In a long appreciation of Radiolab, Ira Glass makes this point:
[…] This question of tone, of how we accidentally alienate potential listeners, is something lots of people in public radio have been talking about lately. A 2010 NPR/SmithGeiger survey of news consumers who rightly should be in the public radio audience, showed that one of the biggest reasons adults say they choose not to listen to public radio is that they’re put off by the tone. One survey respondent said: “This type of story could be interesting, but the reporter’s voice and intonation is soooo affected, upper class, wasp, Ph.D. student-like, it detracts from the story. She speaks like she is writing a novel.” Radiolab has invented a sound that won’t put off smart people who should be in our audience. Simply put: it’s a show that’s out for fun. It’s no surprise that a much younger audience loves Radiolab. It’s no surprise that a huge part of its fan base is people who don’t consider themselves public radio listeners.
This explains a lot about the success of Colbert and Stewart, as well as Glass’ own show, This American Life.
A couple of observations that Glass doesn’t make: First, a lot of the people making judgments about why people aren’t well-informed work for snooze-fest media outlets who think that the world owes them their attention. So, instead of wondering why they aren’t working as hard as the Radiolab hosts to make their product interesting, they content themselves with tsk-tsks over the supposed ignoramuses who choose not to consume their dull output.
Second, in the old days, when people could consume mainly local radio, local TV, a few network stations and the local newspaper, media outlets could survive by being mediocre but wide-ranging. Now that every media outlet is competing with the world, there’s more room for Radiolab-type operations that produce a dozen or so exquisitely crafted programs. That kind of excellence leads listeners to expect better from other media they consume. This doesn’t seem to have dawned on my local newspaper, which still fills much of it space with fairly dull syndicated content, at the expense of good local coverage.
Interesting point, but one criticism: it is very hard for local papers to staff the necessary reporters to do good local coverage. Local newspapers simply cannot make it happen by and large. Where there are sufficient resources, I agree, but its two different problems: a journalistic model/attitude and a resource question.
Well, Ira Glass would know about tone. His voice makes my ears itch. Which is a shame, because the rest of his radio show has been interesting when I’ve heard it.
What puts me off of NPR is not the tone, but the fact that they are increasingly lazy, he-said/she-said hacks. Steve Inskeep drives me insane with his inane patter and refusal to follow-up the most patently false statements by his guests in the morning, and in the drive home last night, two puff pieces in the 5 to 5:30 slot taking up 15 minutes. An Abbey Monastery Dude Ranch story and a my-dead-dog story. Fine pieces for what they were, but two? For fifteen minutes? Shoot me.
I hate time-based (e.g. radio, TV, etc) news. It is not skimmable and requires your full attention to find the overall point they are making. I can devour 10x as many print-based news items in the time that I can listen to a single news story.
These mediums have to really make it worth my while to consume them. I understand that value add of radio for long drives, but my commute is short. Every other time, I have access to something that I can read.
This is an ironic observation, from my perspective. I WANT to like Radiolab, but I find the production style too off-putting. It’s so affected and self-consciously artificial, and I find the practice of cutting actual quotes together with the host VO particularly bothersome. It’s not so much fun as “fun”. I’ve always found the subject matter interesting, but I just find it hard to get past the aesthetics.
I love This American Life, though, but it draws a lot less attention to the artifice of its production.
I suppose it is pragmatic to try to make stories and news more appealing to the public though this can also lead to the deplorable practice of only telling people the stories with the slant they want to hear (like Fox News).
It’s too bad that enough people don’t acknowledge that keeping informed is a responsibility democratic citizens must embrace. This “I won’t listen unless it’s amusing,” attitude is maddening, but there it is.
TAL and RadioLab are my favorite shows! Frankly though, I never considered it had anything to do with vocal tone. I am attracted to their content.
c u n d gulag
“This type of story could be interesting, but the reporter’s voice and intonation is soooo affected, upper class, wasp, Ph.D. student-like, it detracts from the story.”
Who knew “Hee Haw” was going to be an instructional manual for how we get our information?
“Idiocracy” – It’s a future documentary the way “1984” was a future work of non-fiction!
Woodrow/asim Jarvis Hill
I’d have to agree, in part, with that. I think a lot of people — not just “Real Americans”, but a large swath of folks in the US — associate Public Radio with a sense of “looking down on us” that they’re having trouble shaking. And I wish they would, in ways more like Radiolab and less like using recycled Washington boilerplate (itself “snooty”) to explain politics.
There’s a lot of room for Public Radio to be more Public — more integrated with the range of American activities, from inner-city to Idaho rural. That would be awesome, and open it up to new audiences, as well.
I picked up an actual physical newspaper the other day for the first time in many months—it was a freebee, thrown to my driveway maybe because the carrier had extras. It was an odd experience, it felt like a very ancient activity, like maybe hand-sewing a shirt or operating a morse code machine. I really think print is dead. I agree with Walker above—much prefer to surf around the internet for multiple sources of news. That said, NPR is always on in my car.
Perhaps one of the front pagers could post on this instead of 1500 word posts on fucking grammer.
History is happening mixie, while you chew that kumbayah-pax americana cud.
Strange. I listen to BBC radio all the time. The commenters are uniformly interesting BECAUSE they know what they’re talking about. I suppose I haven’t been so immersed in the 24-hour amusement culture that I need everything to be fun and easy to understand.
I should be right in the target demographic for both RL and TAL (east coast, urbanite, academic family, grad degree), and I do listen to both from time to time, but after a while the schtick just gets tiresome. I want to punch the radio while screaming, “Get to the FUCKING point!!! I don’t care how clever you think you are with your inane “witty” banter, just tell me things that are interesting and tell me NOW!”
The problem (and RL is the bigger offender here) seems to be that when they don’t have much of a story — either it’s too short or content-wise perhaps just isn’t interesting enough — they tend to pad it out with banter, witty quips, silly “bon mots,” and other nonsense. Most of which is so affected and obviously insincere that it seems like they think their listeners have all suffered head trauma in the past day or two.
