I confess I was tickled to receive your letter dated March 9, pleading that Congress not cut off funding for noncommercial radio.
I would dearly love to subsidize the indie rock stars of tomorrow with taxpayer dollars, of course, but — are you serious?!
I’ve got Republican colleagues snorting flames and foaming at the mouth about cutting funding for preschool and nutritional aid to women and children. For years, they’ve cracked jokes about “National People’s Radio” and “Morning Sedition.” You think they’re going to break out the crumb sweeper for you, my friends?
Listen: I get what you’re saying. I really do. Your band wouldn’t have made it out of Oregon, or at least not as fast, had it not been for that extra boost from noncommercial airplay. And that’s precisely what I find troubling about your heartfelt request. Yours is exactly the kind of band that would get a leg up from public radio. But why should it be you, indie-press darlings, and not some totally unheralded speed-metal band out of rural Ohio that gets the juice from the feds?
I have to say, I think the free marketplace, as harum-scarum as it’s been at times, has done pretty well by you guys. (Nice move, by the way, referring to yourselves as a “small business”; that’s synonymous with “saint” around here.) The creative destruction wrought by the Web, and the consequent collapse of the major-label system, has allowed bands like yours to reach a sufficient number of audio-blog-surfing and SiriusXM-subscribing connoisseurs (kind of like how anyone in the country can order Tillamook cheese!) when, in the era just departed, you would have been summarily flattened. You wouldn’t be writing to my office; you’d be flogging your master of fine arts thesis instead.
The fact is, they don’t build ‘em like they used to. Your most recent album, “The King Is Dead,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with just 94,000 sales. This is a good thing: It means that the “Long Tail” — all the little engines that can — are at least rubbing elbows with the Simon Cowell-anointed vessels of dung who don’t need to ask this institution for funding.
Don’t sell yourselves short. Ultimately, you probably would’ve done fine without NPR.
I’ve also got the genuinely market-challenged performing artists — local orchestras and ballet companies and opera companies — scrabbling for the same scarce dollars. Worse, I’ve got media advocates gnawing on their cuticles because they think investigative journalism is going the way of hair metal.
I’ve never been anything but 100 percent honest with my constituents. So here it is: The plight of underexposed indie rockers is not going to help save federal funding for public radio.
Good F. Luck
Member of Congress