Public Radio: Are You Listening?

Public Radio: Are You Listening?
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There's a cabin in the Santa Cruz redwoods where I go periodically to write. I go there for the silence, the beauty, the fog, the reminder of how small I am, dwarfed by those ancient tall trees.


I'm able to be prolific at this cabin in large part because there is no Internet. Thank God there are still places we can run to that don't have Wi-Fi. Without Internet, my activities are limited to reading, writing, walking around the nine-acre property and listening to NPR. Each night at 7, in a comfy recliner, radio at arm's length, I listen to Fresh Air. It's my reward for having made it through a hard day of writing.


But it's not only when I do writing retreats that I indulge in KAZU: It's the only station my car and my husband's car are ever tuned to. I listen to On Point, Splendid Table, Science Friday, Marketplace, Click and Clack, Wait-Wait, This American Life, Here and Now, Radio Lab, Morning Edition, the Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. And before we moved to the Monterey Peninsula, we were listening to these same great shows on KNAU and KJZZ in Arizona. When it comes to public radio, it's safe to say we are lifers. We have the water bottles to prove it.


On my way to and from this cabin in the redwoods, I always stop at Everett Family Farm. I love everything about this enterprise. Their sign is perfectly alluring -- cute, contemporary and professional, the word "family" in the title referring to both theirs and yours.


I love parking by the persimmon tree, love the corrugated metal of the building, the blackboards announcing featured produce: Figs! it might say. Or Fresh Apple Cider! I love the "Little Free Library" on the bench out front. "Leave something; take something" it says.


It's like a tiny chicken coop -- a wooden box with chicken wire and two loose locks holding it barely shut. I was so delighted the first time I saw this, I went straight to the car to retrieve a copy of my own published book, which I autographed and then shelved in the Little Free Library box. I loved not knowing who would grab it first, knowing it was part of this generous, cooperative system of book sharing.

But we're still on the porch, not even inside the store yet. Once you go up the steps, you're hit by the unmistakable smell of apples. There's the small fridge to your right stocked with eggs and cider; the bunches of kale like bouquets of green goodness, the small baskets of shiny red peppers, the squash -- so many varieties -- from the delicata to the monstrous blue hubbard.


There's an antique stove as décor and a sign saying "Everett Family Farms operates on the Honor System." A big black box with a slot on top accepts your cash. You weigh your own produce on the scale provided, do your own math on the yellow legal pad, make your own change from a jar filled with coins. Almost every time I've visited this farmstand, I've been the only person there. There's something holy about it -- the stillness, the intention, the bounty, the trust. Some kind of garden god watches over the place and as I carefully select what goodness I'll take with me, I do so with something akin to reverence. And I always leave feeling better than when I arrived, feeling maybe even a little bit giddy. About home-grown food. About life in general.


I love folding up my bills and pushing them through the slot on the cash box. When in doubt, I round up. The honor system makes me feel good.

KAZU operates on the honor system, too. Let's say I fill my basket one week with Diane Rehm, This American Life, Wait-Wait and Car Talk. Let's say I put these on the scale. What do they weigh? What are they worth to me? Do I feel informed or enriched after listening? Do I stay in my car, long after arriving somewhere, because the story is too riveting to turn off? Do I talk about what I heard later to friends, husband, students? Does what I heard inspire me to read a certain book, see a certain film, buy a new cd, or follow up on a certain topic? Does listening engage multiple parts of me? What should I pay for that?

Onions and apples are $2/lb. Should I pay $2 per show, $2 per hour of listening? (Frankly, that sounds like a bargain.) A dozen eggs cost $8, same as a half-gallon of cider. Is there some show I tune in to particularly often and value particularly highly, a show that is the equivalent of my "dozen eggs"? Let's say Fresh Air and This American Life, since I'm a writer and teacher of writing. Those shows are partly responsible for my ongoing education, my continued preparation. Shouldn't I pay more for Terri Gross and Ira Glass?

Like a trip to Everett Family Farms, time spent with KAZU programming has a holiness about it. That relationship between the radio and the listener, the producers and the public, the imagined relationship among all those listening at any given time.


I give to public radio because I indulge in it often, I value it highly, and finally, because to not give? Well that would be like stiffing the folks at Everett Family Farms.

Honor system, folks. There's a reason it's called "Listener Supported." If you're tuning in, if you're walking away with bounty, time to slide some bills through the big metal cash box. Thank you, Everett Family Farms; Thank you, KAZU.


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