If my relationship to Public Radio was a romance novel, it would definitely be an enemies-to-lovers trope. But before we could be enemies, I still had to learn what Public Radio even was since I had no idea it existed, and wouldn’t until I was in high school.
Although my family listened to a lot of radio growing up, I never remember my parents being big on PR, even though my dad loved talk radio shows. He also loved calling in and winning stuff from the radio, like the time he got a free ride on an airplane and had the pilot take him over our marching band practice (no jokes), so he could get an aerial view of what we were doing. To be fair, I’ve inherited a bit of this trait from him (more on that soon).
Somehow, I can vividly remember the first time I was subjected to Public Radio which was in the late 90s while being driven across the state of South Dakota by a church member on a youth group ski trip to the Black Hills. I’m sure the dad of an upperclassman, a local doctor in our hometown, also let us listen to other things (or did he?!), but he for sure made us listen to *his* radio, too, which was all classical pieces and grown up news/talk stuff. My teenage, pop-loving self was not on board with this arrangement. The skiing may have been fun, but it felt like torture to be in the vehicle for so many hours coming and going (it takes a good 5.5 or 6 hours to get across SD) listening to that.
My next real encounter with all things classical music, world news, and talk-based shows, was in college, when I was once again influenced by my environment. This time it was the semester after my study-abroad in Africa, when I lived in the spare room of one of Doane’s professors; my quilting instructor. She had a radio/stereo in the center of her home and I remember it being turned on to NPR/NET Radio at any manner of time throughout any given day. Unlike the road trip/radio hostage situation, by the time I was 20/21 and living in her house, I was a tad bit more mature and less bothered by this listening choice. Also, I could leave the house or, at the very least, shut my door and put on my own music whenever I wanted, so I never felt so forced or attacked by this semester-long exposure.
In fact, I think my host’s influence was a good one on me because I learned that classical music can make a great backdrop to learning (and especially to writing). This was a trick I used often in my early years of teaching when I gave students time to write in class – some soft instrumental music in the background to fill the void a bit while they worked on individual compositions, free writes, etc. for assignments. It was also helpful that I’d been introduced to Nebraska’s Public Radio in college because, by the time I was teaching college myself, just three short years later, I needed to know that such a station existed, just to survive my morning drive to work.
Calling my drive a commute might not be fair since the campus where I first taught, Central Community College – Hastings, is literally just outside of Hastings. Even better was that our first house on the east-ish side of town, making it even easier to get to work. However, it still took about 10 minutes to get all the way out there, onto campus, and parked, and because of my teaching schedule/arrival to campus time, I found myself running into the hour on the local radio stations where they were doing nothing but birthday wishes (oh my goodness – another thing my dad was famous for loving when we were kids!) and talky-talk, and I couldn’t stand it. So, I flipped the dial to 89.1 and started listening to NPR’s Morning Edition instead; from there, the slippery slope took hold.
It wasn’t long before I, too, was obsessed. I listened to NPR in the car, at home, and even streamed it in my classes during the aforementioned writing times. I became a huge fan of several weekend shows including Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! and Click and Clack – a call-in show where two brothers, both mechanics, would answer wild car-related questions (that involved a lot of funny noises made by people trying to mimic the weird sounds their vehicles were making that had prompted them to call for help). Although my NPR listening tapered off when the kids came along (we switched to more music and kid-friendly on CDs rather than listening to NET’s updates on local and world news and such), I still loved to catch my weekend shows when I could, even when the babies were super young and I had less listening time.
Once, the spring I spent driving toddler HD and baby RL around the countryside because that was the only time I could get them both to nap, I even made my own call to Click and Clack in hopes that they could identify the strange noise our own vehicle was making at the time. Alas, I never got a call back to be interviewed on the show, but see? I am my father’s daughter!
A few years later a highlight of my NPR relationship occurred when Ben and I happened to get tickets at the Lied Center in Lincoln for a taping of Wait, Wait, which was so entertaining to witness and seems now like one of those things I can’t believe I ever got to do in this life. They literally travel the country doing the show, and for them to be in Nebraska felt like such a gift.
Recently, I learned that Public Radio has really only been available for listening in Nebraska since the 90s – the same time my teenage-self was lamenting my PR exposure in SoDak. And the reason I have access to it in Hastings, Nebraska at all is thanks to the fundraising efforts of a local woman that I just met for the first time in late winter of 2023, which is also remarkable to me. Here is this entity that has meant so much to me over the years and it is in large part because of her efforts that such a love could even exist in my life! Without her, a tower in Central, NE would have been unlikely and I never would have had the option to become a regular listener and supporter of the cause (check out the rad socks, pictured below, that I once got for a donation gift).
Public Radio and I may not have seen eye-to-eye early on in our relationship, and we may have had some dry spells over the years where it looked like we might be falling out, but we’re coming to the time when I once again find myself alone in the car with time to listen and think, meaning that our relationship can once again be a steady force and presence in my life. Thank goodness for that!