with Beth-Ann Kozlovich
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes someone step up and do what needs doing. The Hawaii Public Radio semiannual fund drive is on. Through 10 scheduled, and often grueling, days of making the case for membership and financial support, I hear a lot of reasons why folks who listen do and do not want to make a pledge.
I’d love to say that I don’t mind that people who stop me to say they love the service, love our shows, love, love, love what we do, demure when asked to shell out even a minimum membership pledge to keep it coming. I’ll admit, I have this terrible fairness gene and I’m bothered ... When they say they love HPR—or any service they use—don’t they mean it?
Once you’ve lived long enough, you may realize that many of the lessons we were given as children may not hold up as adults. Take personal responsibility for instance. Beginning when most of us were able to help pick up toys, set a table or share with a friend, we were encouraged to do it. We were praised and cooed over and generally made to feel that our actions were desirable and appreciated. Then slowly things change. We learn about competition.
Now competition isn’t always a bad thing, mind you, but it can be confusing. It can start slowly and often in the guise of living up to our potential or sending cream to the top. We’re usually told we need to make the grade. We grade the behavior of others and our own by a set of standards that may or may not be appropriate—often through the lens of some else’s specific outcomes.
Much of the cloak of altruistic behavior can be re-embroidered with singular and self-referential embellishments, so we can get into the right school, get into college, get the right job, corral the right mate, and then perhaps spawn another generation to whom we will teach the lessons of sharing responsibility. All the while, some of us also learn that if we can seemingly get something for free, it’s okay to be a pirate.
A raw fact that continues to chafe me is that in Hawaii, eight out of 100 people who listen to Hawaii Public Radio don’t support it. With a weekly cumulative listenership of about 160,000 people, to allow approximately 11,000 of them to shepherd the health, expansion, and the future of the set of now statewide stations, what we truly need seems far from equitable. But perhaps this is another one of those grown up lessons: we do what we can get away with.
Even as many traditional media outlets have been herded down the path of consolidation, diversification, online migration, failed business models, lost journalists, lost money, and audience fragmentation, the public radio’s direct support model, weird as it is, continues to hold up.
But why? There is no other answer I have been able to find other than faith. We really do need something to believe in—and in a daily, deep, and often solitary sense where what resonates is simply the human voice.
Regardless of the goals missed or wildly exceeded, the resounding reality is that the folks who really do love what they experience between their ears because of the inspiration, information, and interaction they get from public radio love it enough to sacrifice a little hard earned cash to keep it going. And not just those listeners who appreciate the sometimes oblique angles of view that may line up with their own, but especially those who get rankled by the perspectives, the stories, the conversations that don’t. And yet they support public radio anyway, even if only with a pledge that’s not even basic membership. That’s what gets me.
We need our local and community licensed public radio stations. Especially in Hawaii, disconnected from itself as much as we are from anywhere else, with communities within communities from one neighborhood to the next, island to island, we need to hear and speak with each other and not have content subjugated by commercial interests or the interstitial commercial spots that begin to feel more like the content itself.
But in the value proposition of “why give,” the most compelling reason is the true understanding of the personal obligation to financially support what we use. That in this case, what we use is also worthy, necessary, and frequently beautiful is a subjective secondary argument.
So while it’s okay to like the nifty-gifty premiums and choose something that pleases, the gift of the human voice telling stories that moves us to remember how human we are, that cannot ever be paid for with a commensurate monetary contribution. But we can all try to affix some level of funding to keep this lovely thing going.
Chances are that about one in 10 of you reading this probably listens to Hawaii Public Radio on a regular basis—and probably lets someone else make the payment of programs possible. I’m glad you listen. I’m glad you choose to spend time enjoying and being informed or ripe royally ticked off by what comes out of your speakers when you tune to any of the HPR stations. Or that you find the type of news or information you don’t encounter in the same way anywhere else when you go online to a another news source, perhaps like The Hawaii Independent.
Paying for something really does separate those who love, love, love what others believe they can get for free from those who know that free programming or content doesn’t exist. And that personal responsibility, old fashioned and stodgy as it may be, needs to make a comeback.
Beth-Ann Kozlovich is the Talk Shows Executive Producer, co-host of The Conversation and host of Town Square at HPR. Reach her at [email protected].