This Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.
I live in New York City, the city that never fails to surprise me.
Just this morning, while taking a cab, the taxi driver turned around at a red light and indignately asked me if I listened to public radio or watched public television?
"Yes;," I said.
He went on to passionately argue the point that Congress was threatening the funding of these important mediums.
I was caught off guard. I didn't expect to have this kind of conversation before a cup of coffee, and I wasn't expecting it from a New York City taxi driver. But in fact, he was a well informed advocate on the subject. He spoke warmly about the impact that public television had had on his children, and made it clear that he wasn't willing to lose the funding without a fight.
I hope the American music business is also listening because they can't afford to lose public radio. There are literally thousands of radio stations across this country playing the exact same music, about the same time, with little or no significant impact on culture.
Then there are these little public radio stations carved out of the basement of Santa Monica College, or built in the middle of Fordham University in the Bronx, or created as an experiment, as in the case of Seattle or forged from a century's old house as in Philly. In fact, KCRW, KEXP in Seattle, WFUV in New York City and WXPN in Philadelphia are the four most important radio stations for showcasing new talent that falls outside the narrow specifications of commercial radio. Though it seems like a highly marginalized world, the truth is, the multi billion dollar record business needs an open door sometimes to let the music in.
Up unti the Iraqi war, the US's biggest export was intellectual copyright. That meant that our films, television programs, music and writing was highly prized around the world. Yet ironically, the United States government is the only major government in the Western World that doesn't offer assistance to help its creative community develop.
If you're a rock band in Montreal, you are encouraged to petition the Canadian government to request funds to help your band tour, or make a music video.
In London, the UK government will help bring over hundreds of bands to help bring the British sound overseas. In Sweden, the Swedish government actively seeks bands to launch in the US. In fact, grant programs to develop talent exist in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, France, Italy, Australia, Sweden, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Canada and the list goes on and on. Each of these countries recognize the importance of supporting the arts in ways that are meaningful. Each of these countries recognize that creative talent must be nurtured.
The quality of culture is best determined by those who set the bar high. Public radio and television have long since tried to challenge America's vision of what is, with a vision of what could be. Truthfully, there are only a few credible tastemakers in each medium out there. It's the vanguards that search to take the road less traveled who have the best opportunity to ignite beauty in its tracks and make it come alive. Don't expect it to come from your radio conglomerate. But please expect to hear it from your public radio stations.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.