It’s Public Radio Pledge Week Hell here in the nation’s capital. In the old days, when WAMU started filling half their airtime with shrill-voiced, guilt-tripping announcers and producers, you could just scoot up the dial to WETA. They didn’t have all the same shows, but at least you’d be covered for All Things Considered. A couple years ago, though, the two stations must have gathered together in a smoke-filled room and decided to overlap their pledge weeks, so that listeners couldn’t avoid them.
They’re also employing certain underhanded tactics with greater frequency, such as starting a segment that sounds like an ordinary news item or thought piece, but then suddenly segueing into one of the myriad variations of “it’s time to pay up, bucko.” Kojo Nnamdi isn’t usually like this. Bill Redlin isn’t usually like this. Diane Rehm — well, OK, I can see her getting into pledge week. But as for the rest, you can tell that when the marketing weasels descend they have to play along, though they bristle at the onerous responsibility. The producers have got to hate it, too — they’re people who spend their year working hard behind the scenes to make things run, and the only time the public gets to hear them, they’re engaged in the most grating behavior possible. Which raises the question: just whose idea is this? “Pledge drives are the best way to raise money” is a vicious meme that’s so deep-seated in public radio and television it’s going to take a long time to work free of it. Until then we must suffer and stew, all the while accruing mugs, sweatshirts, discount cards, and tote bags.