Today, NPR has gone from National Public Radio to No Public Radio. Talk of the Nation, NPR’s news call-in program, ended its twenty-one year run today. This comes a few years after the firing of Juan Williams and some years more after the firing of Bob Edwards. It follows on the heels of WBUR’s On Point deciding to remove commenters who don’t sing the party line. I know this, as I was banned from commenting for criticizing minimalism as a mode of living.
But what’s the problem with dropping a call-in program? Forget the fact that Talk of the Nation had, according to host Neil Conan, 3.6 million listeners. NPR programs shouldn’t be about ratings. What this daily conversation provided was an opportunity for people who are not journalists to ask questions that they have. Yes, many news programs and websites have a comments section, but that’s not the same. It lacks the immediacy of asking a question directly of the host and guest.
Another WBUR program, Here and Now, will fill the slot. That’s a good program, and Robin Young’s voice is one that could bring stimulation into the tax code, but by giving up Talk of the Nation, NPR is proving itself to be exactly the elitists that many have accused that organization of being.
Yes, I will still listen. NPR is my primary source of news. But the absence of a program in which ordinary Americans–and even people from elsewhere, at times–can call in and be heard is one that diminishes the value of public radio.