You Should Be Listening to NPR

I have a confession: back in my youth, I was a radio DJ.

Yep, you heard me.

I spent my most formative years working for a radio station in South Florida. The call letters are WKPX and the station is still going strong today. It is run out of the high school that I went to and is operated by high school students. It’s a totally legit FM station and serves a pretty big community. I had to get licensed by the FCC to DJ there and of course it was a pretty exclusive thing to be involved in. The station is not-for-profit and we ran public service announcements instead of commercials and played a wide variety of non-commercial music–mostly punk, ska, indie, and metal–and I absolutely loved it when I was in high school and I went off to college planning on becoming a famous radio DJ and making my millions.

There were a few problems with that plan, though. First of all, DJs don’t make millions (unless you’re Howard Stern). Second of all, the field is pretty competitive. Third, radio kind of sucks.

Hey, we can be honest here. The standards for radio these days are extremely low. Most stations run off of machines that just replay the same 10-15 songs over and over again, with DJs who scream advertisements for things you don’t want and contests you’ll never win. Quite frankly, commercial radio is jarring and unpleasant.

So, it wasn’t long into my freshman year at UCF that I decided my dream of staying in radio wasn’t anything more than a romanticized ideal of this great high school experience I was lucky enough to have. I switched from a Communications major to a Creative Writing major (since I knew deep down that writing was what was really in my heart) and I’ve never once regretted that decision.

I didn’t listen to the radio for years after I stopped working in radio. It was just too much of a bummer. That all changed when I started listening to NPR.

NPR stands for National Public Radio, and yes, I know how boring that sounds. Don’t let the name fool you though. NPR is more than a news station. Yes, they deliver the most recent news, do weather and traffic updates, and do LOTS of political coverage. But did you know NPR also has a weekly storytelling segment? Yep, every Friday there’s a new episode of Storycorps, which is a program that utilizes about five or so minutes of programming to present stories told by people of all races, classes, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, and beliefs. If you took English Composition at Full Sail within the last year, you probably had a chance to listen to an episode of Storycorps and write about it for the Power of Voice assignment.

NPR also does amazing interviews with musicians–and not old stuffy musicians your grandparents like–musicians YOU like. Are you a fan of Jay-Z? Well, Terry Gross of NPR did an amazing interview with him back in November of 2010. You can listen to it here. As someone who didn’t know much about Jay-Z, you’d think I would have flipped the channel when it came on, but I was hooked. I sat in the car and listened to it until it was over.

Maybe Jay-Z isn’t your bag. Perhaps you prefer the sounds of musicians like Bon Iver. Well, in June of 2011, Morning Edition ran an interview with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. You can listen to it here.

Perhaps you’re more of a classic rock fan. This interview with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones is so good I listened to it TWICE.

Do you like video games? NPR has you covered. Most recently they ran a story on their program, Talk of the Nation, about the best video games for your holiday gift list. That just one of many examples of the video game coverage you can find on NPR.

You like movies? NPR is all over it. They do in-depth reviews of every movie out there, from Bridesmaids to Citizen Kane.

TV? Books? Magazines? Whatever form of entertainment appeals to you, NPR talks about it. They have shows about car maintenance, food, comedy, and anything else you can think of.

Why bring this up on a blog about creative writing? Well, I like to be realistic about what my students care about and I like to find ways to help students think about their interests in scholarly and intellectual ways. NPR, while being amazingly entertaining, presents everything they do with an incredible air of intelligence. I learn when I listen to NPR, and I don’t even realize that I’m learning because I feel so entertained!

I also find that a lot of the shows on NPR tend to inspire a more journalistic kind of writing within me–writing that I’m not always inclined or motivated to do on my own because I lean more toward the fiction side of writing. Since most of you are into film and digital cinematography, journalism is a kind of writing you could very well find yourself into one day. Imagine this: you work on your writing skills, gain a bunch of industry experience working on sets, and go on to write for Rolling Stone magazine or The Onion’s A.V. Club about movies, TV shows, and music. It could happen. NPR can help you get into that frame of mind.

Bottom line: if you’re sick of listening to commercial radio and your iPod is played out, tune into NPR for an hour here and an hour there and see what you learn. See what it makes you think about. See what it inspires within you and what it does for your writing. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.


About Jaclyn Sullivan

I'm a full time Instructional Designer and a sometimes adjunct professor of English Composition. I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and I'm a published fiction and non-fiction writer. Check me out on LinkedIn: I'm a big fan of post-modern literature and swear by the lessons of Kurt Vonnegut. Some of my favorite writers include Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, Grace Paley, Flannery O'Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Raymond Carver. I like Tom Waits, Andrew Bird, actual birds, pictures of cats, actual cats, animals in general, polka dots, exercise, iced coffee, reading, writing, tv-viewing, the Internet, and food. I dislike rain on days when my hair looks good, sweating, t-rex arms, public bathrooms, books being made into awful movies, and when The Walking Dead is on hiatus.
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