The Public Radio Makes No Sense

There are 1,256 people out there who will hate this post. They’re the backers of the The Public Radio, a single station radio made from a Mason jar that is now crowdfunding money on Kickstarter. 

Oh well.

Let's consider what this little radio represents and its design too. The idea is simple: You trust NPR. You always listen to NPR. So…have a cute little DIY (assembly required) radio in a Mason jar and listen to Ira Glass tell you stories, just like you love. It’s perfect right? 

Well, no. 

Radio is the most democratic of all media. It’s literally free. With a very inexpensive device and a battery (or a hand crank version like this with no battery) you are keyed into global affairs, music, different cultures; an actual spectrum of diverse content representing infinite viewpoints. 

I write this as feverish listener of radio and in particular NPR. I used a small radio for years to listen to public radio in the shower. And, I am actually drinking water from a Mason jar right now. But I’ve also worked for commercial radio (ABC in NYC) and I love scrolling the dial. Sometimes, I listen to radio and I have no idea even what language it’s in. I recognize the importance of other channels. 

The Public Radio is clever in its simplicity and its creators seem genuine and earnest in their Kickstarter video. But I’m confused by the product design as well. $35 for a radio you have to build? That you can’t change the channel on? What if you move or go somewhere for the weekend? Or, if like me, you actually listen to multiple NPR channels in your area? Well, you’ll just need to send it back to them to re-tune, or invest “$20 worth of programming & electronics tools (to) reprogram your Public Radio yourself. (And) You'll need to learn about flashing a program onto a microcontroller.” Excuse me what? 

Why or how did we get to this point where we are crowdfunding projects like this? Is there some perfect trifecta of public radio, Mason jars and Brooklyn happening here that draws money right from an NPR’s listener’s pocket and eventually lands this product in the MoMA gift shop? 

If you want a radio that gets one station, consider buying this Sony Radio ($12.49) and this stick of Krazy Glue ($3.48) and just DIY glue the dial in place. You won’t be able to adjust that scratchy reception, but you know…one station! AND, you can donate the rest of that money saved to public radio. 

Some 1,200 people have backed the Public Radio project to the tune of $70k. That’s a lot of Mason jars. And that’s the beauty of crowdfunding (also a very democratic system). And even though I prefer to celebrate entrepreneurship and innovation on this blog, this project just irks me. Imagine if this was a camouflage TV that only tuned into Fox News. Then imagine the jokes ridiculing it on the Daily Show and Colbert. 

If you love public radio and Mason jars, go fund this project. But consider a gift to public radio too. That will go way farther than this radio.