The problem, in my mind, is most apparent when the producer/narrator/host(s) try to make themselves part of the story. When they talk about how the story makes them “feel” or when they come up with “witty” quips or banter about the story. Dear god, radiolab is terrible about this … I simply don’t want to hear those two nitwits banter on about the story as if this is the first time that either of them has ever been exposed to the material, as if they haven’t been working on this for (at least) a few days.
I want them to tell me stories about interesting things. I want the host to disappear into the background. I don’t want to listen to two people who are not as smart as they think they are engage in an insincere conversation about the material that adds nothing to the conversation.
If I wanted banter, I’d talk to the other person in the car, or to the imaginary other person in the car who insists that we blast Andrew W.K. for the duration of our trip.
From the article:
I’m all for high-quality content. I expect that it’s very expensive–obviously in terms of time, but also talent.
@c u n d gulag: There’s a difference between “I don’t want to know” and “The way this information is presented is off-putting”. Perhaps this person didn’t express it eloquently, but I get what she’s saying — a lot of NPR’s news is unnecessarily boring.
on the other hand, i got to hear Erick Fucking Erickson talk about Sarah Fucking Palin on NP Fucking R this A Fucking M.
@DanF: Indeed, that is what drives me bonkers about their coverage too. Then they have the nerve to put on airs during their pledge drive about how they’re such a valuable news source and how their listeners are so discerning for tuning in, when their coverage is often CNN style he said/she said dressed up in pseudo-intellectual language.
Their specialty, at least when it comes to political coverage, is to make their listeners feel informed and discerning – but they aren’t actually presenting any info except the talking points politicians are using that day.
The worst is Maura Liasson, their cheif political corresponden. She slants everything toward “let me tell you how X is bad for democrats” (because nothing could ever be bad for Republicans). She did this the other morning when one of the hosts asked her about the fact that all the Republican candidates are trailing Obama in the polls. When asked this question she pivoted to how this was bad news for Obama. I guess the reason for that should be self-evident and I’m just not discerning enough to see why.
Raven (formerly stuckinred)
@Samara Morgan: Hi!
c u n d gulag
Oh, I do too.
I was just being a wise-ass.
@mistermix: I do too. It took me a long time to get used to Ira Glass. I don’t know why, but his voice made me want him punch him. I kept listening because of the stories, though, and now I’m used to it. I like both TAL and Radiolab, but to me they’re in a similar vein and I do wish there was more of a range of voices out there telling stories. I do like listening to the Moth storytelling podcast to capture a little of that.
Wow, I don’t think I get this. Unlike Colbert & Stewart, these aren’t comedy shows. Should they be hectoring screechers like Rush, Savage and their kind? Most NPR shows and reports have a luxury of not being in a hurry, so why talk like a (a) jester (b) maniac, or (c) saleman/auctioneer?
And Michele Martin, Tavis Smiley, Kojo Nnamde, Michele Norris, Scott Simon, Lynn Rosetto-Casper, Peter Sagel, the Car Guys, Ira Glass sound like WASPs? They sound like people — an’ smart ones — but they sure aren’t WASPs.
Oh well as they say on the Interwebs, haters gonna hate.
@cleek: WTF. They are making it very difficult for me to care if the GOP cuts 100% of their funding.
I can’t stand the sound of most (non-singing) voices on the radio, especially from those who aren’t professionally trained speakers. I wish we could all just communicate telepathically.
schlemizel - was Alwhite
No, no, no – WASPs are all intelligent people & all intelligent people are WASPs. Please try to keep up with the cultural stereotypes. Smart people are not ‘real Americans’ either.
+1 to both Will and Gromit. I’m glad to know there are others out there who are put off by “RadioLab’s” pervasive cutesiness and lack of actual content.
I like Patton Oswalt’s take on this issue.
@Will: So in other words you don’t like Radiolab. Right? I mean, you’re saying you want Radiolab to be a show other than Radiolab.
As far as “nitwits” go, Jad Abumrad, co-host of Radiolab, just won a MacArthur genius grant. So you know.
Ha! I was wondering if someone else felt this way. Same here: I like Ira Glass’ show the times I’ve heard it, but that voice is so adenoidal. I just want to blast out his sinuses.
@3 Dan – agree about the he said/she said hackery. It’s the main reason I don’t donate to NPR anymore, except when they air an animal-friendly story.
Vastly prefer to listen to, and donate to, http://www.democracynow.org
Also in media news:
why free software is important
@c u n d gulag:
NPR would get a much bigger market share if they got larry the cable guy to read the AP wire every hour.
I don’t have a problem with the speech tones of most of the NPR crew: they sound like normal people to me. Perhaps Cokie Robert’s upper-class Southern belle sneering is giving the whole network a bad rap. I say they should just can Cokie.
schlemizel - was Alwhite
I posted this but it is stuck in moderation – I assume because of the ‘f’ word (phag)
the most popular ‘news’ shows are one red nose and an orange fright wig away from the circus – but people love ‘em!
I have noticed recently NPR making with the seltzer bottles & honky horns in stories. SIGH pretty soon people who talk real pretty will be labeled as phags & laughed at – Idiocracy in action.
+1. While I may be missing a valid criticism, this was uncomfortably close to the right-wing “elistist!” meme.
ETA: @c u n d gulag: +1, also, too.
Gilles de Rais
Shorter NPR: Smart people suck, we gotta tard it up for the rubes.
Seriously starting to loathe this nation and our unquestioning worship of the lowest common denominator.
So does this mean that being entertained trumps being informed?
The quality of NPR’s reporting and presentation has noticeably shallowed and declined. The average IQ level of their correspondents seems to be approaching normal media level, i.e., abysmally low.
Did anyone catch Simon Schama on Neil Conan the other day? The contrast between Schama’s erudition and the moronic sputtering of Conan literally made us laugh out loud in the car.
At least they’re not hiring so many on-air people with noticeable, distracting speech impediments anymore…
The jokes write themselves.
@cleek: oh-oh here she comes.
watch out boy she’ll chew you up.
sheez a man eater.
sheez got until sept 30 to throw her hat in right?
Well, the results are in from my local election. Only 151 participants among nearly 2000 residents in my district.
