Wednesday, May 22, 2013

let's talk about NPR.

This might be the dorkiest thing you’ve heard all day, but I don’t care. I’m going to say it anyway.

I love NPR.

Yes, we’re talking National Public Radio. I wish I could say that my love affair with NPR is decades old, but sadly, that is not the case. I got my first taste of NPR in the form of MPR – Minnesota Public Radio. During my nearly two years in Minneapolis, I listened to the Current every single day.

It wasn’t until I made the fateful move from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls that I really discovered NPR and all it had to offer. I started my job in Sioux Falls about a month before I could move into my Sioux Falls apartment. Luckily, I had two temporary housing options. My grandma had just moved into assisted living, so her house in Brookings (just under an hour away from Sioux Falls) sat empty. James was teaching in Ellsworth (also just under an hour away from Sioux Falls), and he had rented a house there. Don’t get me wrong: I was definitely glad to have places to stay during my month-long homeless interim, but an hour each way? YIKES!

It’s very important for you to know that I’ve never been a morning person. I tend not to get out of bed a minute before I absolutely have to. My job – like many – required me to be there at 8, meaning I’d have to leave shortly after 7, meaning I’d have to get up shortly after 6. I shudder at the memory.

The drive from Ellsworth to Sioux Falls is boring. The drive from Brookings to Sioux Falls is also boring. How was I going to keep myself from falling asleep and driving off into the ditch during those early morning commutes? I have an iPod, but that can only do so much. I’ve never been big on books on tape, so no thanks to that. And in my past experience (a summer job that necessitated driving from Arlington to Brookings every morning for two summers), morning radio was kind of terrible: especially now that Paul Harvey had died! Woe was me.

On the very first morning of my month of commuting, I decided to give the radio a try. Within a few stations, I heard an interesting little story (I wish I could remember what it was about). Then, another story. Then weather. Then some news. And – to my delight – no commercials. I quickly found out that I was listening to NPR. Until then, I had assumed that NPR was mostly made up of radio shows about cooking and awkward interviews with academics. Boy, was I wrong.  

Every day since then, I’ve listened to NPR. I have started countless conversations off with “I was listening to NPR and I heard…” James (a fellow NPR aficionado) and I even became MPR members – a move that, honestly, was long overdue. Now we have NPR car decals and t-shirts, and I’ve never been better informed in my life. It’s a shame that it took me so long.
James has a shirt, too!
There are so many things to love about NPR; I could go on forever. I managed to narrow my long list of things I love about NPR to a manageable five.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro is an NPR White House Correspondent, and he’s got a hot-person voice. I’ve got a radio crush on him, and he’s the only reason I didn’t get sick of the 2012 election coverage as quickly as I usually would. It’s rarely a good idea to look up a picture of your favorite radio personality – the face in your imagination never matches the actual face. Against my better judgment, I took a chance and found a picture of Ari Shapiro. I am glad I took the risk. NPR has a bunch of other correspondents that I definitely appreciate – Silvia Pagiolli has this beautiful deep voice, and Paul Huttner is the happiest weatherman you’ve ever heard. But Ari Shapiro’s got a lovely face to go with his lovely voice, and I’m a tad bit shallow.

Car Talk
Car Talk had to grow on me. James was a big fan, and he coerced me into listening early in my NPR days. A show dedicated to car repair? I couldn’t think of anything more boring. It took an episode or two, but against my better judgment, I started to look forward to Car Talk. I have James to thank for that: these people will call in with questions about their shitty cars, and James will say, “I’ve had that happen!” James has owned more junky cars than anyone I know: he’s where cars go to die. Just like the Car Talk guys, it’s hard to stump James with a question about a crappy car. So Car Talk is definitely educational for me, as I know little to nothing about cars. Plus, it can be incredibly funny – you should hear some of the car situations these people get into. Even if you couldn’t care less about automotive repair (like me), you may find that Car Talk is still right up your alley.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is the NPR news quiz, and it’s on right after Car Talk on Saturday afternoons. This show, hands down, is my favorite thing about NPR. I wish I was half as witty as Peter Sagal, and Carl Kasell voice? AMAZING. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me has a panel of three quasi-celebrities, as well as listeners who call in and play the games on air. The games are “Who’s Carl This Time?” (Carl reads a quote and the listener guesses who said it or what it’s about), “Bluff the Listener” (the panel reads three crazy stories and the listener guess which one is true), “Not My Job” (a celebrity calls in and is asked multiple-choice questions about something totally unrelated to what they actually do), “Listener Limerick Challenge” (this one is my favorite: Carl reads a limerick and the listener has to fill in the last word), and “Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank” (where the panelists try to fill-in-the-blank in as many news questions as possible in sixty seconds). Never would I have thought that I would describe an NPR show as “hilarious,” but Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me fits the bill. And seriously: you wouldn’t believe some of the things they say. A while ago, they were talking about a new cereal that is supposed to increase sex drive, and they were coming up with potential names: Count Crotchula being prime a example. Yep, NPR totally went there.

Science Friday
The voice of science!
It’s not very often that I get to listen to NPR on Friday afternoons (having a job that normally requires me to be at work at that time makes it difficult), but when I do, I get to listen to Science Friday. Yep: Sci Fri. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it’s all about science, but Ira Flatow (another of my favorite NPR hosts) makes it just as interesting as Bill Nye does/did (is that show still on?) on PBS. I’ve learned about all sorts of crazy stuff thanks to Science Friday, but my favorite was “Where's the Cuttlefish?” They had a segment about cuttlefish that camouflage themselves, and they directed listeners to their website to look at photos and try to find the cuttlefish. It’s “Where’s Waldo,” but science-y!
Where's the cuttlefish?
Marketplace  and Marketplace Morning Report
This is the best picture I could find. Sorry.
Finally, Marketplace. I love Marketplace at 630 and Marketplace Morning Report (which airs at about 751 right after the weather with Paul Huttner.) Marketplace is a half an hour show, and Marketplace Morning Report only lasts around eight minutes, but they've both got little money tidbits from all around the world. They’ve got the serious stuff, of course, like unemployment numbers and world currency, but they usually end on something goofy: for example, they had a little story about a guy who had called in sick to work to take a vacation to Australia. While he was there, he saw a shark swimming towards some kids, so he picked up the shark by the tail and flung it back into the sea. But guess who saw his heroics on the news? His boss. And guess who got fired? See, finance radio can be interesting! Their hosts are the BEST - David Brancaccio in the morning and Kai Ryssdal in the evening. They're snarky and can make even the dullest finance story seem enthralling. I also use Marketplace Morning Report to time when I’ll get to work. If I’m not almost there by the time they say “let’s do the numbers” (they report on the stock markets and play a sad song if they’re down, a happy song if they’re up, and a mid-tempo song if they’re mixed – it’s those little details, NPR, that keep me coming back), I know I’m going to have to speed up.

As much as I love it, NPR isn’t all peaches and gravy. There are certainly programs that make me go “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!” and turn the radio off right away (I’m looking at you, Prairie Home Companion), and I’m sorry, but Weekend Edition could totally disappear, and I’d never notice. But on the whole, NPR is what gets me through the morning and afternoon traffic, and NPR is what keeps me informed. What would I do without it? Hopefully, I’ll never have to find out. Once you go NPR, you never go back.

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