Intro from Jay Allison:
When Barrett and Josef last inhabited a Transom topic, it was during the first part of their Lewis & Clark inspired bicycle ride, The Great Pains and Accuracy Tour, 2001. That journey resulted in various radio pieces and in useful artifacts for Transom, like From Edit to Air. Now, they are back as our Guests, but this time attending to radio as they ride, both as makers and as listeners.
Barrett and Jo don't mince words. While they labor in the service of public radio, they also snipe at it and kvetch over it. Their service affords them that right. They were involved in the creation of Transom and they snipe at that too. It's okay. Snipers discourage complacency, the true enemy.
If you work in public radio, don't get defensive right off the bat. See if there is information from these guys you can use. If there isn't, challenge them. Make them say what would be better than what is. Somewhere in the argument is our compass setting, our path across the country.
Remember, Barrett and Josef are on bicycles and in tents, tracking the routes of the Explorers, accompanied only by small radios. They are vulnerable travelers, perhaps tuned to frequencies that we, settled in our houses, might miss. Always heed the traveler for he sees more clearly your home.
Tag Team Theme Wrestling
From Barrett Golding
Rather than Many Festos, how about just a single radio-related Fest. It starts at 5pm rolling out my Montana driveway in a rental car filled with two bikes, two bikers, and gear for camping, riding and recording. It will finish 1000-miles-in-16hours away on Washington’s Pacific Coast, at Cape Disappointment Coast Guard Station, a little late for our 0830 appointment with the Station Chief.
Josef drove us thru the mountains. I drove us thru the night. At sunrise we switched seats again so I could sleep an hour before our Big Interviews with USCG Brass.
The radio was on the whole time. The radio was on when there was barely a radio signal. For 100 miles of the Bitterroot wilderness, we hung on to a damn fine loud-rock station from Missoula until there were only
sporadic gasps of music-like sound amongst the static. In Idaho we kept bouncing between a country and a rap station (that’s right, Idahoans love their hip-hop). On the Washington border we picked up the CBC’s Nightwatch, taking calls and talking to “the community of the night” — we lost them as they were about to discuss their dreams.
On the AM band we sampled Rush and Dr. Laura, KGO Talk Radio-San Francisco, a Spanish station in Portland, and French from Montreal. We listened to anything remotely stimulating, anything to keep us company. What we didn’t listen to was public radio. Between the evening and morning news magazines, public radio was mostly uninspired, sleepy announcers killing time until the next national feed.
Public radio is my home. But I think the place needs some fixin’ up.
We what we can to help with the fixin'.
Help Transom get new work and voices to public radio by donating now.
We pander to the 10% of Americans who listen to public radio, and ignore the 90% who don’t. We assume the 90% listen to commercial radio because they like it. I think they don’t like commercial radio any better than we do. They just like it better than public radio — just as I, a public radio fan, didn’t like what I heard on our Mountain-to-Ocean all-night excursion.
If pubradio could pull in just one-tenth of those non-listeners, we’d almost double our audience. Is there stuff here at Transom, and places like Hearing Voices and Third Coast, that might attract some of the public now not part of public radio? I think so. More accurately: I’m betting my career on it.
We dropped the rental in Astoria, Oregan, and camped on the coast. After taking a single night to drive as far west as we go could go, our plan now is to spend the next few weeks pedaling back. This, then, is part two of the Great Pains & Accuracy Tour, our transcontinental trip, mic-ing and biking the Missouri and Columbia Rivers and the Rocky Mountains (aka, Lewis & Clark Trail). Along the way we will upload our thoughts, sounds, images and radio reveries here in this Transom discussion.
Right now we’re off to record immigrants sturgeon fishing along the very polluted Columbia Slough, a sort of modern day hunter-gatherers. Tonight we’ll be at a small Portland club to hear musician John Zorn’s latest experiment. The game is afoot…
From Josef Verbanac
The thing began with the two of us wanting to see, to feel, to know what had happened in the west since those two intrepid discoverers (all sacharine intended) traversed the continent.
We departed, much as last summer, leaving late — with Barrett, there are no other time frames but degrees of lateness. This required an all-night drive, much bottled water and bad coffee — not to mention mostly awful radio.
Why is that?
Is there truly so very little good programming out there in four states and nearly one thousand-miles?
That certainly seemed to be the case… I am neither as adamant a radio defender as BG, nor as forgiving of crappy noise. I would much rather turn the damn radio off, roll down the windows and listen to the sounds of the land I’m passing by.
Still, this is something of a radio odyssey, and I felt it my responsibility to be at least a bit more attentive to what we were hearing.
And in those hours after sunset and sunrise, it was pretty banal stuff — particularly, no, especially, public radio broadcasting: safe, transparent ambience that took no risks, elicited no response other than boredom and a quick station change. At least the commercial stations (whether AM or FM) tried to be interesting or lively.
We did manage to arrive at Cape Disappointment only an hour late, and in spite of the aural deadspace we had passed through.
As Barrett was interviewing those sheepishly willing Coast Guarders the Executive Officer suggested as “having stories,” another thing was obvious: they didn’t listen to public radio much, if at all. When BG introduced himself, and described what he was doing, their response was frightening in its uniformity: “National Public Radio? Ohhhh… I listen to that (long pause, then more softly) sometimes.”
Nor were they only ones.
In fact, *every* interviewee had a similar admission — whether they were river pilots, state parks personnel, high school history teachers or coffee shop proprietors.
This, readers and listeners, is a pretty poor showing, no?