It is 4:04 and you're listening to National Public Radio.
I can see that fact, considering most radios have clocks attached to them. I'm a newcomer to the City Beautiful after moving from Manhattan about a year ago, and there are some things that I, a 20-something media creative, cannot live without. One of them is talk radio. I don't want anything by the Black Eyed Peas to help me stay awake on my early-dawn drive to work; I also seem to be in my car listening to the radio around midday, whether weekday or weekend. A news junkie, I want my news and I want it now. CNN updates are on my phone constantly, but that's just chipping. I want the full hit.
When I first moved here, listening to WMFE-FM (90.7) at drive times was a daily necessity (for station standbys Morning Edition and All Things Considered), but baroque and Beethoven kept interfering with the rest of my day, so I bought a Sirius satellite radio. It's all I ever dreamed, putting anything from Baba Booey to CNN and a flood of different music genres at my fingertips. But in late November, WMFE revamped its lineup to boot the classical music to an HD subchannel and provide more news and talk, including some nationally syndicated shows. I decided to give it another shot, and here's what I heard during a week or so of tuning the dial to 90.7 while behind the wheel.
The Diane Rehm Show
(10 a.m.-noon Monday-Friday)
"A lively mix of current events and public affairs"? This is true, except for the "lively" part. Rehm is nearly a parody of an NPR anchor; I almost expected her to launch into the Schweddy Balls skit from Saturday Night Live in which Molly Shannon hosts a fake NPR show (Delicious Dish). Rehm's guests, ranging from IRS commissioner Douglas H. Shulman to Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of a Nobel prize for economics in 2001, are impressive and can be enlightening, but the slow-moving show lacks entertainment value, even by news talk standards.
Fresh Air with Terry Gross
(noon-1 p.m. Monday-Friday)
Captivating guests with a host who is the antithesis of her title. She barely speaks and when she does, it is with a tone that can be excruciating. The guests are what drive the show. I commend that approach, but she doesn't do her research or ask the questions that you find yourself shouting at the radio. For example, she interviewed Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, who offered extremely personal stories and insight into the recent death of songwriter Vic Chesnutt. But her questions were facile, not probing. It must be like being an eyewitness on the stand waiting for the right question.
Here and Now with Robin Young
(1 p.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday)
A competent and intelligent news service with a lineup of material comparable to 60 Minutes, the program covers eclectic topics with edifying interviews and reports. Stories ranged from the comeback of accordion music to constant news updates about the earthquake in Haiti.
Talk of the Nation
(2 p.m.-3 p.m. and 8 p.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday)
It's billed as a "springboard for listeners," but it's more like a help line. The show might as well be aired in a caller's basement, because that's the quality of audio and content. The anchor, journalist Neal Conan, struggles to find time to rebut or answer questions from callers. The topics, from Supreme Court hearings to tea party protests, are also more the talk of the D.C. crowd than "the nation."
On the Media
(1 p.m.-2 p.m. Saturday)
Here's an amusing and revealing news program that "explores how the media ‘sausage' is made." Veteran journalist Bob Garfield reads between the lines of the media with a candor that goes beyond today's usual talking heads. The show tries to lift the veil from the process of "making media" — at times even managing to lift the skirt of the media. Whether talking about corporate greed amongst the cable-TV giants or the "great firewall" on Internet access in China, Garfield delivers a trustworthy performance.
(2 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday)
Host Tess Vigeland's ease at resolving relevant and critical matters makes competing financial adviser Clark Howard look like a charlatan by comparison. The information presented is panoramic in vision, ranging from the new virtual interview process in the modern job market to first-time home buyers.
The Growing Bolder Radio Show
(3 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, repeating 7 a.m.-8 a.m. Sunday)
Marketed toward an age 50-plus audience, Growing Bolder is rerun on Sunday mornings, a giveaway that midlife baby boomers are the target for this program stocked with adventure stories and revelations about accomplished elders. The rhetoric can be laughable in its uncanny similarity to the televangelist channels.
OK, so what I missed most about my satellite radio was the smooth, premium audio it offers. Listening to WMFE throughout the day, you hear countless technical problems: volume fluctuations, pops, clicks, even dead air. Maybe the operator was taking a quick siesta, something I considered at certain times as well. WMFE's added programming does bring some relief to a talk and news junkie like me. Shows like On the Media offer escape from the breaking-news punches on the major networks that I've grown accustomed to. But until you understand the rhythm of the lineup and decide what you like and don't like, tuning into WMFE is kind of like getting to know a new city — you just gotta find the right places to go.
Other new WMFE programs
Other new WMFE programs
On Point (9 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday)Host Tom Ashbrook analyzes major news stories, conversing with experts and callers.
The Splendid Table
(2 p.m.-3 p.m. Sunday) Celebration of all things culinary, hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
American Variety Radio (4:30 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday) Host Court Lewis's "anything but politics!" show focuses on high-achievers and adventurers from all walks of American life.
The Changing World (7 p.m.-8 p.m. Sunday) This collaboration between the BBC World Service, Pubic Radio International and PRI's The World, hosted by Marco Werman (Lisa Mullins is on sabbatical), delves into global issues.
BBC World Services
(11 p.m.-6 a.m Monday-Friday; midnight-7 a.m. weekends)
Overnight broadcasting offers variety of information programming, covering international news, the arts, sports, science and business.
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