Few things in life, at their best, are more lively or intimate than radio. Whether we’re listening from a car or a Smart Phone, a compelling program makes us feel as if we’re part of not only an informative, but a personal conversation. We know our beloved shows have listeners nationwide. Yet, we take it personally when our fave programs go off the air. That’s how it’s been with me since I heard that the NPR show “Tell Me More,” a program designed to appeal to people of color, will end on Aug. 1.
Over the seven years since the show’s been on the air, I’ve tuned in regularly to the program. Sometimes, I confess, I’ve tossed work aside to catch a segment that pricked up my ears. As I write this, I stop, to listen to author Alex Tizon talk about his memoir, “Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self.”
I, a white woman, am upset over the cancellation of “Tell Me More,” one of a very few news outlets that gives voice to people of color, for several reasons. First, I do not live (nor would want to live) in a world with only people like myself. Fortunately, only about half of children under five are white, and by 2042 the majority of people in the United States will be people of color, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, too frequently, in much of the media you wouldn’t know this. We see people of color as athletes and musicians. But how often are the voices or non-stereotypical images of people of color featured on news or entertainment programs? I’ll miss hearing such voices on “Tell Me More.”
Sometimes, diversity comes across as a boring PSA ad or “educational.” That’s not the case with “Tell Me More.” Perhaps, because of this, I learn something from nearly every show. I had little idea until I listened today to Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who emigrated as a child from the Philippines to the United States, speak with the program’s host’s Michel Martin, of the isolation that many Asian men experience in this country.
“Television and movies were our biggest teachers,” Tizon told Martin. “Asian men … were either small, ineffective or they were evil. And those messages were deeply, deeply embedded in me for many years.”
Because I’m queer and legally blind, I sometimes feel as if I’m not on the media’s radar screen. Throughout its tenure, “Tell Me More” has given listeners the perspectives of many “outsiders” – from people with disabilities to LGBT couples, parents, actors, writers and activists. Sometimes the issues being reported or discussed are quite serious, such as anti-gay laws in this country or the violation of the civil rights of LGBT people in Uganda. Martin interviewed both the Ugandan LGBT activist Frank Mugisha and the American evangelical leader Scott Lively, who defended Uganda’s parliament. While Lively’s anti-LGBT views are reprehensible, I was glad that the show informed listeners of the situation for LGBT people in Uganda and of Lively’s views.
Lately, I’ve been binge-watching “Orange is the New Black.” Recently, it was fun to hear transgender activist and actress Laverne Cox, who plays transgender prisoner Sophia Burset on “Orange,” dish about her favorite music with Martin. “That song is a great reminder that the men who come into my life who are trouble, they show me right away,” Cox said of Taylor Swift’s song “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
NPR officials cited budget deficits as the reason for cancelling “Tell Me More.” “We’re trying to make the most of the resources that we have and ensure that we keep radio healthy,” said NPR executive vice president and chief content officer Kinsey Wilson.
I understand about budgets. But I hope the spirit of “Tell Me More” will remain on the airwaves. If not, radio will be the worse for it.