Tuesday, November 30, 2004

NPR, Talk Radio (and Walmart, again)

This morning I came across a week-old piece on Evangelical Outpost by Joe Carter sub-titled Why NPR Beats Talk Radio. Considering that the source was an in-your-face conservative website, I had to find out what this misguided person could be thinking. Shoot, I've been listening to NPR since Bob Edwards was a pup. I can remember the first time they played that timeless recording of famous NPR voices reading the Declaration of Independence, and recognizing most of the voices. Red Barber's non-sequitur observations about flowers blooming in Tallahassee were as fresh to me as anything on the radio today. So was this a crack in the wall? Have I found another Ariana Huffington about to fall from being a Conservative prima to a spoiled and soiled limosine liberal? Surely not.

Actually, the piece was fair. He listed six pretty good reasons that NPR is a good alternative to talk radio, all of which I understand and appreciate, although my reasons for being an NPR fan run much deeper. My radio listening, measured by the hour, probably divides my time unevenly to the talk radio side, mostly because I have to endure so many commercials to hear an equivalent amount of what is euphemistically called "content."

As I was scanning the site, trying to figure out what all the commercial connections, ads in the sidebars (Are you tired of arguing about religion on your dates? Do you get sick of hearing your boyfriend or girlfriend bash conservative values? Now there is HOPE! Join the conservativeMatch.com community and find thousands of conservative singles just like you.), comments about Walmart, and Hardees (Sin on a Bun: The Forgotten Vice of Gluttony) I noticed a link to a rebuttal of the NPR piece on another site. Oh well, I thought, damning with faint praise could not go without comment in these quarters, so I went to the other site to read the rebuttal.

I hit that one on the head. Not only did the rebuttal argue back, it sought to add injury to insult by pointing out that any comparison between NPR and talk radio is unfair, mostly because talk radio is out there in the marketplace, toiling hard to make a buck while NPR is similar to a university....While there are administrators who have to worry about fundraising (pledge drives) and attracting students (listeners), the tenured professors (hosts) tend to lead lives of splendid isolation compared to their counterparts in the business world (commercial radio). There definitely are expectations for them, but they don't face nearly the same kind of time, money, and competitive pressures.

It just isn't fair. Those people in the ivory towers don't really have to work hard for a living, supported as they are by all that grant money, with production resources that would be the envy of any commercial outfit. I guess it is not apples and apples.

It was a longer and more thoughtful piece than the first. And I appreciate what he says. I have my own reservations about Public Radio. Every time I hear a credit to Archer-Daniels-Midland I wonder how much of that grant money is an attempt to buy off investigative reporters not to look into environmental damages that may be coming from that giant company. Same is true for much of that river of funding. Anyone who thinks that there is not a connection between NPR and the private sector is not living in the real world. The same tax breaks we call corporate welfare feeds the same hogs that get a tax break for the crumbs that fall to Public Radio.

And as for Walmart, the Evangelical Outpost has one writer (the same Joe Carter who commented on NPR) advancing the notion (again this year, he says) that all the hype about Walmarts "weaker-than-expected holiday shopping" is nothing more than a ruse. How would this work?

How did Wal-Mart go from "tracking near the low end" on Christmas Eve to record earnings? I suspect the answer is hidden in the gift cards. Even though the store receives the cash for the gift card at the time of purchase, they typically don't show up on the retailers' ledgers until after the cards have been redeemed for actual merchandise. With gift cards comprising an estimated 8% of holiday sales (around $17.2 billion in 2003), a giant surge in spending can be expected between Christmas Day and the middle of January. Because Wal-Mart is located in rural areas that don't have malls or other large retail chains, the company is likely to rake in a considerable share of the after holiday market.

But why don't retail executives mention this factor? After all, it would calm some of the shareholders jitters. Perhaps they think the lackluster report will convince shareholders to dump the "under-performing" stock for a year end tax write-off (they might even be tempted to dump it themselves). Flush with the cash from their fat Christmas bonuses, they could buy up their own company�s stock at the new "low Wal-Mart prices." When January rolls around and the consumers cash in the gift cards, the fourth quarter sales sky-rocket, causing a significant bump in the stock's price.

So that's the wrap from the Evangelical Outpost this morning.
My soul is now uplifted and I am ready to start my day.

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