Now that was a free lunch!
Like a lot of you, I heard an on-air invitation to come hear NPR’s President and CEO Gary Knell speak at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton last week Thursday.
At first it didn’t even grab my attention. Knell was also featured in a one-hour call in last Wednesday, so no one even had to travel anywhere to hear that.
You can hear that conversation at the link below.
For me, the Clayton event would be a 90 minute drive each way. Plus, what would I go as? I might have quite a bit to say as a regular listener. But I am also a part-time contractor for NCPR – a “stringer” – which means I ought not spout off about Things-I-Would-Do-Differently-If-I-Ran-NPR.
But…even as a mute observer, it could be interesting. The invitation included a day at the Antique Boat Museum, which I’d never seen. Free lunch, too. What the heck? May as well go.
Am I glad I did! Gary Knell struck me as personable and dynamic, with a relaxed sense of humor. Of course, no one is perfect and few policy positions will satisfy all observers. For example, Knell needs to refine the conversation about his own salary, which was a slightly awkward moment in last week’s call in.
Indeed, count my mother as someone who adamantly maintains public radio salaries should be open information. As she would say: how can NPR use public funding – or report on issues of wealth, poverty and transparency – without walking the walk of accountability? (Oh, the list of things she wanted me to ask was long – and pointed!)
But setting critiques aside, I found Mr. Knell eloquent and persuasive about the value of NPR – past, present and future.
He also heard me out with patience and consideration when I had a private moment to advocate for my own pet peeve. To wit: with 18 foreign bureaus and counting, why does NPR devote so little coverage to Canada – America’s largest trading partner and closest cultural cousin? It seems to me that’s a gaping hole. (Just saying!)
Truthfully, I’d hate to have Knell’s job. He’s smack in the middle of the culture wars, with a hostile right and a disappointed left, both hurling criticism. On top of that, anything that involves the words “radio” and “news” faces dinosaur-ish pressures. Who under 30 listens to radio – on a radio – anymore? What does the term “news” mean these days? Who will define that, and how should it be delivered? Frankly, these are exhilarating and terrifying times for news organizations in terms of opportunity and breakneck change. I say good luck getting all that right. And I think, on the whole, Knell “gets it” and can guide the organization toward a sound future.
But back to the lunch itself. The day was perfect: sunny but mild. The drive seemed faster than I expected. Attendees were friendly, diverse and interesting – as can be expected of public radio listeners. (Over the course of the day I had a number of very nice conversations with listeners interested in Canadian content on NCPR. Thanks for the helpful feedback, folks.)
The food from Bella’s in Clayton was fine: meat or vegetarian wraps, pasta, potato or green salad, tea or lemonade and a happy smorgasbord of cookies for dessert. And this all took place in a jolly outdoor tent. I thought Knell spoke well. As a listener I must also echo his fulsome praise of NCPR as a visionary station that does an outstanding job at building community while serving a vast area well.
Maybe this will strike you as obvious, but the comment from Knell that I’ll remember went something like this: younger people have never experienced a world without the Internet, smart devices or social media. That environment is their “native land.” We oldsters are more like immigrants, struggling to function amid strange new customs. And we have to adjust because technological advances will not be denied.
Taking nothing away from the speakers or the lunch, after that came some real fun – touring the museum. Mind you, I am not a huge fan of motor craft. So easily half of the displays were wasted on me. But I adore pretty things made from wood. That marriage of beauty and function hardly gets better than classic wooden boats.
There are many very nice permanent displays and some temporary ones, including one called “Long Journeys in Small Boats” which included a number of people and events I found plain fascinating. Case in point: in the early 1980’s Don Starkell and his son Dana spent two years paddling from Winnipeg to Brazil – a river and ocean trek I would not have though possible, in a simple two-person canoe.
I don’t know what would strike you as “best of all” at the Antique Boat Museum, but for me it was the casual chance to row a classic St. Lawrence skiff. This was a gorgeous boat that looks like a wooden canoe but rows like a dory: backwards and hand-over-hand. I’ve never had the chance to hop into one of those. It was a blast!
You can row a skiff too, as part of regular museum admission. But check this out: the public is also invited to row a skiff or sail a boat – for free – on most Tuesday nights this summer! Can’t beat that: gorgeous, setting, charming boats – and the price is more than right.
If all this sounds like a giant unpaid advertisement for the museum, well, so be it. The day was a very nice extension of hospitality to the NCPR community and I offer up thanks for that. And while we’re on the subject, the big 49th annual Antique Boat Show and Auction happens this weekend, Aug 2-4. Mark your calendar for that.
Even without a free lunch – or a big boat show – the Antique Boat Museum is worth a visit for anyone with a passing interest in the boating heritage of this region.
And getting back to the reason for it all, it was really nice of Gary Knell to come visit NCPR territory. We wish him all the best at the helm of good ship NPR.