On public radio and automotive repair

As I’ve already explained, I’m the son of several generations of Iron Range mechanics, truck drivers, railroaders and miners. I’m the first male in my direct family line since American naturalization doing work that doesn’t require the occasional turning of a wrench. I think you have to go back to a long line of 18th century Swedish ministers in my paternal great-grandmother’s family to find people talking for a living.

So I’ve always been simultaneously mystified and comforted by the sounds of people talking about machines. It’s like an immigrant tongue. I know the words but don’t know the conjugations. Each year it slips further away. But I always have an accessible reminder of my roots that comes over the radio every week, or at least I did.

Last week it was announced that Ray and Tom Magliozzi, “Click and Clack” of NPR’s “Car Talk” program, would be retiring this September. NPR will continue running re-runs for some time, but there won’t be any more original shows. These guys always have a magical way of making car repair and maintenance seem interesting no matter your level of expertise. It’s a joyful show, and NPR is going to miss it when the people Click and Clack reached don’t automatically gravitate to their other programming.

MPR’s Bob Collins wrote about this today, asking if public radio was going to be able to take chances on bold new programming now that it’s become such a big business, with high stakes expenses and revenues. He argues that Car Talk and A Prairie Home Companion might not have made the airwaves had they started under today’s conditions.

I would argue that the people at KAXE-Northern Community Radio are taking some chances. After building a 30-year legacy for KAXE-Grand Rapids, Bemidji and Brainerd they’ve added KBXE-Bagley to become the state’s second largest public radio network (behind, ahem, the considerably larger MPR), Northern Community Radio is doing yeoman’s work to share original Minnesota music, cultural programming and (pardon the self-aggrandizing) our 21st century blue collar remix on the variety format, my Great Northern Radio Show.

KAXE/KBXE kicks off their summer fundraiser this week. Please, check them out.

As we ready for the June 16 Great Northern Radio Show (live from Central Lakes College in Brainerd at 5 p.m.) consider becoming a member of KAXE (a proud “Car Talk” NPR affiliate). This station has taken a great chance on my work over the years and I ask the readers of this blog to do their part in joining something truly special for northern Minnesota’s media landscape.

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