Monday, August 13, 2007

NPR and Pampa Home Companion


Listening to US public radio in my little house on the Pampa: Surely this is one of the greatest joys of finally getting broadband out here!

Clicking each step to reach live-streaming US radio raises my hopes like tiptoeing down the stairs on Christmas Day. What daily surprises await me under the cyber tree: NPR with All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. . . podcasts of This American Life from Chicago Public Radio. . . Minnesota Public Radio with the Prairie Home Companion. . . .

And the shiny new bicycle with the big red bow? It’s my favorite station from home, WRVO,[1] whose potpourri includes not only NPR news and talk shows, but also the CBC’s marvelous As It Happens and an evening of vintage mysteries, dramas, comedies--plus weather reports that usually affirm my choice to live here rather than in snows of Syracuse.

Today the coy winter sun has taken refuge here behind a pewter gray curtain worthy of Central NY, so I am in the kitchen trying to make my first cheesecake with Argentine ingredients. I laugh along with Garrison Keiller and his show Prairie Home Companion, while figuring how many tubs of 200 ml of Serenisima Queso Finlandia equal 16 ounces of Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese. (I decided about two and a quarter.)

Today's PHC rebroadcast features authors reading from their own works interspersed with a fractured fairy tale about a boy who disobeyed his mother by putting his tongue on the water pump handle by the ice skating pond, requiring the local firefighters to help unfreeze it, and who then undergoes a personality transformation. When he is kidnapped by the Ice Queen and taken to her kingdom, not unlike Syracuse apparently, I am interrupted and miss the exciting frosty conclusion.

Roberto is wandering around the house within earshot. And yet, when the Kansas City writer reads his description of his now chigger-free life in Greenwich Village and when the silly Keiller vignette slips in northern Midwest humor (("It can't be heaven if there is no cheese”), I realize I am chuckling alone. There is just no way to translate this humor for my Argentine husband. I’m glad that the far away and some time ago audience keeps me company with its chortling and tittering.

Afterwards I try to explain the concept of PHC to Roberto. “Imagine a radio variety show hosted by an intellectual with an adolescent sense of humor in the middle of the province of Entre Rios or Santa Fe, with a bits of traditional music, story telling and silly scenarios, with absolutely nobody from Buenos Aires allowed. Something totally noncommercial, but so good that it becomes a smash because it includes something for everyone, liberal and conservative, like The Simpsons."[2] He gets it. No, he doesn't know of any such show here. Yet.

Sometimes I listen to local radio here. I havet my favorite music stations—one that plays pop music from the US and Latin America, and another than sometimes features tangos or traditional music. If I stray from those, I note non-stop talking. . . and a surprising percentage women's voices.

When I can decipher it, talk radio here turns out to be about one of Argentina's two religions--the one with God, Jesus, and Mary or the one with football. And wow, those pumped-up commentators can hold a note ("gooooooooal") as long as any diva. Then there are the chatty shows with political commentary, social commentary, and just plain chatty commentary that goes nowhere. There must be an Argentine Blarney Stone somewhere! Late at night the deep sexy FM voices take over on some stations with the profuse romantic song dedications or fabulous tales of healing miracles.

Radio for car travel disappoints me as I have to do a new scan every ten minutes, and there are hundreds of radio-free kilometers here in the vast Pampa. Besides, signals here are often weak, with competing stations in the same city. Last year a San Nicolas station invited me for an interview on Positive Psychology. When I arrived at the little store front office on a side street, front window shattered by vandals, I was welcomed by the owner, Graciela, a gregarious and warm 60-ish woman. While waiting for my on-air time, she described losing her partners (her husband and son both died recently). Yet she has dedicated herself to keeping it going. "I want to give something good to the community," she explained. Her optimism and commitment touched me deeply.

That's grass-roots public radio at its best wherever it happens.

Postscript: After baking and chilling, the mocha cheesecake proved to be a scrumptious accompaniment to a podcast of This American Life.

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[1] The notable five W's of the Syracuse area: WRVO-FM (NPR plus news and talk), WCNY-FM (NPR plus classical), and WAER-FRM (NPR plus jazz), Wegman’s supermarkets (best produce and checkers anywhere), and Winter. Four of these justify living there.
[2] Though I imagine the average PHC age is at least 20 years more than average Simpsons viewer.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

How wonderful to hear the Syracuse area described so beautifully. Good luck with your ID card and a future savings account. That would create large pockets of impatience in me.

Good explanation of PHC. We still listen every Sunday and I'll imagine you in the car enjoying it as well.

I'll make a point of keeping up with you here. Only since reading Rob and Kiff's blog have I understood what it is all about.
Rob's blog is: bertscholl.blogspot.com
love you,
Pam