Not even 10% participation. Pathetic.
I noticed I was the only <40 year old when I went to the polls. And you wonder why young people don't care to listen to NPR?!?
Asynchronous media: You can skip what doesn’t interest you.
Synchronous media: Not.
@Ash Can: dude. grammer is a solved problem.
machines can doooo eeet.
lets move on.
If you don’t like the way those people’s voices sound, just be glad you don’t have to hear how they “think”. You’d run screaming.
Being one never to pass up a gratuitous insult towards a pet peeve, I’ll note that Ira Glass ought to love Radiolab: it’s the show he wishes he could do if only he actually had talent instead of just knowing people with a bit of it.
I don’t listen to RadioLab. Maybe they’ve gotten better, but it used to be the case that every episode included an extended segment about the weird use of sound that would inevitably degenerate into an excuse for the producer to play a few extended clips of fingernails on a blackboard or such. I can understand how such a temptation could be irresistible for a hip young radio producer – it’s so aurically interesting and all that – but it tended to drive me to violence, especially when it came on the radio after I’d been working all night.
Appropriately, last weekend’s episode of This American Life, a show I normally love, succumbed to exactly the same temptation, inflicting upon its listeners an interminable story on Tinnitus that I’m sure would have been all kinds of Worthy and Thought-Provoking if it hadn’t merely made me despise the people who’d pump such tones into my earbuds without warning.
Maybe NPR should get Bozo the Clown to conduct their interviews.
Speaking of fascinating, did anyone catch Rick Perry’s campaign ad / trailer for a summer blockbuster? It really made me want to vote for Obama again, even though Obama is the first apocalyptic half and Perry is the second coming half. I’ll take Obama and the apocalypse over hearing “America” every four seconds. Has a nice oh-so-subtle flash “an American” too. Not that they’d be suggesting that the President is not American, perish the thought.
From the commentariat braying I’d say it hits the mark. The inanity of American privilege. It’s also a critique that applies to the netroots – “lucky duckies” and so forth. If the point is political action and outcomes and nobody outside the echo chambers knows (or cares) what the fuck you’re on about – that’s a problem.
But.. hey, stupid fucking proles, (hur hur) – am I right fellas?
@DanF: This. No follow-up and softball questions. The opposite of the BBC, TDS and Colbert.
If not for Wait, Wait….. and Science Friday, I wouldn’t listen to much NPR (except on long road trips, although books on CD, even repeats of the Hitchhiker series, are replacing even that for me).
That being said, NPR is sometimes marginally better that ABC (Australian public radio), which has been known to broadcast day-long cricket matches. This would not be a problem, except that in many parts of the outback, it is the ONLY radio station. At all other times, though, the ABC is much, much better.
I like the topics that Radiolab covers. I think they find interesting people and stories that aren’t often covered in radio or TV and I appreciate that.
I find their presentation of those stories to be cloying aggravating.
I understand that people like him and kudos for him for winning a Mac Arthur grant, but I still think his presentation style is that of a nitwit. What makes it all so frustrating for me is that I suspect he’s much smarter than he sounds on radio, but he dumbs it down with infantile banter because he thinks his listeners aren’t smart enough to keep up with him.
This is a question of taste, and clearly people differ on those sorts of things. For example, the bit of dialogue which Glass quotes approvingly in the linked piece is EXACTLY the sort of time-wasting nonsense that drives me bonkers. I listened to that episode. Glass says that it passes “very, very fast on the radio;” I thought it dragged on interminably. The empty back-and-forth (“Yes!” “No!” “Yes!” “Get out!”) wastes time, doesn’t advance the story, doesn’t provide any new information, assumes we’re too dumb to appreciate the wonder of the described coincidence without extensive and obnoxious emphasis from the hosts, and — generally — sounds like the sort of dialogue an adult would come up with when they’re trying to sound like a teenager.
Interestingly, Glass even points out that “this is a trick the Planet Money team is using all the time.” Well, I stopped listening to Planet Money about a year or so ago precisely because that trick had me throwing my iPod against the nearest available wall.
I guess me and Ira will just have to agree to disagree.
Culture of Truth
I’ve listened to a fair amount of NPR lately, in bits and pieces, and without exception the stories have been useless fare pointedly designed to be inoffensive to the point of blandness. Then there’s the achingly self-aware hand-wringing suburban-mom-and-dad bits where you can practically feel the sighs through the amplitude.
Insult #2: the problem with NPR is that over the course of the past 15 years they’ve become a shtick. They’ve developed what I call the “NPR Cadence”. The best way to describe what I’m talking about is actually this Onion parody.
NPR has arrived at a point where the actual words coming out of people’s mouths aren’t nearly as important as whether they fit ‘the sound’ of NPR. People just babble, but as long as they babble in ‘the cadence’ it’s ‘quality’. This is what happens whenever they choose hosts — they pick the guy or gal who sounds like a pleasing modulation machine. (How the hell Ira worked his way into that picture I’ll never know.) 20 years ago you used to get the idea there was a brain behind the voice. Now you just get the sonorities.
Radiolab, on the other hand, has the cadence of the old, beloved NBC News Overnight, which was described as a ‘smart’ way to present the news (which it was), but was also about people who understood rhythm.
@gnomedad: dude….its a waste of spacetime.
Looks to me like you’re mixing up “This American Life” (Hosted by Glass) with “Radiolab” (Hosted by two other guys).
OK, cancel that. (This is what I get for reading the comments starting at the end and working backwards…)
However, I can’t quite figure out which show you’re talking about at which time in #49
“The expense” is exactly correct: syndicated content is cheaper than having your own reporters.
@Will: I can understand your criticisms of Radiolab, and like you say, it’s totally a taste thing. But it’s an entertainment show as well as an informative one, and the presentation is part and parcel with the thing. Saying that an exchange is extraneous because it “wastes time” and “doesn’t advance the story” ignores that Radiolab feels they’ve got a dual mandate: to tell an informative story, and to entertain along the way. Maybe the way they fulfill the second part of that isn’t your cup of tea, and that’s fine. But it’s not necessarily indicative of thinking the audience is stupid. It’s presentation.
