Why public media?

Good isn’t good enough — our best is ahead

Commentary by Dave Isay

Isay speaks at the PRPD Conference, 2005. (Photo: Arthur Cohen, PRPD.)

I believe in the power and potential of public radio. Ours is a medium of intimacy and heart – of humanity and humility and honesty. We must always play to our strengths.

I believe that public radio is entering its golden age; that public radio today, thanks to your dedication, vision and persistence, is presenting work that far surpasses anything that’s ever been created before in the medium. And I believe that our best days are yet to come.

I believe that even though we’re hitting home runs, even though we’re entering our golden age, even though our audiences are doubling and tripling, we could be doing better. We must always aim for the extraordinary. Okay is not good enough. Fine is not good enough. Good is not good enough. Extraordinary-every day, every hour, every second. We must fight with every breath to infuse our airwaves with energy, passion and life.

I believe that no matter how big we get, public radio must always think of itself as the scrappy underdog flying under the radar screen. We must stay agile and a little hungry or we risk the worst curse of all: mediocrity. We must constantly renew ourselves and be ever vigilant of the creep of cold, lifeless, arrogant or risk-averse broadcast air.

I believe that radio often attracts out-of-the-ordinary talent. It is a refuge for the quirky and visionary. We must always make sure there’s room for them in our tent. No matter how difficult they may be to work with, they are the keepers of the flame.

I believe that we must focus on the next generation. With all of our success, the best and the brightest are flocking to us. If we don’t give them rich soil in which to flourish creatively, we are risking our future. We must let talented people soar.

I believe that it’s okay for us to have revolutionary hearts. It’s okay for us to want to make this world a better place.

I believe it’s not only okay but imperative to have human beings on the air-hosts with personalities who act like real flesh-and-blood people. The best radio is human radio. In this medium, it always goes back to humanity and heart.

I know that public radio has the power to make this a stronger, better, more thoughtful and compassionate nation. I also know there’s no place in the world I’d rather work, and no people that I’d rather work with than all of you.

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