Chicagoans return from Japan: How about we unlock the power of public radio to tell some of these stories?

March 15, 2011

I'm back in Chicago after a grueling weekend by the Gulf of Mexico. It turns out there are no oil-coated birds on the southwest Florida beaches. Here's a quick recap of what I observed: 

  • American Airlines shows NBC sitcoms on the plane. Instead of streaming them as is, they break them up with commercials. Seriously? We pay $300+ for airfare to get commercials during Community? 
  • I sunburn in blotches. Can we please come up with some sort of chemical application that improves upon lotion or sprays? How about a pill? Let's invest in a sunscreen pill. Then I would never again have to worry about sunburn on the back of the knee or under my eyelid.
  • My wife and kid had their first ocean experience and saw two dolphins in the wild. When I was younger traveling the country, I was obsessed with dolphins and whales. It wasn't til the 5th year of vacations that I saw a whale off the coast of Oregon. Binoculars could barely pick the whale up. But for my family? First trip, boom. Two dolphins, 20 feet away. I think those dolphins were taunting me.
  • I wore my Bears hat everywhere I went because I didn't want my bald head to burn. So I got plenty of "Hey, you guys are from Chicago? So are we!" When we followed up, we got a myriad of suburbs. One guy said to me, "Yeah, I used to live in Chicago. I was at Addison and Monroe." 

But now I'm back.

A story: I left for Florida the day of the Japan earthquake. So I didn't get a chance to see any of the news coverage while flying. When I was up in the air, the threat of a tsunami hitting the West Coast was forecasted. When I got to Florida and then finally got to a TV, I watched the coverage on CNN. They showed a few shots of the tsunami and its damage over and over and over and over and over and over. To tell you the truth, it was Facebook that gave me more information, linking to better stories and footage. CNN was at a disadvantage because they had to stream 24/7 on this story, so they couldn't pick and choose what to show. They just had to show what they had. But it is interesting that the three media sources that I went to for the story were New York Times (on my iPhone), CNN and Facebook. 

B story:  Now, public radio should do what nobody else can - we should document the stories of Americans coming home from Japan after witnessing, experiencing and struggling through this huge tragedy. Ira, dispatch your kick-ass producers. Susan Stamberg, you are off the apple pie beat. Terry Gross, cancel the creators of "The Wire" for the fifth time and tell these stories.

This is what public radio does best - public service. Commercial radio won't commit resources to tell the stories of earthquake and tsunami survivors because there isn't enough time before commercials, traffic and weather. Same with cable news. Unless they get that micro-machines spokesperson to translate a survivor's story in under 60 seconds, they won't commit to the time it takes to tell a story. And can we please get more from our local news than the huddling around Gate D for sound bites and b-roll of families reunited?

So, if you know anyone who lived through this or you are that person, let public radio help tell the story.

C story: Nuclear meltdown is one of those stories that you just really don't want to see on your front page. WBEZ's Shawn Allee mentioned in our editorial meeting that even though nuclear energy experts and authorities say that the situation in Japan is much different than what we have here in our nuclear power plants, the basic principles are the same. You need power to cool down reactors. If a natural disaster knocks out power in the region for an extended amount of time (tornadoes, anyone?), then we would have the same problem.

Weather: Nice, but not Florida nice.

Sports: When in Florida, I did get a chance to watch the first half of the Bulls/Jazz game. Halftime was a big deal because the United Center was hosting the 20th anniversary of the 1990-91 Bulls championship. Couple quick questions: Will the Bulls do this every year there is a 20th anniversary of a championship? And does that mean Jordan will have to come back, tear up and predict more championships for DRose and company? It was pretty awesome to see Horace Grant and Craig Hodges though. Hilariously, I was watching the game with my Mom and I told her all about how Jordan went off for all sorts of points during that NBA Finals against Portland. And that Derrick Rose was doing the same thing at the UC. I then went on to say that Rose should shrug to the cameras when he hits his sixth three pointer, like MJ did. I was so happy to be the one telling my Mom about Bulls history. And as you guessed it, I was off a year. '90-91 was when the Bulls beat the Lakers, not the Blazers. Oops, sorry Mom. Next time, just Google it.

Kicker: Fox News wants NPR to be funded to the fullest! Well, not Fox News, but Fox News Chicago. Well, not Fox News Chicago, but Bob Sirott. Well, not fully funded, but at least not taken away. So there ya go.