Sometimes the banter between Krulwich and Abumrad is just meant to break things up, it seems. Sometimes it’s meant to give contrasting reactions to what was just heard (as in the banter on the morality episode, where they discuss whether or not they’d kill their child to save the whole village).
Again, I understand that it’s not your cup of tea, but I hardly think that it’s a foregone conclusion that their style of presentation is equivalent to telling the audience they’re stupid.
but the reporter’s voice and intonation is soooo affected, upper class, wasp, Ph.D. student-like, it detracts from the story.
I find this somewhat amusing because as time goes on, NPR is putting more younger people on (naturally), and I have found the way a lot of women of my generation and newer talk to be immensely, incredibly annoying. The younger guys, older guys, and older women all talk about the same, but half the time it seems the younger women used “Valley Girl” as a guide. Drives me up the wall.
/get off my lawn
And I, too, have found Radiolab’s tone/style to be annoying. Get to the point already.
I sort of agree, but I’ll also note that my problem with it isn’t that it’s not ‘fun’ — it’s that the ‘serious’ stuff increasingly seems hollowed out. You listen to the news programs today and they sound like they’re doing an imitation of themselves or just punching the clock.
yeah, don’t like Radiolab. too much chatter, too little info.
i like Stereolab and Radiohead, though. shame they couldn’t find a way to work together.
This American Life does more investigative reporting (like the recent ones on gas drilling and patents, or the classic ones like The Giant Pool of Money) than the rest of the MSM (NPR included) combined. And that’s in between their human-interest episodes.
Maybe if NPR and the others started doing some real reporting people would listen to them.
Absolutely agreed: in fact as a listener I feel like my intelligence is engaged by that style, not insulted.
Mileage will vary.
She’s not a credible candidate in the first place, no matter how much the rubes fancy her. If she wants to run, she has already waited months too long. For one thing, she has no campaign organization, and it’s too late to put one together now. All the best campaign staffers are already in the game, probably working for the eventual nominee. And her current grift is far more lucrative than any $400k/year job.
And another thing: your spelling needs work.
I love This American Life, though, but it draws a lot less attention to the artifice of its production.
You have to be kidding! TAL is all about affectation, from Ira Glass’s voice to the background music to the way that string together stories by a tenuous “theme.” It’s interesting, of course, but TAL isn’t a “populist” show.
In any case, the media hasn’t gotten more separated from the people. It’s gotten closer to them. 60-70 years ago it was considered standard for broadcasts to be delivered in an artificial trans-atlantic accent which no one in real life actually spoke. mistermix is just describing an ongoing process of broadcasting in the vernacular that has been going on since the advent of radio.
From the article:
Yeah, well maybe that’s exactly the way it ought to be: I think one of NPR’s big problems right now is self-love. They have their star system and it seems like the adoration for themselves and especially their own stars permeates every second of airtime. It’s not the style that’s putting people off, it’s the ‘tude.
@PeakVT: Yes, I noticed the Valley Girl speech thing too. Almost every young woman on NPR has that upper-middle class affectation of speaking like they’re yawning at the same time, like is sooooo boring and soooo much effort for them to have to talk.
I found this way of speaking to be annoying when I was in high school and I certainly do not find it any more endearing now that I’m in my 40s.
This is very similar to how scientists (don’t) relate to the general population. Academic institutions reward publications aimed at other academic researchers, and may actually penalize efforts to communicate research results to non-scientists. Scientists generally don’t focus on what needs to be done to develop scientific information that is both useful to and useable by decision makers. Instead, when science is not adequately considered in decisions, the scientific community tends to huff that decision makers are too stupid to understand how valuable their precious scientific information is. Information design – deliberately working to present information in a way that makes sense to a target audience – is viewed in much of academic culture as ‘impure’, in that it feels like a violation of precious objectivity. Very much a self-defeating attitude, unfortunately.
I will join the chorus of people who can’t stand Ira Glass’s voice. The thing that really bugs me is that I think his lack of affect is itself an affectation. When I’ve heard him interviewed (as in the They Might Be Giants documentary), he isn’t that hard to listen to. But on TAL, he puts on the flattened drone of a pretentious coffeehouse poet.
As for the carefully-selected (one might almost say self-serving) listener quote, yeah–I really hate hearing people who sound like they have PhDs. That’s really the problem with our media: too many smart people. What a load of crap. The problem with Innskeep, Liason, Scott (shudder) Simon, et al., isn’t that they talk too purty, it’s that they adopt the same “view from nowhere”/”both sides” perspective that reigns throughout the commercial media. I’m happy to hear someone who can enunciate clearly, if they’re not spewing boolshyt.
To me the NPR style makes interesting things boring because it’s so montone and self-congratulatory (over WHAT?) that it becomes a drone and I have New Age music for that.
Radio, above all, must have pace. There are ways we listen, and good radio takes total advantage of that. I’ve never laughed so hard as I did listening to old radio comedy as a kid.
It’s been invented, it’s been perfected as a medium. Why isn’t there anyone on the air who gets that? Makes me angry and so I don’t want to seek out what little might be “good.”
@Gromit: I’m with you, Gromit. I tried to become a RadioLab listener, because Ira regularly talks up the show. But it doesn’t grab and hold me, it’s just too difficult to stay with it. OTOH, I never miss an episode of TAL, ever. Even the mediocre episodes are better than 95% of whatever else is out there to listen to.
@barath: On that note, I also listen to the Planet Money podcast on a regular basis. It is almost as good as TAL on topics related to economics (micro, macro, global).
The thing I find especially grating about TAL is that their affectation is to pretend they don’t have the NPR affectation: they try to come across as the outsider nerds and losers looking in. No, they don’t just try, they spray the entire thing down with a fire hose.
Half the time when I have the misfortune to hear him, I say out loud, “Ira, did you even prepare for this show before they opened your mic?”
I’m surprised to see upcomments that they’re doing more investigative reporting now, having stopped listening years ago when I got sick of endless “adult lives of the drama club kids” bits.
