Most Freeman’s Journal readers of a certain vintage have fond memories of radio stations from their youth, usually the pop stations that provided the proverbial “soundtrack of our lives.” Until the late 1970s, public radio programming consisted largely of classical music, with scholarly announcers flaunting their German and reciting the serial numbers of the recordings they played. Often, these stations offered eccentric and creative free-form programs as well. Jack Nicholson played such a
radio host in the 1972 film The King of Marvin Gardens.
By the early 1990s, National Public Radio (NPR) had taken over the FM public airwaves like an insidious invasive species that at first seems so cute and cuddly.
Think of a different movie — Gremlins. In some cities it became possible to hear the same celebrity interview on Fresh Air, Fresh Air Weekend, and Best of Fresh Air all on the same day. Twenty years later, the situation is worse, but with some heartening exceptions in our area. These deserve your support.
Our area is served by three major public radio entities. WCNY — “Classic FM” — in Syracuse remains heroically committed to classical music programming, while also providing regular venues for jazz, bluegrass, and Frank Sinatra. Its hosts are engaging and expert. Unfortunately, both my home stereo receiver and car radio often struggle to pick up the station’s signal.
WAMC in Albany is the station that grabbed my attention when I first came here. For one thing, it had steadfastly declined to become just another NPR franchise. For another, it had the wonderful “Radio Deluxe,” hosted by guitar hero John Pizzarelli. I was charmed that its management, under CEO Dr. Alan Chartock —like Jill Biden, he is always introduced as “Dr.” — did not hide its political leanings, in contrast to the earnest neutrality of most stations.
Alas, it turns out that Dr. Chartock has been, like James Joyce’s Mr. Browne, “laid on like the gas.” He is interviewer, interviewee, host, guest, resident expert, publisher, all while giving us daily updates about his morning walk: these on The Round Table, the morning show hosted from 9 a.m. to noon by the amiable Joe Donahue. In recent years, The Round Table’s daily panel — consisting of local academic, media, and political insiders — has been consumed by Chartock’s all-consuming loathing for all things Donald Trump. The resulting sanctimony and dogmatism are sometimes too much even for this Trump-loathing listener. Over 3.2 million New Yorkers voted for Trump in 2020 — including a majority of Otsego County voters — but if any one of them has been on The Round Table panel, I missed it. WAMC’s saving grace, though, is hiding in plain sight: newsman and utility host Ray Graf is the real world’s ambassador to the station: witty, wily, and just plain fun to listen to, Graf brings to the station
the verve and the voice of old fashioned AM radio. He has great taste in music and, one suspects, beer.
WSKG in Binghamton embodies the recent history of public radio outlets everywhere. Long a dependable source for classical music and opera, and a supporter of the local arts scene in the southern tier, several years ago the station demoted music programming to its subsidiary signals and replaced it with — you guessed it — more NPR content: the endless talking head shows (minus the heads), with names like The Takeaway, Here & Now, On Point, and worst of all, 1A. Their hosts seem to spend most of their time saying things like “We’re just about out of time” or “We have twenty seconds before we have to take a break” or “We’re coming up to
Like WAMC, WSKG is committed to local news. Whereas WAMC coverage focuses on the major municipalities — Albany, Springfield, Pittsfield — WSKG often offers thoughtful, thematically focused coverage relevant to wider portions of its service area, which includes parts of northern Pennsylvania. WAMC’s core audience is the Albany/Berkshires region. Neither station devotes any real time to Otsego County or its neighbors. To be fair, WAMC’s Alan Chartock would occasionally check in with former Freeman’s Journal editor/publisher Jim Kevlin, but the distinctive dynamics of our region go largely unexplored.
What’s the solution? We need public radio of our own. Broadcast licenses are not easily come by. Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta might be encouraged to seek out such opportunities. Perhaps local foundations could fund coverage of our area by some of the stations mentioned here. Broadcast voices that arise from and serve our region, not just Oneonta and Cooperstown, but the outer boroughs as well — Worcester, Laurens, Plainfield, Exeter, Westford, et al. — would complement the print media outlets like The Freeman’s Journal/Hometown Oneonta already in place and enrich the quality of our engagements with our neighbors, business leaders, farmers, artists, and public policy makers.