170 Million Americans: Speak Up


OK — so I’m going to be a shill for a minute here: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Public Broadcasting Service (which you may know as “public TV” or “Masterpiece Theatre”), National Public Radio, and local public TV and public radio stations across the country are campaigning to turn back an attempt in Congress to cut public media funding. The move is part of a much larger effort to reduce government spending.

The public media response is called 170 Million Americans. That’s the number of people the CPB says watch public TV, listen to public radio, and use public media digital services each month. That’s a lot of people, more than half of the U.S.A. Public media people–I’m one, as it happens–are urging friends, family, coworkers, passers-by, and complete strangers to let their folks in Congress know how they feel if they value the service we deliver. So consider yourself urged if you’ve read this far. Here’s where to go online if you’re inclined to take action. And if you’re wondering, here’s how public media funding works.

Fuller disclosure: Yes, I work for a public broadcaster, KQED in San Francisco. And I’m responding in part to a call to action from by company’s CEO, and in part to a comment from a usually well-informed friend who said he “wasn’t worried” about the CPB cuts because public financing isn’t all that much of the corporation’s budget. In the case of KQED, we get about $5 million a year in federal support. That’s about 8.5 percent of the company’s annual budget. If you run a business or pay close attention to your household finances, think about what kind of hit that would be. Some public broadcasters–those in smaller markets and rural areas–reportedly get 30 to 50 percent of their funding through federal support. For them, this becomes a life-and-death matter, and for their audiences, it’s a matter of having continued access to a source of diverse news, information, and entertainment programming.

(Click on image for larger version of poster, which has a kind of goofy reference to The Count from “Sesame Street.”)

John Muir: ‘I Asked the Boulders Where They Had Been’

We’ve watched most of the first two installments of the new Ken Burns public TV extravaganza, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” The beauty of the show is exhilarating and the history is fascinating (Theodore Roosevelt–what a guy).

The first two episodes are closely entwined with the story of John Muir, and part two focuses first on his fight to complete the preservation of Yosemite and then on his unsuccessful battle to stop San Francisco from flooding Hetch Hetchy valley. Muir’s voiceovers are done in a soft Scots burr. Occasionally, you hear about Muir from Lee Stetson, who has portrayed him for decades and who has even adopted the Muir look. But when Stetson appears on camera, he speaks in a plain old General American accent. At the very end of the second episode, though, he briefly introduces a Muir quote, then instantly transitions to the gentle and compelling Muir voice, then appears on camera to finish the quote. It’s a moving performance. Here’s what he recites:

“Muir said, ‘As long as I live I’ll hear the birds and the winds and the waterfalls sing. I’ll interpret the rocks and learn the language of flood and storm and avalanche. I’ll make the acquaintance of the wild gardens and the glaciers and get as near to the heart of this world as I could. And so I did. I sauntered about from rock to rock, from grove to grove, from stream to stream, and whenever I met a new plant I would sit down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance, hear what it had to tell. I asked the boulders where they had been and whither they were going, and when night found me, there I camped. I took no more heed to save time or to make haste than did the trees or the stars. This is true freedom, a good, practical sort of immortality.”