Wonkette makes information interesting. Take, for example, this interesting story:
Absolutely! HO.LY.CRAP. I want to shove pencils in my ears when she starts to “report”. Anyone willing to work as a “Fox News Contributor” should no longer be considered a serious journalist and should no longer appear on NPR. Apparently they didn’t they learn their lesson with Juan Williams.
Parodying these radio dullards is part of what makes the Schweddy Balls skit funny.
David in NY
Did I get moderated or what?
Southern Beale mentioned this a few threads down. I asked why the Rhode Island Republican Party doesn’t vet its candidates; efgoldman explained that it has too few people and lacks the resources.
Good to know I’m not alone on those things.
Good to know I’m not alone on that.
Conversely, OK GO had him interview them for a bonus disc for their latest album — he makes it nearly unlistenable entirely by himself. The man’s ratio of worthwhile things he has to say to things he actually says has got to be around 1:3.
My comment awaits moderation. It must be because I was agreeing with people.
(Did I do that @commenter thing right? Gosh, I hope so…)
Anyway, in #49 I was discussing the Stochasticity episode, specifically the bit of dialogue quoted by Ira Glass in the linked Transom piece in the O.P.
You’re right, in that this is all my opinion, and therefore not the word-from-on-high (no matter how much I might wish it were so). I understand why they’re doing it, and that it is meant to be entertaining. I just don’t think it is.
I guess what I find so interesting/funny about my reaction to the “RL style,” is that I am a walking NPR/East Coast Liberal stereotype. I drive a Subaru wagon. I wear chunky glasses. I’ve spent decades living in Manhattan and Brooklyn (recently moved though). I like arugula. I got grief from a U.S. border guard for “having so many stamps on my passport.” (seriously, it was insane) I don’t drink lattes, but I do drink breve lattes. I use a Mac. And… and yet… god, that show can drive me nuts.
Keep in mind though, that despite my complaints, I listen to enough of it that I had heard the episode Glass talks about in the Transom piece, and actually had an opinion about the piece.
It might just be that RL is damn good except for, in my eyes, one big flaw. And near perfection is always more aggravating than simple outright failure.
Yeah, RadioLab’s great, and I love Ira Glass, but Diane Rehm had somebody on last week that I didn’t agree with.
NOT ONE THIN DIME FROM ME
Villago Delenda Est
Leslie Blitzer country? That is indeed abysmal.
David in NY
Oh crap, I wrote such a nice comment that disappeared. I at first could not stand TAL but now love it. Some of what I said is noted above — people don’t like educated women’s voices (I’m not certain it’s the fault of the women), there used to be a sophomoric in-group affect that I think is far less present now as they do more investigative reporting, or more real-life stories.
And really, you folks who think it’s dull just haven’t been listening. It’s dull just like This American Life. (I defy anyone to listen to the story about the woman in Michigan whose father killed someone in a hit-and-run, the police wouldn’t listen to her, she left town, some poor guy gets convicted on no evidence of murdering the victim, she eventually learns of this and provides evidence that, after 14 years, gets him out, they become friends, a relationship fraught with her guilt at not pushing the police harder to investigate her father, and not practically be in tears. Or about the innocent kid in California tricked into confessing to his sister’s murder, obviously committed by someone else. Or the kids in Illinois wrongly convicted of capital murder … Or Harold Washington, Or … I could go on and on.)
What I find annoying about NPR isn’t “tone,” exactly; it’s the fact that its entire production style is appropriate for someone sitting in their high-end living room, or a Lexus. Try listening to All Things Considered while driving a car with no AC and a crappy old Ford radio. Or while driving a tractor. Anybody who has a lot of ambient noise in their environment will find NPR almost unlistenable. The announcers and reporters all have quiet, somber voices, so you have to turn the volume way up just to understand them. Then, in between every Godforsaken story, they play some ear-splitting music of some kind so you have to turn the damn thing down to avoid busting your eardrums.
Again: not something an upper-class listener would notice or mind. But Joe Sixpack notices it.
I enjoy This American Life and Radiolab because neither assumes that I have the attention span of a two year old. There are TAL episodes that devote an entire show to a single story. Cable news can’t even devote an entire minute to a single story. Also, both shows are content to let the stories lead the way instead of making the stories fit a prearranged purpose. That’s not to say they aren’t heavily edited/produced, they are.
@Amir Khalid: What a world this could be, were that condition a national affair.
I would actually pray for that.
You did indeed.
Reading that I cringed — that’s extra-cutsey-icky on the page, agreed. (I’ve not heard that episode, maybe it listens just as bad as it reads.) In a way I’m not at all surprised Ira would choose that as an example, as it’s a good model for why I think TAL is lousy.
Which, oddly, is sort of how I feel about TAL. I can also completely understand how people would find the RL banter annoying, because I’m sometimes mystified as to why I don’t find it annoying — on paper it ought to drive me up a wall just as much as Ira does, but somehow they get the seasoning just right for my taste.
But, nor that of a corpse.
Love both Radiolab and TAL (and all the voices) and don’t understand the criticism about information — they’re not newscasts, they’re telling stories. Diane Rehm’s voice annoys me (I know she’s had all those surgeries), but I listen because she’s one of the best hosts. Garrison Keillor can go — I fly into a rage whenever I hear some artist that I like then hear his awful singing come in (why does he insist on doing that?). The Planet Money team has some interesting stuff, but in my opinion they’re the kings of snide (they constantly shit on everything Elizabeth Warren did/said).
But that’s why I tend to listen to everything in podcast form. If something’s annoying to me (including stuff on Radiolab or TAL), I just fast forward.
Totally agree… her bias is soo obvious. Reporters like her and the many puff pieces and crap you cite upstring is why NPR will not get a dime of my money ever again…EVER.
I do like Radiolab and the cultural pieces and say to those who can’t stand a more sophisticated tone, “go listen to something else”. I also love Prairie Home Companion…
What the hell happened to decent media? You only have to tune into CBC (Canadian Broacasting) to hear what it should be like. Or pick BBC (not the Americanized version)when traveling abroad to know that such reporting still exists. Its killing this country and killing informed citizenship — though motivated people can still dig up truth on the intertubes — with caution, that is.
