Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Thanks to my time in public radio, I got to meet and interview him in 1982. My time in public radio has offered me many great opportunities to meet, interview and engage with a lot of remarkable people. Authors, artists, politicians, business leaders, trouble-makers and problem solvers.
From a cowboy who was also a pilot in the Berlin airlift who lived in the Big Thicket of Texas to presidents of the United States. Public radio gave me the privilege to meet people, hear and share stories, move hearts and (sometimes) change minds.
As I finish out my last official day with WDUQ FM, I’m thinking about the past 30 years.
I leave enriched by my 16 years at WDUQ, so proud of the work I and my staff, our volunteers and listeners did, together. But, it’s time.
This is not unlike the “walk away” I did as an active musical performer. Those parts of your life are always a part of your life. But life is not static. It moves. It evolves. It changes. Sometimes, when you find it repeating itself, perhaps that’s a good time to seek a new perspective.
In going through old clippings, I came across some things from my first months at WDUQ in Pittsburgh in 1995.
I came in to WDUQ at the same time as the “class of 1994,” when the U.S. House and Senate flipped from total control from Democrats to total control by Republicans.
Important work, treasured colleagues, conflicts and change to adapt to. It was always thus.
I have deep concerns about the NPR, the stations, the industry that I am leaving.
But as I’m still on the WDUQ payroll for a few more hours, I will still say “we.”
It has been remarkable to see us grow from a shy, humble, striving and earnest enterprise into a massively influential media movement. But I fear we have bought into some of our own hype and hype heaped upon us.
We should still be earnest. We should still be striving. We should still be humble. We aspire to do great things – but we should be very wary of the hubris of believing it is about us.
It is about mission. Stewardship. Service. Otherwise, we (NPR) are just a modest sized media company that happens to file a 990.
Over the past decade, there was great fretting about how NPR was not a digital company – that people of our experience and age could only “speak digital with an accent.”
I think the greater concern is having leadership that is not fully immersed in the values and vision of NPR and public media.
We cannot afford to “speak mission with an accent.”
So, I wish all my colleagues in public radio the very best, encourage everyone to think about mission most of all. The devices we use to connect to our listeners and our communities are not as important as the connections themselves. And the connections are between people.
To my “family” at WDUQ, you were and are the best at the mission of public service and broadcasting I could have ever had the privilege to spend a third of my life with. You will always be in my thoughts and in my heart.
* The title of the 4th book in the increasingly inaccurately titled trilogy “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. This was also a phrase first attributed to dolphins in the late 1970’s BBC radioplay that started it all. It has to do with grateful porpoises and their departing good wishes as they ducked out before the earth was demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. When I met Douglas Adams, he was embarking on a book tour upon the release of the first of the comic novels derived from the radioplays. He was very tall and had a lot of hair back then. I was not tall, but also had hair at the time.
The books have a cheerier ending than the radioplay.