It was probably August 1997 when I first listened to public radio.
I had taken a job transporting area kids to various schools, and I was looking for something a little more interesting than music to listen to when I was in the van by myself.
So I was heading north of Spring Valley and surfing the radio dial when I stumbled across a familiar voice.
It was Ray Suarez, who used to be on one of the Chicago television stations when we lived in the suburbs.
A few minutes and I was hooked. Suarez was host of a program called "Talk of the Nation," and it was great.
I'd never had any tolerance for talk radio, but this was different. "Intelligent talk," the program was billed, and that's what it was.
Smart people discussing current topics intelligently and politely, and callers who were on their best behavior.
So for 16 years I've been listening to public radio, pretty much whenever I'm in the car.
There are certain misconceptions out there about public radio that I've done my best to straighten out.
Public radio is not a bastion of liberal thought, no matter what some people might like you to believe. The programs try hard to present intelligent opinions on all sides of an issue and leave it to the listeners to form their own opinions.
On a more humorous note, public radio is also not like how it's been portrayed (hilariously, I must say) on Saturday Night Live. It generally isn't dull, dry or boring, although I must admit it has its moments once in awhile.
My brother-in-law used to tease me about public radio until he began spending long periods of time in his car, and he was seduced by its charms. Mark used to like to tell me about what programs he had listened to, so I had to text him recently when I was listening to a program on Norwegian funeral ballads!
I listen to other programs but "Talk of the Nation," from 1 to 3 p.m. is my favorite. After Suarez came, host Juan Williams followed about 10 years ago by Neal Conan.
So anyway, on Thursday of last week I was in the car once again, and "Talk of the Nation" was on. Much to my surprise, people kept telling Conan how much they were going to miss him and his program.
So I looked it up and apparently it was announced back in March that "Talk of the Nation" would be over at the end of July, replaced by another program.
I can't quite put into words how I feel about this. Shocked, stunned, saddened ... come to mind.
Such a loss.
For 16 years, "Talk of the Nation" has taught me, expanded my mind, made me think and helped me explain my opinions. Sometimes it made me laugh; once in awhile it made me cry, but it always made me think.
It spoiled me for other news programs that settle for giving me one side of the story in 30 seconds or less.
As a reporter, I like to think that once in awhile I've had an impact on people's lives. That I've been able to explain something, or clarify an issue, or maybe even persuade someone to take action on something they're passionate about.
So this is for "Talk of the Nation," and especially you, Mr. Conan.
So often the media and journalists are criticized – and sometimes rightly so – for taking the low road; for looking for the bad and the flashy; for settling for a cheap laugh rather than a memorable learning experience.
You have made me proud of what I do, and I thank you.
BCR Staff Writer/Tonica News and Putnam County Record Managing Editor Barb Kromphardt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.