This American Life creator Ira Glass, has gone on public record in the public broadcasting journal Current declaring that stations should drop Car Talk when hosts Click and Clack retire this fall and the show goes into reruns. Or, at the very least, Glass thinks stations should push the show into late night, moving out of what is effectively public radio prime time on Saturday morning.
While Glass gives props to Car Talk for breaking the ice for programs like TAL because, “They loosened everyone’s notion of what is possible or appropriate for a national show,” he argues that keeping the show alive in reruns is effectively a conservative move. But, what public radio needs is innovation, says Glass. He writes,
"A show that’s 100 percent reruns doesn’t fit with our mission as public broadcasters…
“We need to make space for new shows, new talent, new ideas.”
As you might guess, I agree with Glass 200%. I also commend him for acknowledging that his syndicator, Public Radio International, promised him that they could keep TAL on the air profitably in reruns once it ceases production, but concedes that he wants no such thing for the program. Instead, he wants to see it end gracefully when he’s done.
I, too, want to see public radio stations take chances with newer programs seeking a wider national audicence. However, I also would love for stations to take the opportunity to produce their own programs that would benefit from the time slot. Then, those shows might be able to graduate into national distribution themselves. In my opinion, not enough innovative program development–especially with national potential–appears to be happening at the vast majority of local stations. All too often the demand for safe, popular programs like Car Talk diverts funding and time that could nuture local talent.
Just like Ira Glass, I realize too well that public radio program directors will be seiged with flak from listeners if they cancel Car Talk, even the all-recycled version. But public radio will forever be stuck in the cycle of chasing an aging and calcifying listenershp if listener flak is permitted to stunt the growth of local innovation. There must be a middle-ground between being responsive to listeners and being meekly reactionary to any surfeit of complaint.
Again, my kudos to Ira Glass for going on record with what will be an unpopular opinion in the public radio world. I’m happy to see him use his influence to encourage innovation and hope that some program directors heed his advice.