Beware a man who reads…

April 7th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

April is poetry month, and once again I have roped myself into (Lord help me) writing a new poem every day throughout the month. It brings questions to mind to which I have no good answer. Why? Who cares? Well you may ask.

I was taking a sabbatical from Das Rheingold on Saturday and listening to The Debaters on CBC. This was the very topic: Question–Is poetry still relevant? The “pro” position was taken by a prominent Canadian poet who said that poetry was of inestimable value to individuals who are–let us say ill-proportioned–in obtaining face-time with the opposite sex. His opponent was the grudge-bearing son of a member of the Canadian League of Poetry, who said poetry only made sense to the deeply bongified and the congenitally maudlin, examples of which had darkened his kitchen table throughout childhood. Bringing to mind the admonition of Lazarus Long, the Heinlein character: “Beware a man who reads his own poetry in public; he may have other unpleasant habits.”

You can discover evidence for either point of view among the new poems in my One April blog. And you can give me a hand. I have 24 more poems to write over the next few weeks, and have good ideas for maybe one or two of them. Feel free to advise, admonish or excoriate me in a comment below.

Variable conditions

March 31st, 2011 by Dale Hobson

In some ways, it’s a cruel time of year. The equinox creates expectations the weather won’t deliver. So today’s bare ground awaits an April Fool’s Day snowfall. And you can’t even call it a late storm–the same could happen on Mother’s Day–and has. Heart and hope may be ready for southern breezes, but reality (as usual) comes prefixed with cold, with hard. You can’t depend on the weather. Only on grit, on perseverance, and on the kindness of friends.

As workers in public media, we are in the midst of a climate as uncertain and variable as the North Country weather. One thing that does look certain is that our listeners will once again step up and help us to reach the goal of our Spring Drive. The numbers look good so far–thank you all very much. But what that goal should be, and what will happen with other funding sources is as much a crapshoot as predicting next week’s weather. We don’t know yet how we fared in the NY budget–last word was a 10% cut. And what our federal funding will be in the remainder of this year and coming years would require a Ouija board to determine. The possibilities range from zip to ouch. We can only be sure it won’t be more.

This comes at a time of sea change in the way media is produced and paid for. At NCPR we are investing more of our resources in online services. And while we have radio fundraising down pretty well–having an unlimited supply of iron jawbone and chutzpah–the business model to support online activities is less certain. So it’s especially gratifying to know that we can rely on you, friends to public radio and to NCPR. You can be counted on to help us weather the weather, and to bring this slightly tattered operation through to a warmer future.


March 24th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

Back in my collective living days in the 1970s, a popular acronym was TANSTAAFL–which stands for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Like all conventional wisdom at that time, it became a matter of debate in liquid late night bull sessions. As I recall it was Paul who, waving his hands in enthusiasm, maintained the universal truth of the acronym. I replied, “Yeah? When was the last time you paid your gravity bill?” “Last time I fell over,” he said. The motion carried.

Which brings us to the present case. Public Radio may look an awful lot like a free lunch, but it is no exception to the rule. So it’s time for our annual Spring Fundraiser, beginning bright and early Monday morning, and running through Saturday. How we make our daily bread has been in the news a lot lately–and not necessarily in a good way–but however you feel about the federal slice of our budget, the private contributions of individuals are really what makes the system work. In our case, individual gifts averaging around $100 make up our single largest source of revenue.

If you eat NCPR’s “lunch” on a regular basis, this is when you get the tab. Unlike your local diner, we don’t tell you how much to pay–that’s up to you. But it has to get paid one way or the other–otherwise, no more lunch. Thanks to everyone who has already dug out the wallet. Or, you can pay the tab right now.

What we should look like

March 17th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

I’m running a little late with the Listening Post today because I have been live blogging the House debate and vote on H.R. 1076, a bill that would prohibit stations like NCPR from using federal funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to pay dues to NPR or to purchase programs from any source, including NPR. The measure was just passed, 228-192, largely along party lines, and will go on to the Senate for consideration. The exception to the partisanship was demonstrated by our regional representatives, all four of whom voted to oppose. Representatives Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna were two of only seven Republicans nationwide to oppose the measure. You can read more about it below, but this has been too big a week for news at NCPR to spend more time here wailing and gnashing teeth about how we pay for what we do.

As I noted last week, has made a breakthrough in the way we present the news, making national and world news as readily available on our site as NCPR news, for the first time. By fully incorporating NPR news and programs from other sources online, we have realized a years-long goal of making our site on one-stop destination that reflects and expands on everything you hear on the radio side of the service.

Our visitors are showing us that this is something they have been waiting to see on the site. Already we see a substantial increase in visits and page views, driven entirely by the availablity of network news and programs. In the last week we have recieved more than 9,000 page views on new NPR news content alone, 17% of total page views sitewide–with the largest share coming from new visitors.

