CBC – Backbencher

There’s a new radio drama on the CBC – Backbencher. It’s about a brand spanking new MP in the House of Commons from a riding in Nova Scotia. I’m quite enjoying it so far; it doesn’t have the action/drama of Afghanada or the comedy of Canadia 2056, but it’s near sight more entertaining than Monsoon House. I can’t imagine what Backbencher’s target audience is, though; is there really a swell of interest for Canadian Parliamentary drama? I would have figured I’d be more or less the only person interested in this sort of thing.

In other news, I’m toying with the idea of combining two of my interests and writing a radio drama/comedy set in a yoga studio. I have a few rough ideas in mind, but haven’t put pen to paper yet.

Alan Chartock, WAMC

It will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I listen to a great deal of radio. I listen to conventional broadcast radio, I listen to streaming stations on-line. I listen to local stations, stations from other states, stations from other countries. I listen to music programmes, news programmes, radio drama, radio comedy, public radio, commercial radio. And I listen to some radio programmes which joyously defy any and all classification. I even had my own radio programme for about a year in college, and miss it sorely sometimes. About the only genre of radio with which I am not intimately acquainted is right-wing talk radio. So it is on no small pool of experience that I draw when I say that far and away the most obnoxious radio personality I have ever had the displeasure of listening to is Dr. Alan Chartock, president and CEO of local public radio station WAMC.

I didn’t always feel this way. Ten or fifteen years ago, when I started listening to WAMC, I had much greater tolerance for Dr. Chartock. In gross terms, after all, his political views are in concordance with my own. He, too, is a progressive lefty; supports Obama, doesn’t support the wars, &c. We also share a love of Pete Seeger’s music. The common ground between us ends there, unfortunately. I am irrevocably divorced from the cult of Chartock by the man’s own insufferable self-importance and megalomania.

Dr. Chartock’s voice is inescapable on WAMC; both literally (he is on the air almost continuously, hosting his own weekly programmes and serving as a regular commentator and co-host of other programmes) and figuratively (there are very few commentators on WAMC who do not share Dr. Chartock’s political views). I can understand, to some extent, the pervasiveness of his actual voice over the air waves. If I remember correctly from my days in the DC area, WAMU’s president was also their most regular on-air personality. Perhaps this is inherent to public radio stations in this country (or at least those devoted to commentary and news). I cannot, however, understand Dr. Chartock’s refusal to air more than the most paltry smattering of opinions contrary to his own. WAMC offers air time to a wide variety of commentators. Exactly one of them is a conservative; and even his arguments are poorly constructed and inane. It is almost as though he is retained to serve as a straw-man. This theory is not in any way discredited by the fact that during every single fund drive, Dr. Chartock parades this one conservative commentator’s brief weekly opinion pieces as evidence of his own (Dr. Chartock’s) magnanimous willingness to air other points of view. Is it really Dr. Chartock’s sole responsibility and privilege to determine who should and should not be allowed air time? WAMC is a public radio station. It is their responsibility to provide quality programming for their audience, not the palest imaginable shadow of balanced politics.

If WAMC’s lone conservative commentator were my sole complaint, it would not occur to me to accuse Dr. Chartock of egomania. Perhaps WAMC is simply catering to its audience’s interests. However, Dr. Chartock really shows his hand during his Tuesday afternoon hour-long open political forums. Callers generally fall into two categories: progressives and conservatives (reflecting WAMC’s audience and local demographics, the majority fall into the former category). Within each of these categories, there are sub-groups: conscientious callers and, for lack of a better term, wackos. Conscientious callers respectfully voice well reasoned arguments, sometimes calmly, sometimes with great passion. Wackos are generally irate and voice opinions which they are unable to support. My perspective is that both progressives and conservatives can have valuable insights to share, and should be granted air time to share them, provided that they are conscientious. In other words, callers should be screened based on their placement on the conscientious/wacko spectrum, not the progressive/conservative spectrum. This idea, however, is clearly foreign to Dr. Chartock. Progressives are permitted to voice their opinions with minimal interruptions, regardless of where they fall on the conscientious/wacko continuum. Conservatives, on the other hand, are treated to continuous interruptions from Dr. Chartock, with the result that regardless of their state of calmness at the start of the call, their level of agitation increases until Dr. Chartock cuts the call short and informs his call screener, over the air, to add the caller to The List (ie, the list of callers who are no longer permitted on air). I listen to this happen every time I tune in, and it never fails to disgust me. He even has the audacity to accuse his conservative callers of speaking from a “bully pulpit.” I believe the Yiddish word for this sort of statement is “chutzpah.”