If someone could just convince him to stop smacking his lips deliberately I might give him another chance.
David in NY
@different church-lady: Patience has its rewards. The story about the 14-year-old boy wrongly accused of his sister’s murder after some cop (who is on tape doing it) slickly makes the crying kid think he must have killed the girl without remembering it and then confess to the killing, for example. That’s no sound-bite, it’s a story, and if you’re in such a hurry to switch channels, you’re missing a lot.
In this case, I swore that if I ever ran into that cop I would willfully commit a serious assault upon him (I had a sensitive, suggestible 14-year-old boy myself, at the time).
Culture of Truth
you comment awaits modulation
They don’t sound like WASPs. And they don’t sound like people. They sound like NPR robots. (Okay, not the car guys — they sound like the world’s most intelligent nitwits.)
Hi! I’m one of the people subsidizing your listening habit, just in case you wanted to say thanks or whatever.
@David in NY: I think you got me sideways: I meant they strike the right balance between hyperactive and “must sit down and LISTEN VERY SERIOUSLY NOW!” Which apparently are the two poles many people try to shove all content towards.
i don’t mind Glass’ voice either. and i like TAL.
i don’t really mind any of the NPR reporter’s voices, either. what bugs me about NPR is their reporting, specifically way they strain to find some kind of partisan balance in all their political stories, lest someone accuse them of bias. every political story requires both a Republican and a moderate Democratic pundit to present both ‘sides’; but the result is that you have no idea what the real story is because the two interpretations they give you are so far apart, and the reporters usually refuse to go beyond setting up the ‘controversy’. they rarely dare explain that one side is simply spouting bullshit.
also, get rid of “What D’Ya Know?” Michael Feldman is so fucking dreary and boring.
Well after letters and complaints, I have no other way to register my complaints about their very biased news coverage. I am open to any suggestions that you have since I am not typically a freeloader, but give me some ideas. I HATE what they have become and see no reason to support it.
David in NY
@different church-lady: I think I’m still confused.
And I’ve been playing with trying to post a comment I wrote that just disappears, no indication it’s in moderation, nada. I wonder what I said.
You lying dog! You commented @ # 78 upstring that they wouldnt get one thin dime from you and then you acuse ME of freeloading.
Which one is it?
David in NY
@David in NY: And why can’t I edit my comment?
@different church-lady: Ahh, I think that “But, nor …” flummoxed me. Sorry.
@David in NY: I’ve heard that grammar is a solved problem but myself, I don’t believe it one bit.
David in NY
@Elie: In gil’s defense — you are unable to sense the sarcasm (or whatever) in comment #78. HE WAS MAKING FUN OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU, even before you did what he was making fun of. And yes, you appear to be a (humorless) freeloader.
edited for clarity
From the article:
Right there… RIGHT FUCKING THERE… Those two guys are not “reinventing” radio, Ira. They’re just doing it really really well.
You see what I mean about the NPR self-love?
I’m a lifetime NPR listener and have been a contributor to multiple stations for years. I don’t get the “he sounds like a professor” thing, but I guess it does sound different from other news.
I do agree with many of the other posters up thread that the false equivalencies and he said / she said abound on All Things Considered and such and they’re milquetoasts when it comes to using correct words (enhanced interrogation techniques vs. “some people call it torture” BS)
I do like RadioLab and TAL. I balance that with BBCs Newshour/Newspod and find myself pretty well informed, but the tone comment above is just annoying.
Do people want news announcers to sound like the guy from “Ow My Balls” in Idiocracy? I just don’t understand….
ETA: Garrison Keilor / A Prairie Home Companion can just go off and die now and leave the schlocky 1950s humor to die. Nothing makes me switch stations more quickly.
@David in NY:
Well sorry — I actually have a good sense of humor
How would I possibly know what he intended? Apparently it helps that he has people like you to interpret his insults to others for him.
I DO support local outlets like KUOW in Seattle — not NPR and I make no apologies for that… I certainly do not believe that I should be insulted by you or anyone else for that point of view.
@Elie: One thing you should realize about supporting NPR. Figure out which shows you like and don’t like, and support those stations directly. You’re indirectly supporting the national organization, that does put out the BS reporting you’re talking about, but some stations, such as WBEZ in Chicago, WNYC in New York and KCRW in Santa Monica deserve your love and put out original content that is independent of the national organization.
The local stations have to give a ton of money for ATC and ME and all the national shows…but the more contributions they get, the better their local and unique shows become…
Why must it die when switching stations seems to be a perfectly adequate solution?
like Juilan says, information wants to be free.
“Free” is just another word for “someone else should be paying for it.”
Fair enough and I will do that… actually had not thought of it that way, though I do support KUOW in Seattle — our local outlet — LOVE the garden show and other offerings ..
Hey — I am fair and definitely want to support good work…and there are some great shows broadcast through NPR but as you say, produced locally.
@different church-lady: Oh, I’m just being hyperbolic. I hate commercial radio. Can’t stand it. At all. So when PHC comes on, I’m just screwed.
I usually end up switching to CDs or the iPod. Don’t know what else to say, Keilor’s voice/schtick makes me violent….
@different church-lady: This may be why they fired Bob Edwards, who was twice the host Steve Inskeep and Rene Montaign are. But they’re so modulated.
I like Prairie Home Companion. Its shlocky humour rings of other times and simpler times…to me just very funny in its own right. Tastes differ but I like it.
Reminder: not all shows heard on your local NPR affiliate are produced by NPR.
well that is where support gets complicated beyond what Singfoom suggested… that starts getting impossible to direct appropriately
David in NY
Reading carefully. The tip-off was the obvious lack of balance between effusive praise for RadioLab and TAL and the carping about Diane Rehm having one person “on last week that I didn’t agree with.” Any sensitive reader with a sense of humor would have caught this. Then there was the totally out-of-proportion refusal, in all caps (often a signal here for satire), of even “ONE THIN DIME.”
I mean, you may think you have a sense of humor, but the evidence is otherwise. Especially given the clue that he, quite wittily, pointed out that you owed him some money for listening to NPR on his dime.
Get a clue.
