When I was a kid, I treasured my transistor radio. It brought me the world. With the spin of a wheel I had all the music and happenings I could find through the static and noise. It’s remarkable that many years later I again hold something in my hand that delivers the sound of a world so much bigger than I imagined as a pig-tailed tween.
Today our phones provide a veritable busy box of news, information and entertainment. But with volume comes noise — disagreeing news pundits, endless news scrolls and sensational sound bites. But there is one destination that calmly provides collected knowledge. Many do not know and may never have heard of National Public Radio, but our local NPR station has offered a mainstay of commercial-free news and quality radio programs for 20 years in Waco. Prior to July 1, 2000, when KWBU (103.3 FM is the digital dial address) became an NPR affiliate, McLennan County had been the largest metropolitan market in the country without National Public Radio service.
Today the station is a point of community pride as it celebrates this milestone with growing success. The listening audience has increased significantly, and the membership — thanked with modest mugs or T-shirts — have added to the ranks of one-time or monthly contributors encouraged by their “Build the Base” campaign.
Now more than ever, there’s a need for actual, factual information. In these tumultuous times, we need a source of information we can trust. Numerous professional surveys find this national nonprofit organization is considered truthful and trusted. Apparently, NPR listeners agree, as popular news shows such as “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” eclipsed their largest broadcast audience in 2017. According to Nielsen ratings, NPR draws 37 million listeners weekly and continues to expand. A growing demand for online access and radio show podcasts attracts new audiences across all platforms, including younger listeners.
Local reporting and stories become even more valuable in times when media consolidation is homogenizing and nationalizing our news feeds. KWBU has a regular repertoire that keeps us informed about our “backyard” with a diverse assortment of 11 programs that feature local leaders, news and stories. Baylor University plays a key role in support, often enriching our depth of knowledge with interviews with their faculty. A partnership with the Waco Tribune-Herald ensures there’s a strong local source for news content including timely morning updates.
Yes, I confess to being an NPR junkie and an enthusiastic board member of KWBU. Either through radio or phone app stream, there’s something for everyone around the clock. News — including a strong investment in 17 international bureaus — music and entertainment inform our world and allow us to share news from the Waco area. Indeed, our community needs objective truth and the thought-provoking stories that KWBU broadcasts every day and the content that can connect us. Congratulations to KWBU for 20 years of great news and stories!
Longtime local civic leader Maggie McCarthy serves on the Brazos Valley Public Broadcasting Foundation
board. To become a supporting member of KWBU, visit