‘It just feels like hearts coming out of my head’

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What do viewers and listeners have to say about public broadcasting’s purposes? You can work backward from their letters and calls to stations and producers about the field’s achievements.
Relief from yappy dogsDear NPR,

Ever since I arrived in Ukraine in June, I have suffered acute NPR news withdrawals. Sure, I miss my family, my friends, and all those “things” that have come to represent my previous life in America — hot showers, clean tap water, brown sugar for my oatmeal and lighted stairwells. But I suspect that it is the lack of those familiar voices that woke me up each morning in Salem, Ore., that has made my transition in this country most difficult. Please send those tapes soon. Being cajolled from sleep by blaring Russian techno-pop and yappy foreign-speaking dogs is no way to start the day — even in beautiful Yalta.

— A Peace Corps volunteer

P.S. Would you consider throwing in a tape of Car Talk? I am teaching English and always looking for tapes of classic American accents to play for my students.


Does Pluto have a moon? Dear Newton’s Apple,I am 12 years old and I watch on Channel 14 in Pelham, Ga., on Sunday mornings before church. I have a question. I was reading about Pluto in a magazine, and the magazine said that Pluto has a moon. Is that true?When I told my science teacher, she read the article. Our textbooks say that Pluto has no moon. Later, when we had a test, I missed that question because I said “yes.” My teacher said we have to go by the textbooks.The other kids think I’m nuts. So could you do my question on your show so the question will be settled?Please let me know when you use it, if you do, so I can record it and show my friends. I love your show.

— M


From ‘unremiting atrocities,’ to ‘the reason we watch’WETA, Washington, invited viewer comments to the broadcast premiere of the Ken Burns/Stephen Ives series The West. What follows is a sampling of messages on the station’s viewer comment line.

The program shown on Wed., Sept. 18, [“Death Runs Riot”] was terrible. It was unremitting atrocities, one after another. There was just no break in the overall depressing horror. … There must have been some humor in the West, there must have been something that could have been more than just a tale of war and atrocities.The Westis the reason that we watch Public Television. It is an outstanding series. It is so true and so accurate and so beautifully filmed and told. Where else could it show, but on Public Television?

— a caller from Northern Virginia


Taking the long way home

An e-mail message to Sound & Spirit:


I listen to your program on Sunday morning while I do my chores here on a farm in Illinois. I love your program and sometimes after I have finished feeding my animals before your show has finished, I take the long way home.

I only live a few miles from the barn and pastures, but if I’m into the show it can take 30 minutes to get home. I just drive around the countryside listening to you.


‘So much pain was buried, and … me along with it’The recent P.O.V. presentation of “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision,” the Academy-award winning film about the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial, inspired a web site that gathers personal testimony about the Vietnam War era. This is an e-mail response reprinted from “Re: Vietnam: Stories Since the War” (www.pbs.org/pov/stories).I feel safe with this site.It is peculiar that after 26 years of unknowingly living the Vietnam War in the recesses of my mind, the War has risen to the surface in profound and emotional ways. So much pain was buried, and so much of me along with it.I am now on a journey of rediscovery with all the trappings of flashbacks and a constant roller coaster of emotion which I am just beginning to understand.I now know that I never left the scene of combat. My life has been this combat reenacted in the terms of the conflict of the moment. It’s power has affected many, and has left me with a legacy for which I have no power to change.I am anchored with the belief that I am at a new beginning, an opportunity to understand this past, become at peace with it, and to look toward a new life.

I had the honor to work with a Vietnamese person several weeks ago. He was a very young man in Saigon during my tour of duty in 1969 and 1970. He remembered much. It does not surprise me that I felt greater comfort discussing the War with him than I feel when discussing the War with my fellow Americans. Fellow Vietnam Veterans are the only other exception, but only when they can talk through their burden of emotional pain.

Issues of trust and emotional safety run strong in my mind. This is the first site I have encountered with dignity, sensitivity, and the feeling of true respect. I shall return.

