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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Memo On PBS

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

The Eagles. Aretha Franklin. The Eagles. James Taylor. The Eagles. The Rolling Stones. The Eagles. The Moody Blues. The Eagles. Peter, Paul and Mary. The Eagles. Eric Clapton. Tina Turner. The Eagles.

Sound like a playlist from a soft-rock radio station? Nope. It's the program listings for PBS stations during pledge season!

I mean, REALLY! I tried to be patient and bite my lower lip for the first hundred and fifty showings of that Eagles concert every PBS station is apparently required to run three times a week. But enough is enough!

I mean, it's SO transparent!

PBS says that they're concerned with only quality, not ratings. So how come it's only during pledge time when their stations pull out Rolling Stones shows or Eric Clapton retrospectives? Next year they'll probably show Snoop Doggy Dog in concert at Red Rocks. I'll admit that it is mildly amusing to see stodgy old PBS playing Mick Jagger's ode to heroin, Gimme Shelter ("It's just a shot away") or a clip from Eric Clapton's psychedelic period with Cream (Pressed Rat and Warthog). But not amusing enough to actually have me donate money.

I once asked this allegedly public broadcasting network -- this educational channel -- to send their program listings to us at Billerica High School, a real educational institution. They said they would for $30. "Didn't they provide their information free to public schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?" I asked. Nope.$30. (By the way, Billerica High still does not subscribe to the WGBH Guide. The guide is brought to school by a staff member who gets it at home. But I digress)..

And this non-commercial claim of theirs? C'mon! I once saw -- in the middle of a ten minute pledge break -- some guy actually say with a straight face that Channel 2 wasn't like those "commercial" stations. He was asking for money as he said this.

Uh . . . If it looks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck .it's a duck! If they interrupt programming to talk to the viewers at home and try to sell them a $30 subscription to a program guide or hundred dollar umbrellas or sixty dollar compact discs, I think they've somehow lost their "non commercial" status. Whether it's the auction or outright begging, it's still lusting after the almighty buck. Just like all the others..

Please don't get me wrong. When they're not begging for money (which is about half the year), I LIKE PBS. I really do. They have some very good programs (not as many as you might think, but still quite a few). Admittedly they would be in real serious trouble (quality-wise) without Ken Burns or Bill Moyers or Big Bird or Barney.

By the way, what does it say about a network where the two biggest stars are a big yellow bird (older himself now than many of us) and a purple dinosaur?

I am glad that the guy in Washington named after a salamander (Newt somebody) was not successful in cutting government funding for PBS.

PBS offers a wide variety of programs, from concerts featuring overweight men singing in a foreign language to three-hour, in-depth studies of potato lice. Many of their programs are educational. Some are watchable.

But seriously, they do an excellent job covering science (Nova), contemporary American issues (Frontline), Americana (Ken Burns' programs), and national news (the McNeil/Leherer Report). They are a little weak on sports coverage, though.

And I WANT to contribute, to do my fair share. They have made me feel pretty guilty watching them for "free" (despite the fact that they get tax money and use the public airwaves). But I'm still guilt-ridden enough to want to send money in. Not a LOT, mind you, but some.

So OK, PBS. If you want me to contribute, here are my conditions: (1) You agree to show that Eagles concert only as many times as "It's a Wonderful Life" appears on other stations (that will limit you to 50 or 60 showings). (2) You agree to show these music concerts all year long and not just when you need baby boomers' money. (3) You admit that your frequent "requests" for money are, in effect, commercial in nature. (4) You prove that you're really committed to education by sending public schools your program guide free. And (5) You show at least one episode of "New Yankee Workshop" where Norm Abrams hits his thumb with a hammer. Now THAT I'd pay to see!

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.