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Reading: Sarah Vowell
05/31/1998 Sarah Vowell: Radio On

Thinking more about Sarah Vowell's "Radio on: A Listener's Diary", I'm curious about some of her grudges, particularly against NPR reporters and hosts, although I can understand the source of one of her disappointments--the gradual slickification of NPR. The first NPR broadcast--nearly live coverage of an antiwar demonstration in 1970--has the wild flavor of unedited slices of reality. Listening to it, you have no idea what's going to happen next, and compared to these tapes (and if you haven't heard them, you should) most contemporary NPR pieces seem premasticated and overnarratized, with foreshadowing introductions, explanatory commentary, ending with neat little wrapups and off-the-shelf banter. The old stuff is like swallowing life whole.

But does it make sense to have something against NPR for becoming slicker? I guess the answer is to create a forum for more raw, less narrative radio, which is what This American Life is trying to do, and Vowell's an associate editor there (if I remember the position correctly). At the time she wrote the book, though, she wasn't there yet, although she describes visiting the new WBEZ studios as one of the first This American Life broadcasts was being put together.