Krista Tippett leaves public radio

July 4, 2022 • 9:00 am

I’m not often one for Schadenfreude, but I may have felt it a bit yesterday, when friend told me that they’d heard NPR announce that Krista Tippett‘s “On Being” Show, which I’ve railed against for years, is finally ending its two-decade stint on NPR.  Click to read the announcement in the NYT.

The good news is that I don’t have to hear her spout her spirituality every Sunday on my way to the grocery store, always seeming to be on the verge of bursting into tears as she interviewed her guests. The bad news is that she’ll still be around hosting a podcast. But more good news is that I almost never listen to podcasts, so I’m done with her.

My friend shared my feelings, saying, “I can’t listen to Tippett. The sound of her voice gives me hives.”

You can go here if you want to read the many rants I’ve posted about her show. I don’t think many readers share my animus; they just don’t listen to her. But since my car radio is tuned to NPR, and I always go grocery shopping at the time on Sunday morning when her show is on, it’s either Tippett or silence. Why do I listen to her? As I always say, “For the same reason you smell the milk when you already know it’s gone bad.”

Click to read:

I’m sure that some other readers have shows that they follow because they love to hate them. In fact, I may not be feeling Schadenfreude in the classic sense, which is pleasure derived from someone else being harmed, for I take no joy in Tippett’s “misfortune”—if it is a misfortune. What I am joyful about is that there will be less woo on NPR, and perhaps some discourse that arrives somewhere.  And perhaps Tippett wasn’t given the heave-ho, but just got tired of a weekly show, though going to a podcast seems like not much of a change. At any rate, the NYT report implies that she is the one who made the decision, and her woo- and spirituality-laden show was actually doing well:

“On Being,” a weekly interview show about the mysteries of human existence, hosted by Krista Tippett, airs on nearly 400 public radio stations, with more than half a million weekly listeners. Archived episodes are downloaded millions of times per month. By any reasonable metric “On Being” is thriving. Yet on Thursday, Tippett and her team sent a letter to her radio affiliates, announcing that after nearly 20 years, the radio version of “On Being” would cease production in June.

“We’re going to move on,” Tippett said. “This is going to end in its current form. It’s almost existential, theological, right? Things die.”

Yes, and some things, like Jesus, come back to life.

Tippett, 61, was speaking last week on a video call — with her camera off, so she wouldn’t stare at her own face — from the Minneapolis offices of “On Being.” In its searching, intimate conversations with poets, scientists, philosophers, faith leaders and more, “On Being” makes space for the timeless amid the up-to-the-minute urgency of news, traffic and weather. In a ceremony in 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Tippett a National Humanities Medal, for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.”

All I can say after years of listening is that she may have delved into the mysteries of human existence, but after two decades she hasn’t solved one of them. Her show (originally called “On Faith”) consisted of her interviewing the “spiritual” folk: poets, priests, novelists, and so on, feeding them softball questions and listening to endless blather about, well, the nature and mystery of being. I never learned one damn thing from the show, nor did it stimulate my thinking. To me it was the aural equivalent of the paintings of Thomas Kinkade.

But I fulminate—for the last time about her, thank Ceiling Cat. A bit more about her future and the replacement show:

“On Being” isn’t really dying. And that delving will continue, in new forms. Alongside its sister show, “Poetry Unbound,” “On Being” will move from a weekly radio production to a seasonal podcast model. The show plans a yearly release schedule of two seasons, each one made up of 10 to 12 episodes, with the first season to begin in October. There are also plans for outreach work, including workshops and more live events. And an app is in the works as well.

Ergo, there will still be an “On Being” show that sounds similar to one on NPR. Why the move, then?

The NYT gives a pottd biography that includes stuff about the beginning of the show.

She hadn’t planned to return to media. But she had spent several years thinking explicitly about big questions: What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? Who will we be to each other? She came to believe that those questions belonged on public radio, particularly as a rejoinder to the more absolutist voices speaking about religion, like those of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

. . .Tippett often quotes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and toward the close of our conversation, she quoted him again, this time a line from “Letters to a Young Poet”: “Live the questions.”

