Talk of the Nation
I honestly don’t recall how I found Talk of the Nation from NPR. Our local NPR affiliate, WAMC, doesn’t carry it. I probably picked it up when I started listening to podcasts years ago and just checked out random NPR programs I’d never heard before. If you follow me on Twitter, bear with me as I eulogize this program in greater detail than the 140 characters allowed in that medium.
Talk of the Nation was NPR’s call-in radio program. And it’s not the call-in radio program that’s become notorious for its yelling and shaming of callers for expressing their opinions. Talk was different. The program was skillfully moderated by host and NPR veteran, Neal Conan. Experts would speak about their topic and callers would share their stories and ask questions. All political opinions were given a voice. Ideas were presented, challenged and discussed in civil fashion. Civil is the best word to describe the program. That’s not to say there weren’t passionate stories. Not a week would pass without me shaking my fist, laughing or crying. More than anything else the show made me listen, consider and grow. I learned so much from the in-depth coverage of important events like the crisis in Syria. But they didn’t just cover politics; no topic was too light or too heavy. It was a wonderful balance and there were always callers who could contribute their personal story to the conversation. Even when a caller was way off the mark or didn’t understand the depth of the discussion, Neal found a way to engage and bring them into the discussion. I found every episode compelling – even the ones that didn’t seem appealing to me when looking at the topic. Neal and the conversation presented always wormed its way into my heart, no matter the topic.
On Wednesdays, Political Junkie, Ken Rudin joined Neal to discuss all things politics. All sides were skewered when deserved, analyzed and discussed in a charming and engaging fashion. In this segment they’d even get democrats, republicans and other voices all together at once for an engaging and enlightening discussion. Where else can you find that?
Last year, one of the most memorable stories came not from a guest, but a caller; a farmer named Rich who talked about his family farm. You can listen to it here (he comes on towards the end of the segment). When they were doing their year-end retrospective, they brought Rich back for an update. His segment is at the beginning of this piece and it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
In a country that’s becoming more polarized by the day, I found Talk of the Nation gave me hope. It gave me hope that people can still talk to each other. It gave me hope that there was still common decency and that people are generally good. It gave me hope that good journalists still care about reporting for the sake of the people and not the ratings. It gave me hope for the future. Period.
I can’t even begin to figure out what NPR’s motivation is for canceling a program that is in the top 10 of ALL radio programs in the country. The show brought in over 3 million listeners each week and is at an all-time high in its ratings. No other show offers a platform for the people to share their stories in such a constructive and meaningful way. I just don’t get it. I can’t wait to find out what Neal does next. But no matter what, the cancellation of this show is a major loss for public radio and civil conversation.
You can read Neal’s full farewell here but this is the heart of his goodbye:
So right here, I form my own private compact with NPR and my member stations. I will listen and, yes, I will open my checkbook, but I need some services in return. Go and tell me the stories behind everything that happened in the world today. Explain why it happened, and how it affects our lives. Do it every day. Tell me what’s important, and don’t waste my time with stupid stuff. Bye-bye. Signing off for TALK OF THE NATION and from NPR News, I’m Neal Conan, in Washington.
Drops mic, walks out of studio.