Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Open Letter to Vermont Public Radio's President, Robin Turnau

I told myself that "VPR is my radio station." I would listen. Determined, unhappily, I would listen.

During the hour of the Conversation, I wanted to call. But I wanted to call about being cut off, about being limited to a brief comment with no follow up, and I could not imagine getting my whole point out before - what? - being cut off. If I cannot express myself because the idea is multilayered and too complex to compress into a single short paragraph, if I cannot make my point, because no one asks "Did that answer your concern?", if I cannot make my point because I never get a chance to answer the uncomprehending or evasive response of the radio guest, how am I ever to call the station president in the hour of conversation given to listeners, and make plain the problems with VPR call-in policies? These policies prevent callers from engaging guests in true discussion, in true conversation. And today these policies prevented a listener from challenging these policies. The policies, designed to maximize listener input, today prevented me from raising my objections to these policies. Today I felt shut out of the conversation, and today I felt disenfranchised. VPR has stopped being my radio station. I have stopped believing in VPR, I have stopped trusting that VPR belongs to its listeners.

This year, other listeners complained on related issues. In the past, I wrote to point out the problem -- that the call-in policies insulate the guest from being compelled to give a good, real, meaningful answer; that VPR hosts often do not comprehend the question being asked, or fails to insist on a meaningful answer, and the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from clarifying the question, or correcting the host; that listeners often have excellent, sharp questions that other listeners want to hear the answer to, but the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from saying "No, that didn't answer the question"; that the call-in policies really prevent any real conversation from happening on VPR - and when I wrote, I proposed alternate ways to handle the problem. But in the 12 or 15 years of these policies and my discontent, no one at VPR has ever answered my concerns, and these policies have not improved.

In the past, I have called and asked for a chance to ask a follow up question, and without any courtesy, was simply locked out of the conversation. Recently, I called with two points to make about the health care debate, and I was literally cut off, razor like between two words, when I was ready to make my second point. The call-in policies used by VPR may maximize the number of listeners who get on the radio, but for the other 999,992 listeners who do not call in, these policies make for radio that is less interesting, less informative, less challenging, less insightful. Since I have written before, since I have suggested alternate ways to handle these problems, and since I have seen no improvement in VPR's quality, I am frustrated, and I despair that VPR will ever address my concerns.

But VPR IS my radio station, is the only radio that brings NPR and BBC and WBUR to Vermont, reliably, anywhere in the state (prettymuch). I can't get this stuff without holing up with my computer! I need VPR and I need VPR to make meaningful improvements to its call-in policies. I need VPR to reduce the padding which insulates it from the messy concourse between listeners and radio station. Please. I need you to at least suspend these policies during the thrice-annual conversation with listeners, so that a listener can call and make his case to the entire listenership.

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