“On Being” has always been about questions. Now there are more even more. Which Tippett welcomes. “It’s time to live them more deeply and differently,” Tippett said.

Those questions have no answers, save the first one, “What does it mean to be human?”, whose answer involves all the genes and behaviors unique to H. sapiens.  But of course that’s not what Tippett means by the question.  As for, “Who will we be to each other?” I guess I’ll be Jerry A. Coyne, aka Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus).

As a scientist, I prefer to “deal with the questions, which we strive to answer.” Tippett never answered any of them. And you don’t “live” questions: you try to answer them. Tippett, I suppose, prefers to wallow in the Great Mysteries of life.

Her time slot is, I believe, being replaced by a show from Shankar Vedantam, who did a podcast but now moves to NPR. I haven’t heard his “HIdden Brain” show, and I hope it’s better than “On Being”.  My friend has heard it, and says it’s more science-y than “On Being,” and doesn’t give her hives. Looking at Vedantam’s Wikipedia page, however, i see this:

[Vedantam] has lectured at Harvard University and Columbia University, served on the advisory board of the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowships in Science & Religion. . . .

Will there be more woo in the offing? We shall see. In the meantime, I wish Ms. Tippett good luck, but the words “good riddance” also come to me.

I feel better now.

(From the NYT): Krista Tippett. Credit…Galen Fletcher for The New York Times


13 thoughts on “Krista Tippett leaves public radio

  1. As soon as I read the post headline, I said to myself “… and she will host a podcast/ YouTube channel.”

  2. If Shankar Vedantam’s new NPR program is similar to his “Hidden Brain” podcast, you may like it. Some episodes have been exemplary. Glad your radio was fixed.

  3. Tippett, 61, was speaking last week on a video call — with her camera off, so she wouldn’t stare at her own face…

    Why am I not surprised that she still hasn’t figured out what the “hide self view” buttons is for?

  4. Vedantam is definitely more science-friendly than Tippett, though that’s an extremely low bar. But I’m not a fan of Hidden Brain. Vedantam is too quick to buy into, or I suspect even extrapolate, the views of whichever scientist he’s interviewing, even when controversial in their field. Sorry, I can’t be arsed to provide examples – I don’t remember the specifics.

  5. About 10 years ago, give or take, I listened to an “On Faith” episode. She had Orson Scott Card on for a brief time. The conversation turned to God creating the universe and in particular humans in his own image. But, someone on the show asked, what about aliens? Are beings on other planets also created in God’s image? How would Biblical-minded people reconcile the differences? I couldn’t finish the episode because we were driving around shopping for plants or something. It was fascinating . . . but in all these years, I can’t find a reference to this episode at all. That’s bummed me out. Now I’ll never know their conclusions.

  6. > other readers have shows that they follow because they love to hate them

    I’m torn. Life is too short to hate-watch. That creates a level of cynicism that (I think) hurts us in the long run. Still, if I only watch things I like, I end up in an echo chamber. My content list (reading, viewing) are longer than my anticipated remaining lifespan, so I curate carefully. I also recognize that I need more silence, more content-free time in my life, and I encourage other people to enjoy the silence.

  7. Now if Tish Harrison Warren would take a powder from The Times, you’d be rid of both your bêtes noires.

  8. Vedantam is worse than Tippett; his regular appearances on NPR are one of the reasons I gave up on NPR altogether. He indulges in the worst sort of pop social psychology, eager to tout every press-release-fueled-but-probably-unreplicable result, the sort of stuff that Andrew Gelman eviscerates regularly. What makes it worse than Tippett is that he pretends to give answers, and scientific ones at that. On Sunday mornings, take Depeche Mode’s advice and enjoy the silence.


  9. The post topic reminds me of Hitchens to Princeton theology professor Eddie Glaude on Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source,” approx. 3:20 – 4:00:

    ” . . . the ingratiating tone of it, and the unctuousness, and the extreme vagueness and imprecision . . . .”

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