Call Me Weird, But NPR was One of the Best Parts of My Childhood

A white noise machine, my brother’s shower running, the ducks landing on our roof and the various voices of NPR hosts. These are the sounds of my home. The sounds of our grey stone, vine-studded, educated household. On mornings where our window-lined kitchen lit up the deepest corners of the whitewashed house, or when the Wisconsin winter had reached its un-beautiful point of January slush and distance from holidays, the house was always, without a doubt, filled to the brim with whatever was on NPR. People say that every house has a smell. NPR (and laundry detergent) is that smell in the house on the corner.

When I was younger, we all ate dinner at the dinner table, as a family does. We had our own conversation, adorned with my dad attempting to explain his little knowledge of sailboats to the two children sitting next to him, and my mother schooling her two closest children on the importance of manners. In the background of all of this, in quiet moments between the bolster, we subconsciously caught facts or information or anything, really, from the black iPhone 4-adaptable radio that sat on the corner of the counter.

As each of the members of this family has found ourselves forced to eat the same meal, alone, we sit rather at one of two red barstools at the marble counter. We eat in what we would call silence, but what is actually accompanied by none other than 89.7, WUWM, Milwaukee’s NPR. It keeps us company in the late-night sadness of eating without the company of our busy, or sleeping, siblings, parents, or children. When a late-night snack during a study break turns into a procrastination session, when Dad gets home late from surgery and eats quickly because he has to be up before any of us, or when Mom makes her personal Caeser salad and shoos us out of the kitchen, our radio makes it okay.

The music of Morning Edition signaled my elementary school self that it was time to put down my Ovaltine and Eggo waffle, and bolt for the door, as this signaled that the bus was close by. I was convinced that the bus ran on a schedule regulated by smooth jazz.

Eventually, my siblings and I were moved to a private school, somewhat known for creating a bubble around its students, a safety wrapping of sorts. This school did not have a bus system, so my mother drove us. I cannot express the jealousy I endured of students whose mothers’ listened to music on the way to school. As a too-cool-for-current-events seventh grader, I groaned as every morning was spent with Morning Edition, leaving the car with a “have a great day” from my mom and a “let’s do the numbers” from Kai Ryssdal.

It took me two tries to get my driver's license. In my suburbia, the biggest declaration of friendship is your “first pickup”. This is the first person you shakily drive to pick up after a DMV employee is kind enough to say “good enough”. You can imagine the disappointment on my best friend’s face when instead of blasting the top 40’s out of my sister’s Jeep, she was greeted with me, barely focusing on her and rather on the question at hand on the NPR old-timey quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

My little sister shares this disappointment. We drive to school together, and there is rarely a day that she doesn’t try to play her music, and rarely a day when she succeeds to do so. It’s a seven-minute drive to the bubble, me and her, sharing toast and me drinking my tea. I poorly park the car, and I make her sit with me in the lot until the last possible second, trying to find a good time shut off the radio, preferably at the end of a story or during an ad.

A final automobile-related anecdote. I have never considered myself a music person. Sure, I like music, who doesn’t? But I don’t get too into it, and I don’t think I ever will. Instead, while most people choose to zone out to chill bass lines on long car rides, I put on an episode of How I Built This with Guy Raz. The only way I can describe this podcast is entertaining. Just plain entertaining. I can recite the intro by heart, I know that’s weird. I know.

My relationship with National Public Radio has been a love affair. Growing up in a wealthy, gossipy, prep-schooly town just North of Milwaukee, NPR airlifted me out and into the world, showing me what it has to offer and what needs to be fixed. As a graduating high school senior, I have friends that want to stay here forever. To raise a family here, to send their kids to the same little bubble. I, along with my siblings, credit 89.7 and my mother’s implementation of it to our ability to not be stagnant. I am eternally indebted to the loud black radio on the corner of the counter.          

I wrote this essay a couple of months ago. Since then, I moved to Boston and arrived to find out that my freshmen dorm building is a three-minute walk from the nationally celebrated and (in my mind) impossibly famous WBUR Boston studio. Not only this, but I joined the radio news team here at BU on a whim, and I can confidently say that speaking on air is one of the best parts of my week. I listen to How I Built This on the long walk to class instead of on long car drives up north. So when I say that I am eternally indebted to that little black radio, I mean it.

 

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