Thousand Flowers Bloom on Main Streets

Although few NPR listeners may recognize his name, Bill Siemering is one of the most important makers of public radio. He created NPR’s All Things Considered, launched Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and Soundprint, the documentary series. He’s a MacArthur “genius” who founded Developing Radio Partners, which supports community radio as a lifeline in countries around the world. Years ago, I heard him speak about his work in Mongolia. One of his inspiring quotes has become somewhat of a mantra in public radio circles:

The original meaning of broadcast is to scatter seeds. Some take root, some don’t. But it’s a wonderful nurturing kind of image for a community, to be scattering seeds, to be casting out ideas, information, the arts…and enabling people to be nurtured by them.”

This agricultural metaphor for broadcasting is powerful, grounding. Public media nourishes us, feeds our imagination, satisfies our hunger for knowledge. As broadcasters, we don’t always know where our seeds will land, which ideas will germinate, what will sprout. 

MQ2 project Mapping Main Street has scattered seeds throughout the country and it’s amazing to see what
has taken root, even four months after their last piece aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition. The latest discovery was serendipitous: Rekha Murthy of
PRX happened to be lunching at a cafe on Main Street in Groton, Mass. where she found this display of local student photography inspired by Mapping Main Street. 

This is one of the exciting things about public media. It engages people and sparks their participation in ways we may never know or might not imagine. It meets people where they are  – on the streets or in the cafes – creating a spirit of community, a common ground for expression.

Can you think of other examples of public media projects that have spawned similar grassroots engagement? Add your discoveries in comments below.