New NPR listening habit turns drive time into schooling

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Lynne Cope Hummell

It all started when I had to drive a rental car while our car was in the shop for an extended time. My habit was to listen to Satellite radio, especially the "new country" station, during my commute.

Alas, the rental had no satellite radio. I was bummed at first, but then I found NPR. After just a few mornings and afternoons, I was hooked.

I had listened to NPR intermittently before, mostly during the middle years of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" about Lake Wobegon, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Now, I'm listening to NPR regularly. I am on the verge of planning my day around "All Things Considered" and "Fresh Air." I also like "1A," named for the First Amendment (although at first I thought it was a reference to the front page of newspapers) and "The World."

There's a fair amount of current news to be heard, from around the country and around the world. The thing is, the NPR journalists make it all sound interesting by the way they tell the stories.

Not only do the stations broadcast news regularly, they also have interesting hosts who dig up some cool stories.

Recently, I've learned about the Inuit people and their views on anger (see my column in March 19 issue), what a new book says about how prosecutors have contributed to mass incarceration in our prisons, and a transgender Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force and the struggle for acceptance.

Even the local (meaning South Carolina Public Radio) "commercials" are cool. I particularly enjoy Rudy Manke's Nature Notes, and wish I could accompany him on a kayak trip through a cypress swamp, or just a stroll around the old gardens of Charleston.

There's also "A Minute with Miles" (Hoffman), with whom I'm not too familiar, but he always talks about classical music, instruments - even acoustics. And it's always intriguing. Did you know the technical name of the modern flute is "transverse flute"?

It amazes me how these hosts (many of whom, by the way, who have really cool names: Ailsa Chang, Ari Shapiro, Steve Inskeep) find so many journalists with such diverse backgrounds and stories. And they have cool names too.

On a recent Thursday morning, in a news story about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange getting tossed out of the Ecuador Embassy in London, one of the reporters was Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, which I heard as "Ofabian Quizdark," reporting from London.

The name sounded so luscious I kept repeating the name until I got to the office so I wouldn't forget it. Turns out she is an accomplished journalist from Ghana, who was educated in Britain.

By listening to NPR, I am learning not only about world affairs, but very interesting side stories, like a weed growing in Georgia that is resistant to every pesticide that has been created. And a new book, titled "Charged," about the author's views on how prosecutors and plea bargains affect mass incarceration in our country's prisons.

The people stories are the best. These are often like Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" on steroids. On a Thursday evening I listened to an interview with Henry Winkler, a.k.a. The Fonz from "Happy Days." Hearing his voice brought back some fun memories of my younger years. Aaaayyy!

While I'm finding the new daily experience quite interesting, I'm also a little concerned. I remember that my parents and grandparents used to LOVE public radio. Does this mean I really am getting old?

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