— A.V.


Nothing amiss with signal The master control technicians at WDCN-TV, Nashville, report:One night a lady called to report that there was something wrong with the station’s broadcast signal. “My picture is clear, but there is no sound,” she told the engineer on duty.After checking the equipment, the engineer assured her that nothing was amiss. “But you’re broadcasting letters on the screen that are not normally there,” she replied.”What are they?” the engineer asked.

“M, U, T and E.”


‘Can you possibly realize how cynical you’ve become?’This letter arrived at NPR in response to a recent on-air fundraising campaign on KUOW, Seattle.To the Head of the Operation:While the public is a fascinating body of widely diverse opinions in all sorts of accents and styles of speech, your announcing staff sounds like a self-satisfied club of aristocrats who have all graduated from the same class in rhetoric. And while no doubt they’re all proficient in ritual diction, it’s also true that none of them can pronounce “Sarajevo” correctly. If there were public access to this tightly controlled medium, the term “public radio” might make sense; but for now, your use of it borders on abuse of the English language.Your fundraisers ask our support for “commercial-free” broadcasting. How nice to learn, minutes later, that our hard-earned nickels are rubbing elbows with those of the crooks from Archer-Daniels-Midland. Get honest, and drop that term, too.

… Back in the days of enthusiasm for NPR there was variety; KUOW was “Radio Free Seattle” before you hijacked it; we could even hear music on a daily basis. In fact, music was rather a strong point. Now it’s gone. Can you possibly realize how cynical you’ve become?, when the only circumstance which brings us “Blue Moon of Kentucky” uninterrupted is the death of Bill Monroe?

So you get nothing beyond these words. Should we join public radio, merely to become passive listeners and bill-payers? Is public radio only for the fan club of the anointed? When can we hear the public, free from the jealous editing of your feature writers and talk show hosts? When can we hear the intelligent presentation of music that your token syndicated shows ignore? Fill in some of the vast blanks in your audible and ideological spectrum, chuck out half of your talk shows, let us hear from a construction foreman making a job go right. Have Spike Lee do a feature on how NPR hosts are selected. Then come see me about a contribution.

— H.B.


Struggling against ignoranceAn e-mail response to the recent Frontline broadcast of “Secret Daughter,” a film about a mother and a daughter separated by the racism that divides American society. Dear Frontline:I am a 27 year old white gay male. There have been only a few times that I have ever written anyone about a program. I felt compelled to tell how I feel and let [filmmaker June Cross] know that she has touched many people with her story.I have myself wondered night after night about how my own parents felt about me and the decisions that they made. Though I never had to deal with racial undertones in my fami ly, I have had to deal with a lot of ignorance. W hen I came out openly about my homosexu ality, my stepfather threw me out of the house and my mother just stood there watching him do this to her 12-year-old baby boy. My siblings who are all older than me forbade me from even touching my nieces and nephews for fear that I would rub off or give them AIDS, which I do not have (knock on wood). It has been tough, but I got past it and my family and I are real close. They do not accept my lover and friend of ten years, but I guess I can’t ask for miracles.I guess the point I am trying to make is that, even though June and I are worlds apart, I did feel a certain kinship. Maybe it was to her abandonment or maybe it was to her cour age, I really don’t know. I just think it was a wonderful story and I wish her the best of luck.

— A viewer in Kansas City


Ask why no one is watchingAn e-mail response to “Why America Hates the Press,” a Frontline documentary by Stephen Talbot that examined public disillusionment with the national press and featured interviews with elite members of the Washington press corps: Dear Frontline,I think this Frontlinereport missed the boat so badly that Mr. [Stephen] Talbot is still hanging out on the dock days after the ship has sailed. Blaming America’s “hate affair” with the Beltway press on the McLaughlin Group and Cokie Roberts’ lecture fees is completely ludicrous.If you really want to know why America hates the press, you should have taken a look at the alternative news sources that America is turning to, namely, talk radio, and the Internet. And while you’re at it, you should also ask yourselves why nobody is watching PBS or Frontline, either.And if Mr. Talbot thinks that Beltway journalists are “losing touch” with mainstream America, why didn’t he take the time to interview some mainstream Americans instead of focusing his report solely on the inside- the-Beltway journalists who are supposedly the source of the problem?All in all, a disappointing effort. Please try harder next time. Thank you.

