The most amazing thing has happened to me: I am back on the air at WFDD, the public radio station in Winston-Salem, after an unplanned sabbatical of more than 12 years.
I think I made good use of the time: I learned to be a newspaper reporter and editor; I learned about the web and video and social media; and I dipped my toe into a dizzying array of technical issues that would once have seemed more incomprehensible than Old Church Slavonic.
But I’ll confess: I never stopped loving you, radio.
I fell in love with radio when I was a girl growing up at the edge of a cornfield in rural Illinois. In my mother’s kitchen, the radio was always on, tuned to the farm report and obituaries, the Renfro Valley Sunday Morning show, and on summer nights, Jack Buck’s soft baritone calling the play-by-play for the St. Louis Cardinals. I remember how Mom would look out the window near the sink, as we were cleaning up after supper, to wait for the called strike or the third out or that long ball into right center field.
At its essence, radio is just so simple and immediate. A great show or story, made of its individual elements, is composition and performance. Writing for radio requires an ear for the music and poetry of everyday speech, a keen awareness of audience and an appreciation for clarity, brevity, and simplicity. Reporting for radio requires patience and the ability to listen deeply.
Making a newspaper every day is nothing short of a miracle, either. It’s a complicated process made easier by systems, refined and practiced day after day. It too requires exceptional attention to detail at every step. It requires ethical decisions, made by people who possess high ethical standards. And digital media, with its seemingly boundless capacity for extending the reach of story, for communicating with instantaneous multiplicities (sometimes in hazardous or irresponsible ways), creates a universe all its own.
But I would argue that radio still retains its place as the most intimate form of media. One person at a microphone, speaking directly to you, as you drive the kids to school or butter the toast or walk the dog or share a goodbye kiss at the door — or help your mom clear the supper dishes — that’s magic.