Prior to my move from Minnesota to Virginia in 2005, I had been a rather passive listener of public radio, although I periodically supported the public television station. Moving to a new city or state can often be a difficult transition, and although I already had some friends living in the area, new connections formed through WHRO would exert a great influence on my life. I picked up the phone and became an active member of public radio and television and resolved to do my part in helping support the stations that offered such a rich tapestry in educational and entertaining programming.
Through my newfound friends and associates at the station, along with those whom I met socially at events hosted by WHRO, I became more involved with the arts community, and even changed direction in my professional life.
It all began with a pledge to public radio and television.
My support of WHRO, Channel 15, and WHRO 90.3, specifically, opened doors to a new family and the most excellent experiences, including communications with radio and television staff, studio visits, special events and live meet-and-greet concerts. I discovered a station that I consider to be the very best in the country in terms of its educational and cultural significance, its community inclusiveness and its offerings for all ages.
I was delighted to learn of WHRO’s plans for radio signal expansion, which now serves the Middle Peninsula, Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, while also extending to Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, the Upper Peninsula and James City and York Counties. Prior to the expansion, the signals were often interrupted or weaker in certain areas; however, WHRO listened to its supporters’ needs and made a commitment to improve services to these areas by investing over $3 million in its Radio Signal Expansion Project.
Along with its diverse programming, WHRO leads the educational initiative by preparing children for success through its allegiance with the Virginia school system, and it is the only public broadcasting station in the United States that is owned by nineteen public school districts. The acronym, WHRO proves that education is at its core: W - Home Room One.
Founded fifty years ago, WHRO adopted the principle of distance-learning using the then new technology of television to reach out to classrooms in the greater Norfolk and Hampton Roads areas. Today, WHRO offers more than 150 courses for teacher training, along with twenty-two online high school courses and forty advanced placement and world language courses, all of which serve to reduce educational expenses by the school districts, saving taxpayers more than $7 million annually.
In recent years, education, the arts and sciences have experienced severe cuts in federal and state funding and the impacts have been equally harsh on public radio and television, creating the need for more support from listeners, foundations, educational partners and corporations. The percentage of membership support for public television and radio varies nationwide, with WHRO receiving approximately twenty-six per cent of its revenue from membership. This translates to only one supporting member for every ten listeners or viewers of the station. Members comprise a very important part of the financial support that is necessary to bring outstanding programming to the public, yet WHRO still works on the honor system, by asking viewers/listeners of their stations to support the programming, yet not requiring it.
I am often reminded of how well the honor system works in the United States. In my native Britain, most of us are required to purchase television licenses just for the privilege of watching the television. Annual costs for a color television license are approximately $290, and cable TV rates are additional. Most households that own televisions are required to pay this licensing fee, which is levied to fund radio, television and other services, although concessions are allowed by the government to citizens over the age of seventy-five. Moreover, surveillance is carried out by detector vans to prevent television owners from evading licensing fees. While this may sound like something from a futuristic film, it is a fact in Britain, and owners are liable to potential prosecution and fines of up to $2,000.
Much more agreeable, therefore, for viewers in the U.S., is the choice between using your own antenna, paying for dish or cable television, or simply watching public television without the requirement to pay for a license. For those who choose public television and radio, they often do so to enjoy the intelligent programming, fine arts, nature and science features, along with excellent children’s programs, and to be able to enjoy all the selections without frequent commercial interruptions. Considering that basic membership is a mere $48 per year, it is a superb investment in programming, in education and in the community.
Another important factor is the content of the children’s programming. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Public Education reported on the impact of media violence on aggressive behavior in their study on media education. More than 1,000 scientific studies and reviews concluded that, “Significant exposure to media violence increases the risk of aggressive behavior in certain children and adolescents, desensitizes them to violence, and makes them believe that the world is a ‘meaner and scarier’ place than it is.” While this study included video games and other media, it also referred to television programs, many of which may traumatize young children.
Public television programs for children, such as those offered by WHRO, are sources you can trust to educate and inform—programming that helps young people evaluate, analyze and interpret their world. Parents and teachers can assist children in developing critical thinking and viewing skills, while encouraging them to decipher positive and negative influences and impacts of media.
With its involvement in many aspects of education and teacher training, WHRO goes a long way toward helping children and young adults in these efforts—in short, a sort of global positioning system through the media.
For those among us who are a little more ‘seasoned’, WHRO continues to educate and delight with programs such as Masterpiece, Nature, Nova, Antiques Roadshow and Washington Week in Review, in addition to outstanding concerts, opera, drama and local community programs. WHRO works hard for its viewers; the radio stations offer 24-hour programming, the world’s best classical music, along with contemporary music and other selections. Yet, it does not end there. WHRO chooses its content around its viewers’ decisions, and listens to its audience. Its programming is not directed by commercial advertising or corporate sponsors. Unlike commercial stations, when members vote on their favorite selections, WHRO makes future choices around its members’ preferences.