— K.G.


‘Kindly keep Feraca on forever’Dear Ideas Network:[Wisconsin Public Radio host]Jean Feraca is our national treasure. She ought to be national — cancel that. She ought to be world-wide, but perhaps I’m grateful that she is not. Perhaps if she were on a wider band, we could no longer afford her programs? Gasp.Years ago, I lived in Minnesota, and when it was time to find a new job, I wanted to live in Wisconsin, where the public radio was good. I suspect many of us came to Wisconsin for the radio. You’ve never disappointed me.

But sometimes you were hard to reach. We have devised a strange lot of antennae through the years, so that sometimes our roof must have projected the image of a remote CIA hideout.

The surprising thing is that you have not demolished the Wisconsin work ethic. It has been the downside of going to work, to miss your programs. I’ve worn out a half-dozen clock radios in attempts to tape copies of radio programs while I was away at work, and finally decided to wait until retirement to catch Jean Feraca. Kindly do something to keep her forever.

— a Feraca fan in Markesan


Struggle to keep faith aliveDear Mr. Moyers,

I want you to know how very much I, and many of my friends, are enjoying your Genesisseries. Interesting, illuminating and fascinating … .Your Cain and Abel show hit home to me in a huge way. I have often read that chapter in the Bible, looking for answers to a question always on my mind. Where is GOD when the helpless need him? A few years ago my young son was ambused and senselessly murdered as he was walking home, just three blocks from our house, from a guitar lesson. Three drugged punks dragged him into an alley and killed him for $16.

My son was just beginning his life. He believed God was always near. It has seemed to me that God does, indeed, condone evil. I was brought up to believe in a loving and caring God. I have tried to keep my faith alive, but it hasn’t been an easy task. Your first show did enlighten me, somewhat, but I know that I will never understand. I tell myself “someday.”

I feel certain that this series will appeal to many. It certainly has to me. What a special man you are.

— A viewer in Florida


Please join me for a milkshakeDear Mr. Nye,At first my interest in you was not a positive thing. I was irritated with the evidence of your influence on my children. I didn’t appreciate the Crisco all over the counters and sink (blubber experiment) or the fact that all my beverage containers were missing their tops (earthquake experiment). Hearing their laughter drift down to my work room, I had to investigate. That is when I first saw you on the PBS station. I became as hooked as they were. I fell in deep delight. You are way cool.Each time I view your contributions, I come away ten degrees happier. My children come away ten degrees smarter. I am extending an invitation for dinner or tea/banana milkshake or a relationship at your earliest convenience or curiosity.

….I am curious about the perceptions you possess that I may not. Please consider the preceding and trade synapses with me….

— A divorced mother “of Catalonian descent” in Virginia


Reaching a boy few others canDear Mr. Nye:We have a high functional autistic child named Douglas. We have watched his progress over the last ten years with as much care as we could afford and have noticed he learns things “through the back door.” When you think he is not paying attention, he really is. He tends to process information slower than others, not because he is slower but because there seems to be a filter in his brain that makes it hard for him to catch up socially and academically.In his school, he attends a special education class for the equivalent of 4th grade and, on occasion, they “mainstream” him into reading or science class. He seems to have found something that he excels at — science.We have always had a preference for PBS to dominate his television viewing but have never seen him take to anything as much as Bill Nye the Science Guy! We have the privilege of getting the program four times a week, and he always stops whatever he is doing to watch your show. His attested attention span is 2-3 minutes but he is riveted to the TV for the full length of your program.

