Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Year Without Radio News

Classic RadioOne year ago I woke to a day visualized for so many years. After a devastatingly hard year of work I was able to take a sabbatical; for the first time in my adult life I was to have 6 weeks to disconnect from the daily grind of work.

And what did I do with that first morning? I immediately succumbed to my normal habit. When the alarm went off I drug myself out of bed, tuned iTuneIn radio to NPR and drug myself off to the kitchen to make coffee.
  • Breakfast cereal was poured and munched to the sounds of stories of Mideast unrest.
  • Shaving was done to the dulcet strains of a story on abortion rights.
  • Volume on the iPhone had to hit max to hear the latest political drama from the shower.
  • The polishing touches of the final packing dance for my 6 week European adventure was accompanied to the tango of an economic debate.
I couldn’t slow down. And neither did the voices from the radio. But my four-hour-a-day news jag was about to end in the whirl of 6 weeks of international travel.

Addicted to the Waves

The odyssey of my news addiction has roots that grow 30 year-feet deep into the damp clay of my teenage years. Attending a small private high school doesn’t always equate to academic excellence. In the case of my alma mater, small class sizes meant that most student’s families had an intense influence on school policy – and academic rigor was out of the question. With rigor comes risk, and with risk comes the possibility of failure. And why let Johnny fail in an institution that you control and are paying good money to support?

The wide world of National Public Radio became my only intellectual friend. Those voices took me to places that our history books barely mentioned, discussed novels, literature, music, controversy, politics – a whole world to which I longed to belong. And when the news went off on Sunday, Garrison Keillor would paint a picture of a gentle, pastoral world that was as romantic as it was folksy, lacking the beatings, humiliation, and stress that I faced every day.

I was hooked.

Radio was my best friend, waking me up in the morning, following me to the morning oblations, playing in the car in 45 minutes of traffic on the way to school and then right back on the way home. When I went to college I stayed tuned in – some evenings to escape facing my textbooks (and my roommate who was not equally addicted) I would sneak out to the parking lot and sit in the car listening, listening, listening. World news, Jack Benny’s jokes, even Chicago traffic – anything, anything to not face myself.

Riding the Contradiction

After college I started taking my inner life more seriously, leaving the church of my childhood behind, meditating, reading – and even sometimes putting the TV in the closet for months at a time, but never, ever the radio.

When I moved to California the radio drowned out my tears as I left old friends behind and tagged along at my heel like a faithful dog as I drove cross-country. Long commutes, disputes with a lover, all were drowned out by the radio.

The pendulum swung to right-wing conservative radio: “Knowledge is power!” was the chant every day as the media told me how evil the media was. Endorphins rushed as I yelled back at the radio in agreement, blood pumping through my veins. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

And then I would try to sate that nagging intellectual by making an unholy parfait of a swirl of two hours each of NPR and Right-Wing, morning and evening – at least I’d be balanced, right?


What had started as a support and a learning tool had become a way to block out my fears and anxieties, to tamp down the fire of obsession over the day’s stresses at work, to suppress my swings in weight and mood.

Changing Stations

Santorini Sunrise
By August, 2012, when I left on sabbatical, I had endured the most intense year of my working career. Three weekends off in eight months, working, working, working, headphones in, charging ahead, trying to stay afloat. My wife was worried that I would have a physical and mental breakdown. But the next 42 days changed me forever, in many ways (several of which will become future blog posts). It took three solid weeks to relax.

I found peace and rebirth. And by the time we were flying back home, I made a manifesto of what had to change – and one of these was to not turn the radio news back on when we got back home. Ever.

Has it been easy? No way. Many times, even now, if I get bored of the song that is playing on my MP3 player I find my fingers reflexively switching to the radio but I change it right back. Am I free of the addiction of drowning out my thoughts with external stimulation? Not at all, but I’m working on that, too. I listen to too many podcasts, but only to ones that are not stressful (hello Car Talk).

I get my news by looking at a news aggregator such as Google News once, maybe twice a day and getting the general feel for what is happening. This keeps me from worrying that a water cooler conversation will turn embarrassing (what, there’s a royal baby?)

What I have learned can be boiled down into a few thoughts:

  • The world does not end when you don’t listen to it.
  • Detailed knowledge of a particular bit of political controversy won’t change it.
  • The chattering voices were only a crutch to drown out my own fears and insecurities.
  • In silence there can be profound insight and inner peace.
  • Carrying these gifts into the world is far more useful than railing against it.

Next Steps

Where am I headed next in this journey? It’s time to
  • Limit podcast listening to one listen each of my three favorites per week
  • Listen to more music (here comes Slacker!)
  • Start to ratchet back my TV habit
Tune back into this station to hear how the process is going. - and to read about my sabbatical adventures.

Have you abandoned media news? What was its impact? Are you sticking with your decision? I look forward to reading your comments.


Classic Radio by Gerwin Sturm - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
Santorini by the author - All rights reserved


  1. Great post John. Just don't give up black adder.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hear Hear!

    I've sworn off TV and radio for the most part as well. I just got tired of the daily yammering about how we should be upset about everything and anything. I switched to Google news... skim the headlines and skip the rest.

    It gives me more time to spend gardening, sewing, reading, cycling, swimming and just BEING.

    Kudos on your journey toward more pleasant living.

    (ps sorry 'bout the repost. I saw a typo and the software wouldn't let me edit it to correct it... :/ )

    1. Awesome to hear! We cut the cord a few years ago and don't have good enough signal to deal with over the air TV. That said we still watch more Netflix than we should - will gradually cut that back as well. I find I can only make so many changes at a time. :-)