In addition to NPR top stories, were are in the process of rolling out new pages for every program on our schedule, making a convenient and consistent way for visitors  to access the reporting, audio, podcasts, program information, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube content, program blogs and other online features associated with the syndicated broadcast programs you enjoy on NCPR.  Check out our new Morning Edition  page to see how this looks for a news program, and our new Mountain Stage  page to see the treatment for an entertainment program.

Our goal: If you hear it on air at NCPR, you will find it at–convenient, well-organized (better in some cases than the program home pages themselves) and comprehensive. Put simply, this is what we think a public broadcasting online service should look like. Few do.

Tough times at the network

March 10th, 2011 by admin

It seems like lately, everytime NPR is the news, instead of delivering the news, the unemployment numbers go up by one. Over the last few months the toll has included News Analyst Juan Williams, News VP Ellen Weiss, NPR Foundation head Ron Schiller, and yesterday–it was NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron). The network has become entangled in a toxic swamp of ideology and hard-times budget politics, and has been less than nimble in getting out of its own way.

NPR is reporting about itself; Ellen Rocco can be found weighing in about it for NCPR at the All In blog, and Brian Mann at the In Box blog. And various versions and interpretations and prognostications are everywhere, in print, on air, online, even on line at the grocery store. This search query will deliver links to all the NCPR coverage and to the most recent NPR coverage.

But on the NCPR side of the station/network neighborhood, lots of good things are happening. A few weeks back, we signed on a new station in Gouverneur that serves 15,000 new potential listeners. And just today, we are signing on a full-power transmitter in Lake Placid ten times more powerful than the previous translator. We are in the process of expanding the NCPR news team, and online we have just pushed through changes we have been anticipating for three years that allow us to integrate network news as seemlessly into our online service as NCPR news. Ironically, one of the first NPR stories to appear within the site was about the resignation of Vivian Schiller, a strong proponent of NPR digital distribution.

Good stuff here notwithstanding, fallout from the NPR flaps could derail NCPR in a serious way. The political backdrop to the bru-ha-ha is the ongoing debate over whether or not to continue federal funding for public broadcasting.

To use NPR’s woes as a wedge to de-fund the whole system is much more likely to hurt the bystanders instead–affiliate stations, second language and native networks, independent program producers, etc., in communities small and large all over the country–than it is to impact NPR, which does not receive federal funding directly. (NPR does have some federal grant awards for specific projects that can’t be used for general operations; they amount to 2% of its budget.)  The real federal money in the system goes to support community broadcast institutions like NCPR. Federal support through the CPB amounts to about 16% of our budget, and up to half of the budgets in other smaller rural market stations.

Don’t let the “optics” of beltway politics fool you. Railing against NPR is the chisel. If used as intended, a weaker and less effective public broadcasting service will be what the chisel sculpts.

Rewarding Humanity

March 3rd, 2011 by admin

I generally loathe awards–blissfully ignoring the winning of Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Whatevery. Most elevate mere popularity above substance, innovation, or any other value. But it gave me a great deal of pleasure to hear that President Obama awarded a National Humanities Medal to Wendell Berry yesterday.

While the Louisville Courier-Journal describes him: “Berry, 76, a Port Royal novelist, essayist, poet, farmer and activist,”  I would describe Berry as one of the most original living American minds, and as one of the most traditionally American minds.

He embodies all the qualities Thomas Jefferson thought necessary to the citizen of a successful democracy–educated, self-reliant, engaged with his neighbors, industrious, close to the land, and modest of appetite. If any of Berry’s appetites are outsized, it would be his zeal for the practice of writing, as more than forty books bearing his name can attest.

I hold a special fondness for his poetry, which displays a spare elegance and a direct and open willingness to be intelligible to any reader willing to do more than skim. His essays are likewise clear and sincere, and weave together a consistent approach to the various threads of his life as listed above. 

In “The Unsettling of America,” he wrote: “It is wrong to think that bodily health is compatible with spiritual confusion or cultural disorder, or with polluted air and water or impoverished soil.” His environmental activism is that of a farmer, who accepts that exercising stewardship and dominion over nature is more obligation than birthright. Equally, as in his essay collection “Standing By Words,” he affirms the duty of the writer and speaker to practice the art of communication with sincerity. Just as the industrialization of agriculture is destructive of land and health, the commodification of language is destructive of understanding and meaning.

For once, the Academy has gotten it right. Congratulations, Wendell.

Stop me before I type again

February 24th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

One of the problems with having a regular writing gig is that there are certain times I shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard. When a bear has a toothache, it’s not a good time to ask him to dance in the marketplace. And my beefs are many. That’s the nature of beef–dwelling on one just brings to mind the next–until you have a whole slaughterhouse of carcasses hanging in your head.