Why do I still listen if Dr. Chartock’s antics infuriate me so? WAMC, despite the failings and egocentrism of its president, is still a quality source of local information, and I do enjoy many of its other programmes and commentators. Many years ago, though, I stopped donating to the station during fund drives because I couldn’t stand the thought of underwriting Dr. Chartock’s gigantic ego. I know many of WAMC’s other listeners enjoy listening to him berate callers with opposing viewpoints (they voice their enjoyment in their comments during the fund drives); to me, this is the cheapest sort of lions-vs-Christians entertainment. WAMC’s listeners, I believe, would be far better served by a more balanced approach. And perhaps by a change in leadership.

reunion, revelation

I ran into and old friend of Byron‘s on Friday. The last I knew, N was living in Ireland, and I didn’t expect to see him again, so it was a pleasant shock to find him at the Bakery. He’s in town for the summer. When I asked him what he’s been doing, he said biking and hiking, so I gave him my number so that we could get together.

Later on Friday, I discovered that one of my friends grew up right down the road from me (albeit a few years earlier). We had all of the same elementary school teachers and graduated from the same high school. Very, very weird!

I am glad to have finally made the real world acquaintance of one of my fellow bloggers, Pam, this past weekend, and I am happy to report that she is as interesting and funny in real life as her blog has led me to believe. She was in New Paltz to climb, so we met at Bacchus and I bought her the beer that I promised her almost a year ago. We both wore WFMU tee shirts (totally unplanned) and we talked and laughed about last week’s episode of Seven Second Delay. It was a really, really nice way to spend the evening.

On Sunday morning, I taught two yoga classes at Jai Ma. I got very positive feedback after each, and perhaps more importantly, I felt good about the classes, both while teaching and afterward. I think I may be getting the hang of this. Students keep asking me if there are any classes that I teach on a regular basis (rather than subbing). That seems like a good sign. I’m still losing sleep the night before I teach, but not as much as I used to. I’m freaking out less beforehand too (generally).

Finally, yesterday after yoga, T and I drove to Long Island to visit with her grandmother. Unfortunately, she isn’t doing very well. After a hospital stay, she is now home again receiving hospice care. The first time I met her (about six months ago), I remember thinking about what a sharp and fascinating person she was to talk to. I still see that in her, but she is struggling now, both physically and mentally. And if it’s hard for me to see, I know it must be a million times worse for T.

It’s not an easy thing to think or write about, but part of me really hopes that when my own time comes, it will be sudden and offer me little opportunity for reflection. I do not want to have the experience of knowing. Even as I write this, though, I know that I am curious. There are already so many realms of knowledge from which I am permanently barred. (What is it like to be a woman? What is it like to live all of your life in a third world country? What was it like to live in the 1800s?) It feels like I’m cheating myself by saying that there is yet another realm of experience from which I would voluntarily bar myself if I could.


I finally pledged today, despite not being able to listen at home anymore (except online, which just doesn’t appeal to me). Yay! Now I get to enjoy the unique fruits of smugness that come from donating to a listener sponsored radio station. Plus, I get a T shirt.

Sweet Shiva!

I’m sitting here stressed about a million things – the cavity I’m ignoring, my workload which alternates between non-existent and overwhelming, the fact that I haven’t been tapped to substitute teach a class since giving my sample class, the weird creaky noises coming from my car that my mechanic tells me to ignore, my finely honed skill at shooting myself in the foot in so many aspects of my life – when out of the blue (well, out of my iMac’s speakers) comes relief from a wholly unexpected quarter: Afghanada has been renewed for a third season. The first new episode will air today. In two hours. Happy happy! Joy joy!

Guilty pleasure

So there’s this radio drama that airs on the CBC every Friday morning at 11:30, and I simply cannot stop listening. It’s called Canadia 2056; it features science fiction, American-Canadian relations, intergalactic toilet plunging, amorous computers, a brain in a jar, romance, action, comedy. It really has it all. It’s like a mash up of Futurama, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and this stupid audio production of the story of King Midas that I did in grade 5.

What is it that’s so compelling about radio dramas? And why aren’t there any in this country? (Or if there are, where are they?) Why do I have to outsource for my auditory amusement? Afghanada (when it was on the air, and I hope it’s coming back for a third season) also held me totally in thrall.