Why I care about public media

When I was in high school I started driving a car. This was in Dallas, Texas. The car symbolized total freedom — I could go where I wanted. I could list to the music I wanted. My car was way too decrepit to handle an iPod, so what did I do? I started fiddling with the radio dial. Sometimes I listened to K104, the hip hop station. Other days I listened to Mix 102.9. And most mornings I tuned in to KERA, our NPR member station.

Of course, the vehicle was not without responsibility. Each day I was tasked with the job of chauffeuring my little sister to and from our school. She must’ve been 12 or 13 years old. I’d usually roll into the car, hair tousled, clutching a giant travel mug of tea and a piece of toast. Mary Frances would spend the morning preening, and I’d wait impatiently, starting the engine or occasionally blaring the horn.

Except on Friday mornings. Without fail, Mary Frances would be ready–backback stowed, seatbelt buckled, radio on– by 7:27 a.m., in time for Story Corps. She loved that program. I think one time it made her cry. I remember laughing with her as an Eastern European woman talked about her first Halloween in America. It was a neat thing for us to share, and I remember thinking how cool it was that my sister–who I would venture to say is not an atypical teenager–was moved by these little narratives.

Sarah Harris making public radio on Lake Champlain.

The more I learn about the public media landscape, the more I realize what a valuable resource it is. The programming informs, entertains, and inspires. We  bring you news and information about your community, and communities across the globe. And our reach is wide. I think all these things really hit home when I sold a story about ice sailing to NPR and it aired on All Things Considered. I heard from a lot of people in all parts of my life: my middle school librarian. The guy who fixes my car. The nurse from the summer camp I went to as a kid. Of course, the first person to call was my sister.

“Oh. My. God.,” she exclaimed. “You’re on NPR!” What did you think?” I asked. “You didn’t sound like you,” she immediately replied. “Well you did, but like you in pretentious-land.” Eek. My sister, like most everybody in our family, isn’t one to mince words. But I laughed. “I’ll do better next time,” I said.

And I plan to. But in the mean time, I’m making my contribution to NCPR. Because, like you, I have my morning listening rituals. They mean a lot to me, and to my little sister.

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2 Comments on “Why I care about public media”

  1. Kathy says:

    A very enjoyable article!


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  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    Okay, at the risk of sounding cozily self-congratulatory, let me just say: I am so proud of Ms. Sarah Harris! Y’all, she’s young (under 25), and she’s already doing top shelf work for our region–and the public radio system across the country. She is the next generation of public media professionals. And she’s NCPR’s! Yahoo. (And tell Mary Francis I didn’t think you sounded pretentious–maybe just a titch chilly out there on the lake, and a bit wary about steering that contraption yourself.)

    Sarah is a terrific example of who we’re trying to attract to our work. We’re succeeding right now thanks to listeners and to the Adirondack Community Trust and the Knight Foundation, entities that are investing in that next generation.

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