Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dear WBEZ 91.5...

With all of Chicago Public Radio’s resources, talent, hard work, and “objectivity,” when will you realize—not all your listeners drive cars? Not every listener is stuck in the car when you’re doing your late-afternoon “All Things Considered” pledge drive shifts. Not every listener is debating whether to “pull over and call,” as you recommend. Not every listener could use a WBEZ license plate holder as a premium for pledging (a WBEZ bike gear bag, or CTA pass holder would be nice). Not every listener “maybe even has WBEZ preset on their car radio," because they don’t have a car, or maybe even a driver’s license.

I know you’re aware of the existence of bicycles and bicyclists, of the CTA, Pace, and Metra, because you do fine news coverage of them all the time—mass transit funding, safety issues, bike culture, etc. You even did a story where your reporters competed to see who could reach a certain spot first—the driver, the cyclist, or the L rider.

I don’t mind pledge drives that much—you do what you’ve gotta do, and it’s better than commercials, and some of your pledge banter can even be entertaining, and disrupting programs isn’t the end of the world when you can now listen to them all online anyway. But why are you so relentless in assuming your listeners are commuting by car? (There’s also the assumption that the listeners are working outside the home at a 9-5 job, but I’ll put that aside for now.)

Sure, NPR came up with that cute concept of the “driveway moment”—the story you just have to finish listening to in your car—and even packages CDs of “driveway moment” stories. But what about those of us who struggle to find a good way to listen to WBEZ while bicycling? Or listen to it nearly constantly on the CTA, having to avoid the subway parts of the L while our favorite shows are on, struggling through the interference-plagued reception downtown (and on Halsted around UIC—I don’t know why that’s a problem)? Maybe your market research indicates the majority of your listeners drive—but that’s no reason to always shut everyone else out.

Perhaps this sounds trivial, but I’m tired of being ignored, when I’ve been a fanatical WBEZ listener my whole time in Chicago (remember “Your Radio Playhouse?” remember Aaron Freeman talking all Saturday afternoon?). I don’t have “driveway moments,” except when visiting my parents. I have moments of standing in doorways listening until I have to take my earphones off and go to the show or talk or class or whatever. I’m not NOT pledging because of this—if I put off pledging, it’s because I’m lazy, or paralyzed with indecision—what’s the best time to call? When a WBEZ person who’s an acquaintance is doing the pledge drive, so they might recognize my name when they read pledges’ names on-air? While there’s someone offering to double all the pledges received? When you offer really great “premia” “today only?” I’ve got no excuse for not pledging. But your car-centrism has peeved me for a long, long time. I wonder if I should note every “you’re in your car,” “you’re stuck in traffic,” etc. comment made during pledge time, add up $5 for each example, and send my money to the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation instead?

I’d already written this rant in my head when the afternoon of March 5, I got a shock during an afternoon pledge pitch. While on the Kimball bus heading to Lawrence, I heard Chip Mitchell, your reporter for the Humboldt Park (my hood!) bureau, say “you’re in your car… or the bus or train” and I was in shock. Awesome! The one moment of inclusion in years and years of pledge listening. There’s hope for you yet.

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