In May 1990 I drove Interstate 44 from Albuquerque to Flagstaff with a U-Haul trailing my ’82 silver Civic sedan. The mesa surrounded me on both sides, the highway ran straight ahead to eternity, and out of the radio came voices I couldn't understand. I drove through Navajo country listening to Navajo radio.
Radio has been my most faithful companion. I listened to The Police and Pat Benatar on WNEW in Yonkers, The Clash and The Knack on WRUC in college. I discovered NPR in D.C. as a congressional intern and continued to listen to it in a small apartment in a section of Manhattan then known as Crack Valley. It kept me company for eight months in Cambria, Ill., population 300, where for a short time I lived by myself and without a television. In the evenings I listened to Fiona Ritchie and Riders in the Sky on public station WSIU.
So it is with tough love that I tell public radio this: Stop acting your age. On Oct. 4, I was one of several hundred people who filled the Arcata Theatre Lounge to listen to Bandemonium, the Humboldt Calypso Band and the Bayou Swamis and celebrate the station's 50th birthday. On Nov. 6 the celebration will carry over to the Arkley Theater in Eureka for a classical music birthday bash.
Here's the problem: Public radio followed my long, windy trek from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean because it is remarkably similar from region to region and hasn't changed in at least 30 years. I still like listening to it, and I'm almost as old as KHSU.
It is time for all of us in media industries to acknowledge that the world no longer belongs to us but to those who will inherit the problems we fail to solve: Rising temperatures and debt, depletion of fish, overpopulation. Not to mention the disintegration of the news industry.
Young people must wait until 16 to drive, 18 to vote and 21 to drink. We wonder why they don't consume news media created by people much older for people much older. The repeated message they hear is this: Wait, you aren't responsible enough yet. But when they look around them, they see a world run by incompetent and corrupt people much older than they.
We've so mucked up this world that I'm not sure I trust anyone my age or older to run it. Let's turn it over already to the people who have the most stake in its future. And let's start with the news business and public radio.
To do that we have to rip up the programming. I realized this year how old I am because I now like A Prairie Home Companion, when 15 years ago hearing Garrison Keillor's voice made me turn the dial.
This is the time to reprogram the station. KHSU will soon hire a new general manager. With a new G.M. should come new direction. It should point toward the young. We need to bring young people into KHSU's Community Advisory Group to design programs. We need to put them behind the mics and in front of the boards. They should pick out the topics for the talk shows and come up with the guests to interview. Let's open the airwaves to every crazy new thing kids listen to, as long as it provokes thought and helps inform and connect people in our community.
Jettison the folk music specials, the Three Tenors-like concerts and any show that has been reaching the same audience for the past 40 years.
Leonard Downie, Jr., the former editor of the Washington Post, recently wrote a report called "The Reconstruction of American Journalism," which was published in the Columbia Journalism Review on Oct. 19. In it, he noted, "A growing number of listeners have turned to public radio stations for national and international news provided by National Public Radio. But only a relatively small number of those public radio stations also offer their listeners a significant amount of local news reporting."
Let's increase news coverage at KHSU and make that, too, youth-focused. One of the most compelling things I listen to on NPR is Youth Radio -- news shows created by teenagers. Young people love radio. KRFH, the Internet radio station run out of the journalism department at HSU, is one of the most popular classes. So many students are so enthusiastic about the station that it seems like a cult. It would be great if the students who prove themselves on that student station could take their shows to KHSU. Pull in enthusiastic students from College of the Redwoods and our high schools. At a minimum, give them the night shift after those of us who listen to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me go to sleep.
Maybe one of the reasons Facebook took off so fast was that we all but shut young people out of every mainstream means of communication -- newspapers, magazines, television and radio. The Internet came along and gave them an instant outlet for their pent-up desire to communicate with each other. Baby Boomers were too tuned in to our light rock and oldies stations to notice.
If we let young people take over our airwaves we probably won't like what we hear. My dad didn't like what my friends and I listened to when we were teenagers and in college. But he's long since retired. My peers now run the media world. Tell me, can the millennium generation do worse?
Marcy Burstiner is an assistant professor of journalism at Humboldt State.