Most of my objections, naturally, involve the behavior of other people. What’s up with them? My zen teacher recommends, when suffering from compulsive negativity, to consult the observer who lives (I imagine) in my brain stem, and who looks from time to time up from his notepad to remark, “Having opinions about other people’s behavior again.” Somehow that’s supposed to help me let go of unproductive thinking. But I have a beef with that guy in my head, too–damn know-it-all.

memo to self:
Breath in.

Breath out.

On subsequent occasions, have a column on the spike. Rainbows, maybe, or unicorns.

Public Radio turn-on

February 17th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

Though it was only serendipity, on the same day (today) that the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a budget resolution that could zero out all federal funding for Corporation for Public Broadcasting, North Country Public Radio actually grew another size–signing on our newest transmitter: WSLG 90.5 fm in Gouverneur. I shot a little video of the turn-on ceremony which you can see on our Facebook page.

This was an event that would not have occurred without federal funds. It also would not have occurred only with federal funds. Building a new tranmission facility costs serious money. Of our 11 repeat transmitters outside Canton, and the 21 further translators they feed, none would exist without a unique public/private partnership that has built out the transmission infrastructure over decades of investment. No matter how good our programming, how valuable our public service, it would never have been heard much beyond the confines of St. Lawrence County. Same with the other public broadcasting networks that serve the region.

A substantial part of the funding for our new facilities has come from the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. But nothing can be built using these funds without a matching investment from the community. In the case of the new Gouverneur station, the match was provided by the Northern New York Community Foundation. As a result of this funding partnership, approximately 15,000 North Country residents who had no home radio access to the public media their tax dollars help pay to support, now do have access. We thank both the Foundation and the people of the U.S. for this opportunity to do what we do best.

Without all working together: the public, individual donors, foundations, supportive private business–we’d be out of the public broadcasting business. North Country Public Radio might still exist, but it would be in a very different business, serving the limited club of its members and donors.

Don’t wait

February 10th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

170 Million AmericansEver since the fall election, public broadcasters have been waiting for the new congress to take action, as promised, to de-fund the system that supports (in part) local broadcasters across the nation, including North Country Public Radio. Here’s where things stand now, according to 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting:

This week S 162 was introduced, making it the 6th bill in Congress to cut or eliminate funding for public broadcasting. Unfortunately the biggest threat we face is not in the form of a stand-alone bill, but in the Continuing Resolution (CR) funding legislation for the remainder of FY2011, which is likely to be voted on in the House of Representatives next week.

Public broadcasting programs including CPB, CPB Digital, PTFP, Ready To Learn, and RUS Digital are likely targets for cuts or elimination in this CR. In addition, amendments to remove any funding public broadcasting programs do receive in the base CR are likely. It is critical [to] engage members of Congress and communities in advance of floor votes potentially occurring as soon as February 14.

The most basic action you can take is simple: go to 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting and register to participate in the network, or go to the 170 Million Americans Facebook page and “like” it. Either way, you will receive updates and suggested action as the campaign unfolds.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Go to NCPR’s Facebook page and post a message of support–text, photo, video–however you want to weigh in. (“Like” the page–if you have not already done so–in order to post.)
  • Go to your own congressional representative’s Facebook page (all four reps in our listening area have one) and tell them how you feel about public broadcasting in general and about North Country Public Radio in particular. Here are the four Facebook page addresses:
    Rep. Bill Owens (NY24) | Rep. Chris Gibson (NY20) | Rep. Richard Hanna (NY23) | Rep. Peter Welch (VT1) (You also need to “like” your rep’s page in order to post)
  • If you are not a Facebook member, send your messages (and who your rep is) to me ( and I will see they get passed along.

Don’t wait. Decisions are being made now that will affect the future of your investment in public broadcasting.

Sticking your head out

February 3rd, 2011 by Dale Hobson

As someone who spends a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen, I try to select images for my desktop that will remind me what I’m supposed to be about. My latest is a hand-colored version of the “Flammarion engraving,” an anonymous wood engraving first published in 1888 in L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire by Camille Flammarion.

The Flammarion engraving

It shows a man in a monk’s robe with his head stuck out through the sky to look upon the heavenly realms. While this medieval vision of cosmology has long been superseded by science, the engraving still holds a psychological truth–that there is an unseen world of wonders always just out of view. While the world of the monk is full of its own beauty, he reaches out for what is beyond.

It is the most human of aspirations, and one that anyone working in the media must keep in mind. People go out of themselves and their daily lives into the worlds we present–on the radio, online, in books and performances. While we may not be able to deliver the music of the spheres or the great engine of Ezekiel’s wheel, we do our best when we create wonder, when we make the audience glad that they came, when we give them something so astonishing and unexpected that they reach out to touch it.