a lot of my favorite old music by my favorite performers, and heard a lot of interesting stories from said favorite performers, but in the context of American Roots, I can't shake the feeling that I'm sitting through a goddamn' anthropology lecture. Not to mention that listening to American Roots reminds me of just how deeply into the toilet American popular music has sunk since about the late 1970s.


I know you're kidding with the line "If Republicans ever stumble onto these sonic abominations", but I can assure you we have. Despite our lack of interweb sophistication ( or any kind, hee-yuk ), we have mastered dialing in the radio. Anyways, dead-on as far as these shows being annoying and wonder if there's not a band named 'The Sonic Abominations' because I want to claim it


A name like "The Sonic Abominations" is more appropriate for a band of Republicans, anyway. I imagine you might even be able to get Ted Nugent in on it. Excelsior!


Dear God, Mike's post will make mine look like puke, but anyway....

Ira Glass did steal Joe Frank's M.O. and his thunder. But Ira Glass went for lowest common denominator, so he's a success.

How about Terri Gross badgering every other guest to admit that they are gay?

"Spinning on Air" is the absolute best show WNYC offers, hands down.

Tim Kjær Lange

I hate when "Fresh Air" is about surgery on dogs.


Great post(especially #3). One more for the list: when NPR does a sports story. Cringeworthy.

Jeff Gee

# 2 is dead on, but to be fair, for a long time "This American Life" got all its bumper music from Bachelor Pad Royale, the 4th volume of the Ultra Lounge series, which almost makes up for the bassoon crap.


Hilarious. My sentiments exactly, laid out much better than I could ever put into words. Best post in weeks. And I enjoy all WFMU blog posts, so I certainly mean that as an extra-high compliment.


Garrison Keillor, Car Talk, the Business, the No Show ... Lord have mercy, there are no shortage of programs that fill me with massive amounts of dread and angst.


Yeah bluegrass I like a little bluegrass now and then but hours and hours of it every day ... egah!


Mike, guess I'm lowest common denominator, 'cause I love "Car Talk" and "Wait Wait." However, there is much about NPR programming that is difficult to tolerate. It's exceedingly hard to me to have Will Shortz in the background even on low volume.


11. Johnathan Schwartz


Also, everything they say about AFrica will be just a little bit wrong. Not completely wrong, just sort of, like some fruit that tastes just this side of still okay but makes you feel vaguely nauseated afterwards.

Ragnar Pucebeard

Hi, fans!

I like Diane Rehm. She has some great interviews that are worth listening to - if only for the "yell at the radio" factor. For example, Ralph Nadar. She asked good questions and he spoke his mind, 'twas lots of fun.

Re: #4. I've found, like most of "us," that any radio story on any genre of music just doesn't get it.


Oh, I wasn't gonna, but all the erudite, and spot on, criticisms of the usually sophomoric, often pretentious This American Life are spot on. An "essayist" monologues their trite observances on society in a dull monotone and pepper it with remembrances of personal hardships for (minimum) emotional impact. All punctuated by quirky music (I now hate They Might Be Giants).
But this is not my battle; it is Fressshhhhh Air. How a shit sandwich interviewer receives such acclaim and gets such fantastic guests on rare occasions bewilders me: "Ummm, soooo, ummmmm, did you ummmm like ever, uhhhh, think about the uhhhhhh, the thing you're famous uhhhh, for, ummmmmm, before you were, uhhhhh, famous for it"? Wow. Don't forget to mention that 90% of interviews are some random, shit-heel, cable TV star no-one but she cares about. Perhaps most egregious is her simpering and groveling tone with political figures from the Left and her extreme bias and awkward and derogatory demeanor with those from the Right who are brave enough to go on her show. Arrgghhh! Thanks for the rant!

iggy topolino

Is Baxter Black, Large Animal Vet still doing commentaries where he mentions "cow doodie"? I wouldn't know: I stopped listening to NPR after their horrible coverage of 9/11 -- when I listened to 45 minutes of them saying that some vague, terrible thing had happened, while never getting around to saying, "For those of you just tuning in..."


I agree with nearly all of the above. However since AA left my home radio market with nothing but "The Bone" and right-wing "kill all the liberals" radio, suddenly NPR sounds much better.

That being said, any piece about about 3rd world women's economic collective is my personal "change the fucking channel" trigger. You know, a story where they use micro-loans to buy a shared sewing machine so they can start a business making stage wear for ethnic minority lesbian strippers.

Oh, that and where they put David Frum to counter their middle-right economic reporting with some hard-core-right bashing of the other 80% of the public. For, you know, balance. On the "liberal socialist media". You know, to balance all those Michael Moore op-eds on Fox News.


Where did this idea come from that NPR is "liberal"? Are we talking Phil Ochs's definition, "five degrees left of center mostly, but ten degrees right of center when it affects them personally"? I hope so, because that's the only sense of "liberal" I can see applying to NPR. During eight years of the worst presidency in history, they bent so far over backwards to be "fair" to the Bushies that they were usually left chewing on their own pubic hair.


The thing I hate most about NPR, is the same thing I hate most about WFMU: Callers that are compelled to reveal the incredulous fact they don't watch television


"Adult kickball"....'nuff said.

Well one thing more, the Ira Glass show does an excellent job of building,stoking anticipation,setting a tone that something really insightful and revealing of the human condition in a here-to-fore never explored way is just about to happen.Then it ends, and you think "what was that all about?, and why'd I listen to it?"

I drive a lot for work and I love radio.Sometimes it is far better to tune in to the local AM swapper show and listen to the calls,"got a washer and dryer for sale, washer works,dryer don't" and the funeral report.I love it when the announcer, who has outlived nearly her entire generation, breaks from the reports of deaths and memorial services to read a long detailed sale price list of generic canned vegetables and economy cuts of meat.Washes the NPR filth right out of your ears and brain.

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