Recently, I attended a concert with members of WHRO staff. Before the concert began, we were invited to meet the performing artists and were given the opportunity to chat informally with them and take photographs. For the cost of the concert tickets, we didn’t simply have seats, but an invitation to meet the artists as well as support our public television station.
I believe that public television is one of the United States’ greatest assets; it speaks volumes toward community involvement, education, arts, sciences, healthcare and intelligent, well-balanced political reporting. Membership fees are returned ten-fold, and viewers have the option of supporting the station at whatever level they desire.
With its expanded service to new regions, its award-winning programming and continuing excellence, WHRO is poised for a great future.
It was a glorious winter morning on Nomini Creek. Capt. Gary, a third-generation oysterman, had called me the day before and asked if I could cull his catch in the morning. Unlike the previous week of cold, windy weather, the forecast called for a sunny day in the upper 50s. It would be a new experience for me; besides, he said that I could cull a bushel for myself, so I took the bait.
When we arrived at the wharf, a skim of ice was quickly melting under an unyielding sun. The skiff bucked like a penned-up pony as we boarded and loaded her with gear. We untied her and jogged out of the cove, then turned her loose towards open water, past where some other tongers had already congregated and were hauling in oysters. By eight o'clock, the sky had broken free of the few lingering clouds and a canopy of azure blue appeared above us.
About a hundred yards from the others, skipper finally dropped the outboard down to a purr, then cut it off. The tide was slack. We drifted for about another minute or two until we just bobbed up and down and side to side. Skipper grabbed the long, heavy-ended tongs and dropped them into the water until the rakes landed eight-to-ten feet on the bottom. He then started lifting the tongs up and down as he slowly walked from the bow to the stern of the boat. At the stern, he gathered a "lick" by opening and closing the tongs as one would use a posthole digger. Then he lifted and pulled the closed tongs back to the bow, lifted and hauled them over the railing onto the deck, then lifted them back overboard, all in one deft motion.
As he dropped his tongs back overboard, he turned to me with his cigarette clinched between his teeth and barked, "All ya gotta do is cull what I throw on the board. Keep what's legal and throw everything else back. Whatever you do, don't keep one that measures shorter than what the gauge allows for." The gauge was a piece of metal shaped like a C-clamp with a three-inch gap. If the oyster touched both sides of the gap, the oyster was legal. If not, it had to be thrown back. He turned to start tonging again but then turned back. "And, whatever you do, don't drop the gauge overboard. It's the only one I got." I was sorry to hear that last part.
I was as eager to cull the first lick as a boy catching his first fish. When the skipper threw the first lick on the board, I raked through the heap of sand, stone, and shell debris like I was looking for gold. I finally found one oyster on the bottom of the pile and snatched it as if it just might jump overboard. I fumbled for the gauge, measured it and was elated that the oyster just fit. Why, you would have thought it was a state record! I threw it into the bushel basket and raked the rest of debris back into the water.
Within a minute, the next lick came, then another, and another. Each lick brought a few more oysters; then it would drop off again. Skipper stopped only to light another cigarette or to make a point in our conversations about fishing, about government sanctions, good looking women, and just about life in general. After a few dry licks in a row, he cranked up his skiff and took off for another edge. Since oysters don't move in schools like rockfish, and there are no flocks of birds to determine where the oysters are, I asked the skipper how he knew where to stop and find the oysters. He clinched his cigarette in his teeth and said with a grin, "In the blood, son, in the blood."
It was somewhere between the first and second bushel that we hit the motherload and the gauge went overboard. We had drifted some distance from where he first started tonging when the skipper piped up as he walked down the length of the boat,
"Oh, yeah!" as he opened and closed his tongs.
"Oh, yeah," as he dragged the tongs back to the bow.
"Oh, yeah," as he lifted the tongs over the rail and heaved a big lick of Nomini oysters on the board.
Several huge oysters caught my eye right away. But before I could get them all culled and push the debris overboard, the skipper threw another lick on the board and, within moments, still another. All of a sudden, the whole board was covered from port to starboard with huge oysters. Somehow the gauge got buried and I must have inadvertently raked it overboard with the debris.
"Measure it," Capt. barked as he saw me palming an oyster trying to determine if it was legal.
"What?" I responded having heard perfectly well what he had said.
"Measure it!" he repeated.
"What with?" I replied both palms up in a hopeless gesture.
"Where's the gauge?" he asked with a tone of annoyance.
All I could do was just point overboard. I saw part of his cigarette drop from his mouth. I think he had bitten it in half. Our day of tonging oysters had come to an abrupt end.
By the time we got back to the wharf, cleaned the boat, and unloaded the oysters, a stiff breeze was kicking up. For me, the day was over and what a great day it had been. I learned about the art and arduous task of tonging oysters, and particularly, just how important the gauge is to ensure a legal catch.
I don't suspect I'll be hearing from the skipper to cull his oysters again anytime soon. Enjoying a bounty of (legal) Nomini oysters, all part of living the good life.