You have introduced him to the solar system, levers, simple machines, tension, the atmosphere, etc. He takes it all in and gives us a dissertation on each subject until he goes to bed for the night. He, who cannot really read or do much in the way of math, can explain to his teacher and classmates about gravity. Heavy, huh? UH-HUH!

The day Douglas walked up and asked, “Daddy, why can’t we ever reach absolute zero?”, Dad picked his jaw up off the ground, and knew that Douglas was begin reached by you and all associated with your program.

One thing we know Douglas understands is the humor and kinetic way all information is presented. The belly laughs coming from the living room are priceless. The comments that come from his teacher, gratifying.

Our family would like to thank you and everyone involved in your program for the good work you have done over the years. You have reached a boy who may not have been reached by other stimuli in this way.

— Two parents in California


Expressions inspired by Fred RogersMr. Rogers,

I like you so much it just feels like hearts coming out of my head.
— a four-year-old boy from California

Dear Mr. Rogers,

My husband recently died suddenly…. My four-year-old granddaughter believes that when you come on the air you are talking to her personally, and she talks back to the television set as though you can hear her as well. Recently you were singing a song about feelings and encouraging children to talk about them with someone. From the other room, I heard her saying to the television set, “I have feelings, Mr. Rogers. I’m sad, Mr. Rogers.” Just then you said it’s okay to be angry and tell someone about it. So she said, “I am! I’m angry too! I’m sad and even Grandma said it’s okay to be angry. “She continued to pour her little heart out to you …. I held her in my arms and we both wept.

— a grandmother in New York state


A glimpse of common humanityA viewer voice-mail message responding to P.O.V.‘s “A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde”: She was black and she was a lesbian. I have to admit, I’m pretty sick of people making an issue of their Blackness, of their womanhood, and of their lesbianism. Consistently, by these issues coming forward this way I feel myself distanced, alienated. It’s as if I really doubt that these people love the art they do, rather they use these things to substitute for the quality of the art they do.But then, as I watched her die, I realized that this was indeed her life. I thought of all my other patients of all sorts of races and sexes and different preferences, all dying. In the end, we all look alike when we’re dying, maybe that’s the them out there. Maybe long before we die we should realize how alike we are, treat each other that way, and then dying wouldn’t be so empty, so ugly, and so frightening.


Affectionate canine audienceDear Minnesota Public Radio,

Your music programming is wonderful. My dogs love it. I gave a dinner party the other night…

Dear Wishbone,

I too am a Jack Russell terrier…. I think you’re cute, especially in the episode where you have a moustache. If you ever come to my hometown for a visit, maybe you could come by for meatloaf. I have some toys and a small pool in the backyard. We could have lots of adventures, and maybe get married. Maybe we could make calendars with our pictures. Momma says I’m cute.Please think about the visit. I hope to hear from you soon.P.S. Momma wants to know how they get you to wear clothes. She bought me a nice snowsuit, but no matter how cold it gets, I won’t let her put it on me. She says you could probably teach me some good manners, too.


Quiz show restores faith that world is mostly friendlyThe following letter was addressed to Michael Feldman, host of Whad’ Ya Know?:
I was severely injured a year ago in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. I had a broken jaw and nose and lost the sight in one of my eyes. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and have had eight surgeries to date. During this ordeal I have often relied on your program to lift my spirits.Due to my eye injuries I couldn’t read or watch TV for several weeks after the bombing. The radio was my only entertainment. I remember listening to a tape of Whad’ Ya Know?while I was in the hospital. After each of my surgeries, I make sure that I have tapes of the program to listen to while I’m recuperating.You, Jim, John and Jeff are like old friends coming for a visit — except I can shut you off when I get tired. You and your audience all seem so sane and non-violent. It reminds me that the world is mostly full of friendly people that would never dream of blowing up a federal office building.


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