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RANDALL BLOOMQUIST’S opinion piece (“Real Things Considered,” The District Line, 3/17) trivialized public broadcasting and failed to disclose that Bloomquist is a vice president with the Earle Palmer Brown advertising agency. His business surely would benefit if public broadcasting either became “commercial” (read: “privatized”) or disappeared altogether, thereby opening up more commercial frequencies.
Public radio does provide an alternative to commercial radio. The quality and focus of our programs are driven by a sense of mission and public service, not by attempting to reach the largest audience possible. By definition, our audience is supposed to be small when compared with commercial stations. Yet our audience share is not insignificant. More than 400,000 listeners find what we offer each week to be informative and educational. To dismiss our “in-depth” news coverage as simply “overlong,” as Bloomquist did, either reveals a complete ignorance of our programming or is just a cheap shot. Both our news programming (including National Public Radio magazines) and our talk shows provide an alternative to the mostly opinion- and entertainment-focused talk programs on commercial radio. For those who want just the headlines, WTOP-AM (1500) is the place to go. But once you have heard the same stories three times over, you can turn on WAMU-FM (88.5) and get a five-to-nine-minute report on an issue. There is a place for both in our culture, but it seems Bloomquist would rather there be only one, and one which would enrich his company.
It is easy in 1995 to look around and say public broadcasting should stand on its own two feet. But do not forget that without the federal government the strong and vibrant public broadcasting system would not exist today. The commercial marketplace would never have developed news magazines like Morning Edition or All Things Considered.
It was also a cheap shot to describe WAMU as the official radio station for “policy wonks and establishment eggheads.” In an age when TV talk shows fight each other for top billing as the greatest freak show on Earth, I’m proud that the Diane Rehm and Derek McGinty shows provide in-depth discussions of the Mexican financial crisis, the controversy over the gifted and talented programs in our public schools, and other substantive issues that listeners are hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
While Bloomquist concedes that our bluegrass programing is unique, he questions whether any federal funding should be provided for such programming. The purpose of public broadcasting has been to reach out to underserved audiences. If bluegrass programming appealed to a large segment of the audience, commercial broadcasters would program it. However, the audience is not tiny. According to Arbitron ratings, nearly 100,000 people a week tune in for Bluegrass Country, Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. This is the only station in the marketplace where such music is programmed.
We are in the business of providing a public service, and judging from the strong support WAMU receives from its listeners (our recent on-air fundraiser produced $834,000 in pledges), we’re doing our job.
Program Director, WAMU-FM, Tenleytown