Escaping American tribalism

William Deresiewicz in UnHerd:

One summer afternoon when I was 23 — this was in 1987 — I was twiddling the dial on the radio in the apartment I was subletting on 114th St. when I stumbled on a station that was unlike anything that I had ever heard before. They were in the middle of a story about the Appalachian Trail, profiling some of the people who were hiking its two thousand miles that year. The reporting was calm, patient, intelligent, allowing the subject to find its own shape, unfolding slowly, minute after minute, like the trail itself.

What is this, I thought? What portal had I fallen through? I’d been raised on 1010 WINS, “all news all the time,” blaring the same rotation of headlines, weather, traffic, and trivia, in 40-second increments, for hours at a stretch. The piece that I had happened on that day went on, improbably, for over 20 minutes.

The program I was listening to was called All Things Considered, on a network with the unfamiliar name of NPR, short for National Public Radio. I was immediately hooked. In no time flat, I’d put it on whenever I was home. Morning Edition as soon as I opened my eyes, All Things Considered when I got back in the afternoon, Fresh Air during dinner. I fell in love with Robert Siegel’s wit, Renée Montagne’s voice, Scott Simon’s charm. These people got me. They shared my interests, my outlook, my sensibilities. For the first time, I felt myself reflected in the public sphere. “NPR,” I put it to a friend a few years later, “is my home in America.”

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