Against the Dictatorial Public Radio Regime of Alan Chartock
I dread hearing that nasal voice in the morning, interrupting the pleasant newscast of Morning Edition. “Hi, this is Alan,” he says. We’re all on a first name basis, apparently, with Northeast Public Radio’s resident megalomaniac, Dr. Alan Chartock.
Chartock is the President and CEO of WAMC Public Radio, which is based in Albany and comprised of eleven radio stations across a large swath of the Northeast. For some of this area, WAMC is the sole NPR affiliate within listening range. In the age of smartphone apps that allow us to listen to any station across the country, maybe this matters less than it once did, but I’m reasonably confident that many people, like me, still listen to the actual radio at least in the car. I’m saved from the WAMC monopoly by the small section of Williamstown that receives Vermont Public Radio—wonderful, unbiased VPR. Unfortunately, this area does not include my bedroom, where my morning listening habits give rise to my dread of that voice.
I strongly believe that everyone should have access to impartial public radio coverage, the antithesis of what WAMC provides.
By design, a large percentage of the programming on WAMC is local. Chartock thinks of the station as somewhat of an adversary to NPR, a curious position to take when they are in fact an NPR affiliate. These original programs include the frequently inane Roundtable, broadcast from 9am-12pm every weekday, which features a daily segment called the “Congressional Corner,” hosted by who else but Chartock. He also hosts the weekly show The Capital Connection,often hosts the daily call-in show Vox Pop, and appears weekly on The Media Project. According to Vice President Selma Kaplan, from July 2009 to July 2010, the station aired 46 hours of original programming a week.
Instead of considering itself as a competitor to NPR, WAMC should embrace the quality programming produced nationally, which is consistently more engaging than that of WAMC. Our taxpayer money is subsidizing the station, and those of us whose only NPR affiliate is WAMC are being deprived of such interesting weekday shows as Talk of the Nation and To the Point.
Aside from being a near constant presence on the air, Chartock serves a confounding double-role as a commentator, often no better than a liberal Rush Limbaugh. My complaints are not new: many have aired their concerns about Chartock’s constant editorializing. NPR’s official ethics policy states: “Fair, accurate, impartial reporting is the foundation of NPR news coverage.” WAMC, and Chartock in particular, provide anything but impartial coverage. Many have voiced concerns about this issue. In a November 2011 blog post, Joel Kaplan, the ombudsman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, wrote of his consternation about a recent premium given during a WAMC pledge drive: a button that read, “I support WAMC & Occupy Wall Street—99%”
Chartock responded to Kaplan’s criticism by saying, according to a December 2011 Current article, “I think there might be a little jealousy at work. I think his commentary makes no sense, and frankly, I’m a little ticked off. I’ll tell you why. No. 1, it’s a matter of free speech. We here at the station take that very seriously. No. 2, who is this guy?”
For Chartock to issue such a churlish, defensive statement is not uncommon, and the station frequently cites their First Amendment rights in answer to criticism about their bias. Chartock claims his commentary is appropriate because he makes no claim to speak for the station. He said, “I am the president of the radio station but we have a First Amendment in this country and I can say anything I want. I won’t be silenced by those who don’t like what I say.” Considering the amount of on-air exposure he gives himself, listeners might easily attribute his strong opinions to the station.
As an outspoken liberal myself, I often find myself agreeing with Chartock’s views—it’s not that, as he so obstinately claims, I don’t like what he says. But the place for such editorializing is not a National Public Radio station. Chartock often boasts of WAMC’s successful fund drives, which regularly raise $1 million. He himself was compensated $174,547 in fiscal year 2011. If WAMC can support itself so well, they should give up public funding and become a dedicated liberal radio station. Other NPR affiliates should be founded in its place—or less biased stations, such as VPR, should expand their listening regions. The station is monopolizing valuable air space with outspoken opinions that should not be subsidized by taxpayer dollars.
 According to his Wikipedia page, Chartock has a PhD from New York University. I always find it irritating when PhDs refer to themselves as “Doctor” outside of an academic context, and when he is not simply “Alan,” Chartock is always introduced as “Dr. Alan Chartock.” The title should really be reserved for MDs; how much help could Chartock be if a fellow passenger had a heart attack on a plane?
 One of VPR’s few flaws, if not its only one, is its charmingly annoying habit of airing lengthy, sometimes poetic “Eye on the Sky” weather reports several times an hour.