I love Fresh Air's "rock historian" Ed Ward. He really nails it every time out - even when he covers stuff I know a lot about I learn something, and I'm never lost when he covers something I've never heard of.
He's had two great Fresh Air segments recently. This one covered the early days of Sly Stone (aka Sylvester Stewart), when Stone was still best known as a radio DJ and record producer. It even includes some rock records he produced (I had no idea, and I couldn't be a bigger fan).
This one covered another early-70s soul legend, Syl Johnson. I had no idea his career stretched so far back before his days working with Willie Mitchell, as the bluesier Al Greene.
The brilliant comedian Louis CK has been a guest on our program on a number of occasions over the years. As I recall, the first time he appeared was nearly ten years ago, promoting the DVD release of "Pootie Tang." More recently, he's become a repeat guest on one of our favorite public radio shows, Fresh Air. In fact, we liked his last interview so much that we embedded it on this here blog.
Unfortunately, it seems that the folks at Mississippi Public Broadcasting didn't like the interview as much as we did. In fact, they disliked it so much that they pulled Fresh Air from their stations. This was reportedly prompted by the fact that the station plays as the "hold music" on the University telephone system, and a caller to the University who was put on hold happened to jump into the Louis CK conversation just as Gross was asking if he always kept his shirt on during sex. This one person was SCANDALIZED, and it led directly to an appropriate and proportional reaction on the part of MPR: dropping one of the best radio shows in the world.
This was the statement that MPB Executive Director Judy Lewis released to explain the decision:
Mississippi Public Broadcasting strives to deliver educational, informative, and meaningful content to its listeners. After careful consideration and review we have determined that Fresh Air does not meet this goal over time. Too often Fresh Air’s interviews include gratuitous discussions on issues of an explicit sexual nature. We believe that most of these discussions do not contribute to or meaningfully enhance serious-minded public discourse on sexual issues.
Of course, this thesis is absurd on its face. Fresh Air won a Peabody - the most prestigious award in broadcast news - because it's very, very, very "educational, informative and meaningful." Gross also won an Edward R. Murrow award, the most prestigious award in all of public broadcasting, in 2003. If you still need convincing that Gross and Fresh Air meet the goal of "educational, informative and meaningful content," check out this video of another of our heroes, Ira Glass, giving Gross a National Book Award.
This incident is of particular concern to us here at The Sound of Young America not just because we create a show with a format similar to Fresh Air's, or because Terry Gross is a personal hero of mine, but also because much of our show is focused on humor, and that seems to be the real target of the ban. Louis CK is, in my professional opinion, the single most insightful, "meaningful" comic working today, and he is no less insightful and "meaningful" in an interview context. Ms. Lewis' statement, to our eyes, seems to imply the age-old falsehood that the work of a comedian, because it's funny, doesn't "contribute to or meaningfully enhance serious-minded public discourse." That's directly contrary to the values upon which we've built this show. I've often said that one of our goals on The Sound of Young America is to demonstrate that you needn't be "serious" to be "serious-minded." In my mind, one of Fresh Air's most redeeming attributes is Gross' warmth and openness to the insights that can come from humor, though she herself is not a humorist. That's certainly one of the attributes I have most tried to emulate.
For these reasons, we'd like to stand with Fresh Air and our colleagues and heroes Louis CK and Terry Gross, and we've come up with a plan.
For as long as Mississippi Public Radio continues to unjustly bar one of broadcasting's best programs from its air, The Sound of Young America is hereby banning itself from Mississippi Public Radio. Mississippi Public Radio doesn't carry The Sound of Young America, and they probably weren't considering carrying it, but that won't stop us from snipping any potential consideration of carriage that might occur in the bud, should it happen to unexpectedly appear. WE'RE JUST THAT PRINCIPLED.
That's right: you mess with Louie and Terry, YOU MESS WITH US. Whether you KNOW WHO WE ARE or whether you are COMPLETELY UNFAMILIAR AND UNINTERESTED IN US AND OUR PROGRAM.
Consequences be damned.