And by the way, he did not insult you. You have a thin skin. (edit)
different church-lady sez
Perhaps you have not heard Martin, Nnamde or the Splendid Table lady, as they do not in anyway sound like the regular NPR sound. And it’s hard to call Scott Simon a robot since he is one of the “MARK ONE SERIES” from which the whole sound emerged.
Anyway, count me as fan– although I can’t listen to NPR’s On the Media for reasons not unlike some people’s objections to Glass — I don’t like Brooke Gladstone’s voice and find the whole operation really self-satisfied. I love vegetables, but don’t like cauliflower…
@beltane: Is that affect a class thing? It’s so widespread.
@c u n d gulag:
Supposedly complaints about “the voice” contributed to Bob Edwards’ demise.
I like listening to people who sound like they might have PhDs. Bring back the voice.
The current set seem to be nit-wits. There is a woman host whose cloying voice makes me turn off the radio. It is almost as annoying as Scott Simon’s “it hurts me to ask this I’m so sensitive but I’m a jerk so I will” intake of breath before he asks an embarrassing personal question the answer to which we have no right to know.
@Elie: The solution is to give a some of your money to your affiliate, and then complain to them about specific NPR shows and reporters. I’ve complained about Tom Ashbrook and On Point a couple of times to VPR, and right now I’m probably the only one doing so. But I mostly like VPR’s local programs, and I wouldn’t want VPR to cut them back.
It’s not that they sound all waspy and ph.d-ish . . . it’s that they’re so totally removed from needing to care about what they cover. You get the feeling that this hohum business of disentangling the news is a sort of exercise that they’re performing, like those super-yoga devotees, all focused on themselves and showing off a little for people who haven’t yet mastered the finer points. It’s all about them.
Also, too, Steve Inskeep’s dopey laugh works like a cattle prod on my channel-switching finger.
I thought it a nitwit affectation.
Exactly why I’d prefer people who sound like they have Ph.Ds
This sums up my position. I love Radiolab, but I love it despite the presentation style, not because of it. If they dropped the schtick, I’d love it much more. On the other hand, I really like TAL’s presentation.
Obviously, as someone who listens to about 15 different science podcasts each week, I’m probably not the sort of person Radiolab is trying to reach out to, as I’d listen regardless.
West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.)
Well, put me down as one who enjoys all types of styles and approaches to radio. I like Ira Flatow’s warm approach to discussing science. I enjoyed the late Daniel Schorr’s grandfatherly tone of voice and perspective. (This is just to name a couple of the many voices I listen to on NPR.)
I am dismayed over the tendency some people have to demonize (or at least mock) what they don’t like. Yes, I agree with those who are dissatisfied with NPR’s he said-she said approach to news coverage. Take a bloody stand and point out that one side has a better argument than the other, you supposedly-investigative journalists! However, it seems pretty judgmental to carve out wide swathes of humanity and describe people as snooty, boring, etc., based on the perceived quality of their voices. That whole “he just doesn’t sound/look/dress/walk/where his pants like us” thing is a form of prejudice.
Big Baby DougJ
I agree about the Beeb, I love it, even though I am a major Anglophobe.
I also agree that there’s something off-putting about NPR, to me, at least, including Glass himself.
@MarkJ: Rumor has it they pushed Bob Edwards off the plank because he was starting to cost them too much.
I cop to having drifted away from planet NPR about 10 years ago — only occasionally do I receive transmissions and usually I can only bear it for about 5 minutes. I do hear some complete shows but it’s usually podcasts I seek out rather than “NPR lock” on my dial. (Which reminds me of an anecdote I think is revealing about NPR listeners: at an office I used to visit regularly their dial was locked on the local public radio outlet. There was a locally produced midday news show that was reasonably atrocious. Every time I went into that office they complained about how bad that show was. But not once did they ever turn the dial to something else.)
Ditto. But I’ll note there’s two things: (1) the quality of the voice and (2) how that voice is used.
Gladstone has a reedy quality that on the edge of annoying. What pushes it over the edge for me is how she uses it — the self-satisfaction in her inflection. I would listen past the voice if it weren’t for the second quality. (Don’t even get me started on “The Takeaway”…)
A guy like Neal Conen, on the other hand, has a great voice but it frequently doesn’t seem like there’s a brain behind it.
Ira has nearly unlistenable voice that he actually manages to make more unlistenable due to his affectation of non-professionalism.
Robert Krulwich’s voice ought to annoy me just as much as Ira’s, but somehow doesn’t, perhaps due to the fact that he doesn’t try to make a shtick out of it.
I’m trying to think of examples of bad voices used well, but I’m not coming up with any right now.
@David in NY:
You seem pretty hostile — I made a mistake that I have in effect, apologized for. Why the continued outrage? I have said nothing nasty to you at all — I made an admitted nasty comment to your friend, but did not address YOU at all.
Get the chip off your shoulder. You are making something out of nothing. Let your friend defend himself/herself. I have nothing more to say to you.
BTW, YOU seem very irritable and thin skinned for somone who was not the intended recipeint of my remark. I could also say, mind your own business.
Hell, I remember when people listened to the radio and watched TV. Nowadays, supposedly we consume content. Ugh for ugly and inapt metaphors.
But I agree with the larger point that a lot of stuff on NPR is drenched in overly solemn pretentiousness that simply is not interesting or compelling.
West of the Rockies (formerly Frank W.)
Maybe I was too rosy in my last comment. Yes, some voices on NPR/APR do annoy me. I wish Keillor would stop singing so damn much. I wish Mara could at least pretend to be objective. I found the last ombudsman (Alicia Sheppard)to be arrogant. Sometimes it struck me that the late Daniel Schorr was no longer on the top of his game. Ira Glass’s voice (to me) is annoying. Still, NPR is far better than most of what I hear on the radio now. I’ve pretty much sworn-off the AM dial: nothing but Christian broadcasting, right-wing blowhards, or juvenile, sexist (mostly) sports-talk radio. Blech….
I did like KPIG radio out of Santa Cruz, California, before the local carrier switched to right-wing drivel.
