It Was 20 Years Ago Today…

Posted on: January 16th, 2011 by admin 3 Comments

…that I stopped listening to NPR.

Oddly, this happened at the very moment my work as a freelancer—reporting on arts and culture for NPR—was starting to take off. And before long I was a full-time correspondent at NPR in DC. But my days as a regular listener ended on January 16, 1991. On that evening, America and its allies started bombing Baghdad, and NPR turned into One Thing Considered.

This was something new. The Persian Gulf War was NPR’s moment to prove itself as it emerged from the media fringe and became a primary source of news. People would tell me occasionally NPR was their only source of news. I’d answer that I was scared for them and that they should please consider reading a newspaper!

The most worrisome aspect of the war coverage 20 years ago was its enthusiastic tone. Listeners would complain that NPR was not giving air time to dissenting voices. The official response from Ellen Weiss, then the executive producer of All Things Considered, was that research showed NPR listeners supported the war.

This was astonishing—an admission that at least one news executive there believed NPR’s role was to reflect public opinion. I was looking for a news organization to report what exists, no matter how we feel about it.

So that I could listen to the BBC, I went to Radio Shack and bought my first and only shortwave receiver. I still have it (pictured). The BBC’s coverage was noticeably more neutral than NPR’s.

P.S.: Now that the BBC streams its services online, I listen primarily to Radio 3 and Radio 4. When I’m home. I’m eagerly waiting for the next generation of cell networks to turn smartphones into the portable transistor radios of my youth.

P.P.S.: Ellen Weiss eventually rose to the position of Senior VP for News. She resigned ten days ago as a result of the Juan Williams firing.

3 Responses

  1. Dave Jacke says:

    Hey Dean! Long time no see . . .

    Glad to hear your opinions on this. I am struck by the NPR website’s vapidness almost every time I look at it.

    In addition to the BBC, I like Al Jazeera English too. Don’t have time to dig into it as far as I might, but I am pleasantly surprised by the quality of the news–and opinion–they bring to bear.


  2. Keith says:

    Good radio snap. I just bought a new Grundig. It’s astonishing to see & hear how well shortwave can sound on such a small device. Trouble is, just about everyone is gone from SW except the smaller countries and religious extremists. Just this month, Radio Prague hangs it up.

    As for cellphone tech, wait no longer. I use my Android phone everyday as if it were a transistor. I listen to my web site and BBC 6 (and 3) on the way to work. Several free apps, especially RadioTime Tune In App ( ) turn any Android phone into a great radio. I listener to internet radio in my car all the time via a cassette adapter from the audio out of the phone. So easy and sounds great.

    You certainly could take BBC 3, 4 or your favorite flavor w/you with just about any Android phone. Other less smart phones (like the iphone, etc) may work as well.

  3. Jowi Taylor says:

    Hey Dean,

    I had no idea about this – mostly being a listener to NPR cultural offerings in podcast form.

    But I’m really struck by how what you’re saying reflects absolutely my feelings about CBC here in Canada – on both radio and television. Even the flagship TV evening show The National has drifted into “lifestyle” stories with increasing frequency. But then, I rarely watch CBC Television news.
    CBC Radio kind of glosses over stories, fails to conduct really thorough interviews – opting instead for the man-on-the-street opinion of some complex issue whose terms have already been proven to have been skewed by the mayor or the consultant or the prime minister or whoever is setting that story’s agenda. There’s something so concerted about all this that it’s almost as if Roger Ailes has replicated himself in the form of countless bland KPMG consultants and infiltrated the executive of even our supposedly public media.
    Very good to have you in mind again! Hope you’re well.

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