A Modest Proposal For NPR

October 21, 2010

As you may have heard, Juan Williams, who was a “news analyst” for National Public Radio (where “news analyst” means “bloviator”) got canned for going on Fox news to talk to Bill O’Reilly and saying “I’m not bigoted, but when I see Muslims on an airplane I get nervous,” which reconfirms what I have known for a long time, which is that if you preface any statement with “I’m not X but . . .”, YOU ARE X.

I’m not especially broken up about Juan Williams’ departure because (a) he is a bigot and (b) I never much cared for him – not because of his politics (which my socialist father naturally says are far too right-wing, though I’m not sure of that), but because I just find him irritating. In fact, I have long found him so irritating that his fall from grace gave me a good idea for how NPR could raise money.

See, where I live I can listen to Morning Edition on three different stations: WNPR, my local affiliate at 90.5 on the fm dial; WFCR up in Amherst (it’s Five College Radio), at 88.5; and WESU, the Wesleyan station, at 88.1. Because of this wealth of options, I usually switch to another affiliate whenever WNPR does fundraising. Sometimes, I switch twice – as I did this week, when FCR took up the pledge drive cup, leaving WESU as the only area provider of unadulterated Steve Innskeep. (For the record, I am a regular contributor to public radio, I just hate hearing the damn fundraising, even when the various people I know at WNPR, who are usually not on the air, come on to ask for money.)

For me, the wealth of public radio options is a boon, because I avoid fundraising, and I presume the prevailing wisdom is that fundraising must be unavoidable to be effective (supply and demand, you know?). So for my local radio stations, the existence of multiple stations is a problem. One obvious way to solve this would be for them simply to coordinate their fund drives closely. But that would irritate me, so I have devised a way for them to make more money while keeping open the option of allowing me (and others, I suppose) an uninterrupted listening experience: They should coordinate the fund drives such that you could always listen to Morning Edition on one or another of the stations, but they would switch at unpredictable times. There would be a secret schedule, and to get it you would have to donate money to all three stations.

The only problem I can see with my plan is that one person might contribute to get the secret listening schedule, then share this cherished information with others who had not contributed on their own. Economists call this the free rider problem. Luckily, I have devised a solution to that as well: Everyone who contributes for the secret schedule must take an oath of secrecy. The oath will be enforced by John Dankosky, who will make unannounced home visits to random houses of non-contributors with Subarus in the driveways and smash radios tuned to the correct station.

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