Kittredge: Railroads And Radio

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(HOST)  Though in most things progress seems inevitable, commentator Susan Cooke Kittredge observes that with radios and railroads moving forward can also mean going back.

(KITTREDGE) When I was little my parents had a beach cottage on the North Fork of Long Island, and from early June until late September that was home.  My father worked in Manhattan during the week and spent the weekends on Long Island.  He was a radioman for almost 70 years and, in fact, recorded his last broadcast just weeks before he died at the age of 95.

In the 1950s and 60s his routine was to record his radio program on Friday afternoon and then board the Long Island Railroad, like so many commuters, for the three-hour trip to the end of the island.  I loved going to meet the train in the early evening, putting my hand on the rails and feeling the vibration of its approach long before it was possible to see the speck in the distance or hear its far-off whistle.  I placed a penny on the track and marveled at the shiny, thin copper medallion it became when the train pulled away.

In the second half of the 20th century, radio gave way to television and trains took a backseat to air travel and automobiles.  Both radio broadcasting and trains seemed doomed to modernity and progress.

But my mother started saying, "Mark my words, before I die they will bring back the railroads!" We scoffed and quipped, "Not a prayer."

For the last twenty years, I really haven’t watched much television though I listen to the radio, public radio, a lot. With the advent of mp3 players and ipods, radio goes wherever I go, radio on the go.

The Obama administration’s commitment to resurrect the rail system, and Governor Schumlin’s support and encouragement of such, is music to my mother’s ears.  "Hang on," we tell her, "you can’t go yet because you may have been right all along."  When we tell her this, she breaks into the old spiritual, "People get ready, there’s a train a coming."  She’s 98, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she will live to see the day when her dream comes true.

I am concerned, however, about NPR’s future as its federal funding has become such a bone of contention. But I still have faith that with support and affirmation NPR will not be severely crippled by partisan vindictiveness.

Radios and railroads, connecting people across the land and around the world. Two essential parts of our culture that faded for a while only to return with high speed and excellence, empowered for the future and honoring the past.

(TAG) For more commentaries by Susan Cooke Kittredge go to VPR-dot-net.

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