Eat your heart out, Carson Daly. When 5
o’clock rolls around, I’m not watching “Total
Request Live”; I’m listening to National Public
Radio’s “All Things Considered.” I don’t
get my news from MTV’s modishly-dressed Kurt Loder and Gideon
Yago, but instead from NPR’s faceless Todd Mundt and Diane
Rehm. On a Saturday afternoon, I’m more likely to be
listening to NPR’s news quiz “Wait Wait Don’t
Tell Me” than to be watching “MTV Cribs.”

Kate Green

As I am only one member of the so-called MTV generation, it
would be easy to write me off as a nerd or even a media snob, but I
am not alone in my I-want-my-NPR habits. It turns out that there
are lots of us listening to NPR and tuning out the mindless media
consumption that MTV has come to represent. Our generation —
despite growing up with “The Real World” and
“Beavis and Butt-Head”— may be better known by
the letters NPR than by MTV.

When it comes to young NPR listeners, there are two groups.
First, there are the stereotypical collegiate NPR junkies.
They’re easily identified by their lofty ideals and coffee
mugs or shoulder bags bearing the call letters of their local
station. These enthusiasts also possess an uncanny ability to
relate any conversation to an interesting segment on
yesterday’s edition of “Day to Day.” The final
defining characteristic of NPR addicts is their twice-yearly
week-long moodiness during the obnoxious, but necessary, NPR fund
drives. By nature, these junkies categorically defy the
characteristics expected of the MTV generation. They aren’t
politically apathetic; they do appreciate thoughtful news analysis;
and they don’t robotically buy the products or people set
before them.

Though NPR addicts play an important role in the deconstruction
of the myth of the MTV generation, there is a more noteworthy
population among today’s late-teens and early-twenty
somethings — the balanced listeners. As this second group of
NPR loyalists is less fanatical and less pigeonholed than the
junkies, it encompasses a larger range and number of people. Still,
just like the NPR junkies, this group of listeners isn’t
numbed by the marketing creation that is MTV and its subsequent
culture. These listeners may not be members of the Diane Rehm fan
club, but they demand news coverage beyond Yago’s
“Journeys in Kuwait”— and that’s what is
important. It is that widespread and unrelenting demand for serious
news that will help our generation beat the bad MTV rap.

I have to admit that, until recently, this balanced section of
the NPR listening population wasn’t on my radar screen. A few
weeks ago, I was in the unlikely situation of having dinner with
the kid brothers of two high school friends. Even though said
brothers are in college now, I still associate them with the antics
of MTV’s “Jackass.” Growing up, I saw them act
more ridiculously than quintessential Jackass Johnny Knoxville.
While these little brothers were definitely entertaining back home,
I was curious and a bit skeptical of what a meal’s worth of
conversation with these guys and their friends would bring
today.

Whatever expectations I had going into this odd evening, I can
safely say I did not think we would bond over NPR. In fact, I
thought public radio programming would be at the very bottom of any
list of possible conversation topics I might expect. Nevertheless,
half way through our beers and our meals, we ended up arguing over
which hokey NPR show awards quiz winners with Carl Kasell’s
voice on their answering machines. When no one could definitively
say if it were “Wait Wait” or “Whad’Ya
Know,” we steered discussion to the history of Diane
Rehm’s unique speech pattern and lauded the nightly
broadcasts of the BBC’s “World Service.” I was
quite taken aback. Who knew that little brothers and their friends
listen to NPR?

I’m not claiming that MTV, as a news and entertainment
source, is entirely inane or banal. I’m sure it introduces
important issues to our nation’s teeny-boppers, and I
can’t deny that I do enjoy an occasional countdown of the top
100 moments in rock history indexed by some obscure characteristic
an MTV lackey invented. Still, I’m pleased to report that our
generation isn’t limited by MTV’s breed of media. It
turns out that a few bad cable networks can’t numb the minds
of an entire generation.

Am I too hopeful? Maybe — but I can’t help but feel
good that more of my peers than I ever expected are listening to
NPR.

Strayer can be reached at
“mailto:lstrayer@umich.edu”>lstrayer@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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