David in NY
@Elie: QED. (I note that you have forgotten that you started this by calling somebody a “creep” and a “lying dog,” see your comment #98, for making a very funny point, albeit at your expense. I am sorry I had to point out, to explain the situation, that you had been more than a little dense. I don’t think I insulted you, except perhaps to say you should “Get a clue” and that your response showed you had no sense of humor. I stand by both these observations, which I think merely state the facts.)
@different church-lady: cudlip.
you just keep chewing that “freed” market cud.
Any Hardcore History fans here? I’ve never listened to Radiolab, but the description makes it sound a lot like HH. Long form discussions of historical topics (the fall of the Roman republic, the Eastern Front of WWII, the age of exploration), drawing from multiple sources, supplemented by a messageboard community to discuss the shows.
You And I And George
I gave up on NPR when they put that nasty Juan Williams in Rey Suarez’ TOTN seat. He really destroyed a fine show.
@David in NY:
YOU do what you want to do.
Hey — how about “Mind your own business”.
We’re doomed. What an incredibly stupid analysis. A novel doesn’t sound anything like a PhD dissertation, which may be what this respondent meant to say. But if the respondent doesn’t know the difference between a novel and a scholarly dissertation, then how useful is anything he/she says?
Apparently, Public Broadcasting correspondents need to concentrate on filling their reports with “you know” and “like” and “totally” and “like totally, you know.” Get rid of that scholarly tone.
@DanF: It’s not just her, though she is, indeed, the worst. They seem to have Sunday Morning Syndrome – when I’m listening they have republicans on to talk and no counterbalancing Democratic voice as often as not. It virtually never works the other way around.
Then, they’ll do a straight news story and have some hack from the Cato Institute or Heritage on to provide the conservative viewpoint. They did this with a story on Medicaid – some researcher had used the Oregon Medicaid lottery to examine whether people got better health care on Medicaid than without it. The researcher found that indeed, having Medicaid does result in better health care relative to not having it (big duh – having health insurance is better than having none).
So they have the researcher on to present the facts, and then have the hack from Heritage or Cato on to present the conservative version of the fact. But they have no-one from a left wing think tank on to present the left wing perspective. There’s no indication that the researcher is politically affiliated, other than that the facts have a well known liberal bias. So you have a non-partisan researcher on to present research findings, and a right winger on to muddy the waters. This is the opposite of good journalism. They took a straight factual piece and added an aura of right wing doubt about it, all in the name of “balance” because the facts themselves are convenient for liberals.
@Fargus: I haven’t listened to RadioLab in ages, but primarily because Krulwich has started to get on my last nerve–I’m pretty sure Krulwich doesn’t believe he’s ever met anyone more adorable and interesting than himself. Which, in its place (the occasional story for NPR news on the weekend or even RL all the time) is fine. That’s his schtick.
But what drove me from the show was when I realized they were who Steve Inskeep was copying as he incessantly goes for cute at the end of almost all stories every morning, often in a truly inappropriate situation. If Inskeep wants to be Krulwich and Abumrad, he should apply for a different gig.
I swear, Nina Totenberg and Daniel Zwerdling are the last two reasons to listen to NPR news.
You And I And George
NPR is stuffy and pretentious.
The alternative isn’t Valley Girl.
It’s non-stuffy, down to earth reporting. Think Cronkite.
David in NY
@Elie: Quote: “I DO support local outlets like KUOW in Seattle—not NPR and I make no apologies for that …” Where’s that apology?
I mean, look, I’ve been picking on you, no doubt. You’re cluelessness has been sort of like a toothache. So I’m sorry for picking on you.
The way Chuck Mertz was treated by the staff of NPR during their talent search says EVERYTHING you need to know about the current state of NPR.
@Emma: That’s what I’m talking about. One person’s dry is another person’s interesting. If it has to be “fun” to be interesting, you’re doin’ it wrong.
“NPR does not change everything it does so that it is acceptable to me, and therefore I won’t give them money ever but I’ll use the parts of their product that are acceptable to me.”
I take it I don’t need to point out that, since nothing will ever be entirely acceptable to anyone, if everyone were to adopt this attitude then NPR would never get any money from anyone? And that therefore your attitude amounts to nothing more than a carefully constructed excuse to ignore pledge drives, but continue consuming the parts of the product that you like?
Sounds… familiar somehow…
@David in NY:
Hey guys, sorry, didn’t mean to start a fight I couldn’t stick around for. But yeah, David Speaks For Me. (barring a misleading pseudonym on your part, we’re in the same market, and to be fair, WNYC is head-and-shoulders-and-Don-King-hair above the other affiliates–I try to keep that in mind when other listeners’ bitching starts to rankle)
Nothing against you personally, Elie–these NPR threads are always lousy with people bragging about how they don’t support an outlet that clearly dominates their media consumption–but you’ve gotta admit it’s pretty funny that we both made essentially the same comment from opposite ends of the earnestness spectrum, down to the “not one dime” thing.
@David in NY: You’re doing the work of angels here, David in NY.
Do NOT mess with Brooke! I WILL cut you!
Seriously, that’s my favorite show on the radio, hands down.
@David in NY: Yeah, I have to agree with this. When I reflect on it, there is a fair amount of affectation in TAL’s style and in Ira’s presentation. But, in probably 7 of every 10 programs, the actual stories being told are so compelling that I’m focused on those alone, and matters of style recede out of mind completely.
This is why I can’t listen to “alternative” music in general (which, yes, is most of the rock music put out over the past 30 years). On top of that, the “coffeehouse poet” image is itself the sort of backward esthetic leapfrogging (over Those Awful Hippies, natch) that defines the (post)modern hip scene.
I can kinda relate a bit to brewmn, but the style is so annoying I can’t ignore it. OTOH, the stories themselves seem so uniformly tragic that I get no joy listening to it anyway, and so I rarely do. Compelling, yes, but depressing (which ties into the whole “alternative” thing). These come across as people for whom simple good cheer itself is somehow something too good to hope for in this sad old world.
Radiolab is making some of the best radio since TAL started. I love the elaborate experimental layered sounds, and both hosts excel at their chosen areas of expertise. Jad definitely deserves his Genius Grant.