We briefly return to the Great Car Talk Debate in this post. I lean towards the argument that public radio stations shouldn’t recycle old editions of the popular show, now that it has ceased new broadcasts. Radio Survivor’s Paul Riismandel put it very well in his commentary supporting Ira Glass’s objection to the idea.
“I realize too well that public radio program directors will be seiged with flak from listeners if they cancel Car Talk, even the all-recycled version,” Paul wrote on June 28. “But public radio will forever be stuck in the cycle of chasing an aging and calcifying listenership if listener flak is permitted to stunt the growth of local innovation. There must be a middle-ground between being responsive to listeners and being meekly reactionary to any surfeit of complaint.”
“A show that’s 100 percent reruns doesn’t fit with our mission as public broadcasters,” Glass declared three days earlier. “We need to make space for new shows, new talent, new ideas.”
Ditto, I thought, and waved that flag around in my head for a week or so. Then I looked at my radio related RSS feed and noticed reruns of other hallowed public and community radio shows.
KBOO in Portland, for example, runs the Firesign Theater Radio Hour. The legendary show started at Pacifica station KPFK in Los Angeles as Radio Free Oz. One night in 1966 its progenitor Peter Bergman invited some friends to join: Phil Austin, David Ossman, and Phil Proctor. Their wonderful humor and chemistry got them a contract with Columbia records and global renown.
KBOO runs Firesign shows on Mondays from 10 through 11 PM. Spokane, Washington’s KYRS airs its version of The Hour on Sundays at 4 PM. I’m sure there are other stations that do their own rebroadcasts as well.
And speaking of KPFK in LA, to this day the station broadcasts the commentaries of long departed Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts, much of which come from the Pacifica Radio Archives. Watts started doing radio talks at KPFA in Berkeley, California in the early 1950s. He died in 1973. The KPFK show airs on Sundays at 8 AM.
So if I’m all fired up against Car Talk reruns, can I defend Firesign and Watts rebroadcasts? Only subjectively. Speaking personally, I thought that Car Talk was a vacuous and annoying program. On the other hand, I think Firesign Theater and Alan Watts shows are brilliant and fun.
But that’s no fair; it’s an evasion of the central question: should public radio stations—and that includes community stations—avoid rerun shows and constantly strive towards the promotion and production of new content?