An intimate inspiration

Radio is the intimate of all mediums, and public radio has a role to play in civic and cultural life. (Photo: Pixabay)

Spring, 2009. A medical trifecta led to me completing the last half of my junior year and my entire senior year of high school as a homebound student. The days saw my mom and I commute to a plethora of doctors appointments, while the nights saw insomnia – a side effect of all the medications I was on.

One night, in my room at my home in suburban Chicago, I wondered what I could do so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister on the other end of the house. I switched on the radio, volume down. Away I went, fiddling the tuning button, past the commercial talk on AM, the pedantic top 40 and genre specific stations on FM, and then, I stumbled upon WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, doing their top of the hour ID.

What followed were the final sounds of the Greenwich Time Signal from London, and then these words: “It’s 7:00 GMT. This is The World Today from the BBC World Service.”

The most intimate of mediums became a friend and a companion, in the hours where one felt isolated, scared and alone. On that night, and nights during my recovery, those sounds provided reassurance to me that all was right in the world, and that I wasn’t alone. I became curious about the world, and the role that stories can have in helping us understand each other, be it written or spoken.

Public radio saved my life, and inspired me to go into journalism.

This past Sunday marked National Radio Day in the United States, an occasion to mark the importance of the medium in this country, and what it means to the civic and cultural life of America. This year’s marking of National Radio Day was special too for public radio, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Public radio continued to be a companion through my college days, and even in times of uncertainty provided a couple of ideas about the work that I want to do in the future, from the search for stories by one of NPR’s most renowned correspondents to the desire by a DJ at 89.3 The Current at Minnesota Public Radio to unearth something you’ve never heard before – and to be the quintessential champion of authenticity.

Radio was designed to be something that connects the world together – to help us understand ourselves, and to do the best we can for the common good. Public media expanded it, and it could be seen especially with the events today involving the solar eclipse – as people gathered to watch in awe the week’s scientific highlight.

Journalism, irrespective of medium, finds itself in a quandary, as it tries to adjust in the digital age. As it does, those who aspire to make it their life’s work wonder if they will be able to make an impact. Many students will be returning to university campuses over the next few weeks with that question still etched in their minds.

It’s a question still etched in my mind, too. While I don’t have the definitive answer to it, I know this – there are people out there who are doing their best possible work, not to achieve fame or fortune, but to inform, educate and engage.

To paraphrase a quote from a funding announcement from WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, their desire is to help people cope better with the world and their own lives. Public media does that and then some, and showcases that when all is said and done, in spite of uncertainty, the work does make a difference. I hope I can do just that.

I have them to thank and them to credit for inspiring me to pursue journalism. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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