It’s fun to make fun of National Public Radio.
The upper-middle-class white liberal bias; the pretentious production style; the air staff’s frequently sloppy, mannered delivery; the unearned condescension to all other media; if you’re a radio person, the massive budgets and huge staffs combined with the often dismal state of practice of the radio craft; the complete inability to do a show off-script (listening to NPR reporters trying to ad-lib on the morning of 9/11 would have been funny under less dire circumstances) – I mean, Terri Gross is considered a brilliant broadcaster because…
…she can freestyle an interview (or at least be made to sound like she’s freestyling after repeated cycles of NPR’s obsessive editing).
It’s fun to make fun of public radio:
For all that? There are shows I do like. I enjoyed Prairie Home Companion while Garrison Keillor hosted it (while ignoring and mocking his puerile politics), and might like it even more with Chris Thile at the helm. MPR’s news does an adequate job of seeking balance – not perfect, not great, but adequate, which means if you grade on a curve against other media they rate an A. On Being with Krista Tippett can be an incredibly interesting show.
And then there’s been “Splendid Table“. For a couple decades, now Lynn Rossetto Kasper has been hosting the show – and by “hosting”, I mean “saving it from the suffocating, self-parodying cliches that are most public radio”. Rossetto Kasper brought an air of engagement, mirth…fun to the show, and to a subject that inspires all too much leaden foodie navel-gazing.
Rossetto Kasper is retiring from the show after 21 seasons. She’s being replaced by Francis Lam, former top foodie at NYTimes Magazine and an accomplished chef in his own right. He clearly knows his food.
I got my first, er, taste of Mr. Lam’s style this past weekend. And it’s dreadful.
I’m going to put part of the blame on whomever produces and edits the show – and being an American Public Media (the production spinoff of MPR) joint, God only kjnows who that is, since like most APM shows it’s got a staff list longer than a Michael Bay movie. But whoever it is who decided on Mr. Lam’s broadcast style seems to have given the directive; “Don’t just do public radio cliché; define and supercharge them!”.
A paraphrased, but typical, piece of a Lam interview:
LAM: So tell us about [whatever].
GUEST: I’m glad you asked. It’s really about [interesting explanation redacted]
LAM: Ah. […several seconds of exaggerated pause, apparently to connote depth and thoughtfulness…]. Interesting.
So yeah, the editing was dreadful.
But Lam himself comes across as…oh, drat, now I have to go into my thesaurus to find new terms to describe the clichés of the public radio delivery. Lugubrious? Disconnected? Stylized to the point of caricature? I don’t know.
Maybe it’ll improve. Maybe it was an isolated episode.
Or maybe, in the era of Trump, Public Radio is making a concerted effort to be more pompous, more caricaturish, and less accessible to the plebeians.
Let’s hope for improvement.