Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Goodbye "Talk of the Nation"


The first show I started listening to on National Public Radio was Talk of the Nation. It happened to be in the time slot where I would catch at least some of the show driving in for an evening shift or driving home from a early shift. I guess that dates me -- someone that actually listened to the radio in the car. Regardless, TOTN was like a gateway drug, the next thing you know I was listening to all sorts of NPR shows.

Little did I realize how good Neal Conan was (at the time.) Over the years, listening to different shows or guest hosts when Neal was "away", I came to realize his brilliance. The depth and breath of his knowledge was stunning. He was unfailing kind to the vast majority of his guests and callers. You had to really work at irritating him but if you succeeded, you quickly found out how powerful and dominating he could be. What I loved best about his style is that he knew when to shut up. He would ask a question and then he would shut up and listen. It is a rare and refreshing ability in today's world.

After 36 years with National Public Radio (11 years as host of Talk of the Nation) Neal Conan has said goodbye. I loved his last words. You'll have to listen to the show to get the proper context but suffice it to say he was talking to National Public Radio:

"Tell me what's important. And don't waste my time with stupid stuff. Bye-bye."

With 3 million people listening to his last words, I thought it was a great choice. I also liked his choice for a last guest -- Ted Koppel.

I encourage you to listen to the whole conversation -- it's 43+ minutes and covers a wide range of subjects -- but there is one tiny snippet I have to highlight. Ted Koppel said;

"And we are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another. We've privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We've privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We've privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We're privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it's not working well."

As someone who has opposed privatization for about 20 years, I can't help but feel some vindication in Ted Koppel's words. I realize that privatization is not necessarily evil in all cases but I also know that that is exactly what makes it so dangerous. It's a bad policy that occasionally works out. The exception does not invalidate the rule.

As I've already mentioned many times in this blog, it was a very close thing with the privatization of air traffic control. It could have happened. It almost did. It could still happen. It would still be a disaster. The biggest argument I can make against it now is the fact that the same people that want to privatize everything have simultaneously been destroying the government that is supposed to regulate it. Think about where privatized ATC systems are touted as success stories. Are the governments strong regulators or weak ones? I don't need to spell it out. Think away.

In this one blog entry you have three old guys telling you what they've seen and learned over the years. But we're no longer in the game. We're no longer at the center of the action. You are. Privatization isn't the last fancy idea that will come down the pike. You'll have to decide for yourself at some point in time about what is right and what is wrong. You won't always "know" what it right. Sometimes, you have to depend on your instincts. When you have to, don't be afraid of it. "Instinct" is really just experience. It's self correcting (if you're working at it.) As they say, a lot of good judgment comes from bad experiences. Don't be afraid of making a mistake -- at least a mistake you can recover from. If you make one, admit it, learn from it and press forward.

One day you'll have to sign off the air for the last time too. You'll want to be proud of what you have done. Do the right thing -- the best you know how -- and you will be.

Don Brown
July 3, 2013

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