Fighting Low Ratings NPR Adopts NBA 24-Second Clock

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts.   Bob Zukoff, producer of the weekly radio show “The Creative Mind,” fidgets nervously as Amy Weber, a hammer dulcimer player and poetess who is one of tonight’s guests, strolls into the studios of WGBH, the local National Public Radio outlet.  “Looks like trouble,” he says.



The show’s host, Jim Viebeck, welcomes Amy and, after a simple question–“How would you describe your creative process?”–Zukoff’s fears are borne out.

“I take every aspect of my daily existence–composting, recycling aluminum cans, cleaning out the kitty box–and I transform it into art in every media I work in,” she says with a self-absorption that one would almost call conceited.  “Like for example, the other day I ran over a squirrel, and I’m going to take the horrible sound it made and incorporate it into a new piece I’m writing by dragging a grapefruit knife across my dulcimer,” she explains.  “But I also want to work out the onomatopeia–more of a skluntch than a crunch–for a poem I’m working on–‘Unintentional Road Kill’.”

Life is short, art is long.


Station manager Marilee Hudson watches the phone bank set up to take calls for the station’s pledge drive go dead, as tote bags, golf umbrellas and even boxed sets of “Downton Abbey” episodes go begging.

Downton Abbey:  “That squirrel died–so that we might live!”


“We really needed to do something,” she notes.  “We have a $200,000 deficit and if the Northeast loses any more seats in Congress they’re going to turn us into a country-and-western station.”

Batik print:  The squirrel’s in there somewhere.


Weber is about to launch into a description of a squirrel-themed batik print she is working on when a buzzer goes off and Zukoff uses the interruption to retake the microphone.  “Sorry Amy,” he says politely.  “You didn’t get to the point in 24 seconds so you lose possession to our next guest, cultural historian Richard Archer.”

James “Manifest Destiny” Polk


Archer takes off on an up-tempo exposition of the connection between import duties during the administration of President James K. Polk and the explosive growth of square-dancing as a source of American social capital in the 1950’s.

“Swing your partner, do-si-do, allemand left, get off her toe.”


Hudson is pleased as she sees the switchboard light up again.  “You get more transition points from a fast-paced show,” she notes with approval.

Hudson:  “Yes, I just woke up from a nap–why do you ask?”


On the surface, there would appear to be little connection between the high-IQ programming offered by public radio and the tattoed, low-post thugs of the NBA, but Hudson disagrees.  “We’re both in the entertainment business, and we both need to keep pace with our audience,” she says.  “If the NBA hadn’t switched to the 24-second rule the highlight of All-Star Weekend would be the Dentu-Creme Two-Handed Set Shot Competition.”

“Hey, dawg–I heard you on ‘All Things Considered’ yesterday.”


As the show comes to an end host Viebeck seems pleased with the new format.  “I think that history will look back on the advent of the 24-second rule and rank it with the signing of the Magna Carta, Gutenberg’s development of movable type and the invention of the Salad Shooter,” he says with excitement.

“The history of the human race is one of continual innovation as man-and-womankind strive to reach an ever-receding horizon through technology that seeks to complement and at the same time extend our reach to the outer limits of our grasp . . .” he continues, before he is cut off by the sound of a buzzer.

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “The Genteel Crowd: It’s So Much More Fun Being Vulgar.”

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