HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

July 16, 2007
Harvard Square Observer

More Musings in My Morris Chair

Ernest Cassara


In my Morris Chair, sitting in which, as I mentioned last week, leads to all kinds of ruminations, I was reminiscing about some of the great teachers I have had.  One of them I saw in person only once, when he spoke to a group in Harvard Square.  But, I took a full course in the American Puritans with him.  It was the great Perry Miller. 

How could it be that I saw him only once, if I took a course with him?  Because, in the early days of public radio in Boston, they actually broadcast lectures from the universities and colleges that were among the founders of WGBH.  Also among the founding organizations was the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Thus, we could listen to programs from Symphony Hall even on days when we could not make it in person.

As I was contemplating this topic, my wife asked me the significance of the call letters of WGBH.  I told her they stood for Great Blue Hill, where the transmitter of the station is located.

Think about it.  Before public radio stations began aping their commercial competition, and began adopting the same practices, they were very different - at least in Boston.

What a boon it would be had public radio continued on its own course.  Imagine what we could learn were the participating institutions to broadcast lectures and other programs as the content to public radio.

I’m reminded of the British Broadcasting Corporation - the great BBC! When we are in London, we can enjoy, and learn from, so many of its programs.  They are not constrained by commercial competition.  Matter of fact, in its earliest days, the BBC had no commercial competition.  The Parliament allowed non-BBC ventures to broadcast relatively late.  So, one does find commercial ventures, such as ITV - Independent Television.

You may have noticed that The News Hour, with Jim Lehrer, on our public television turns to Independent Television News for many of its English and European reports.

On television, one of the great non-BBC ventures is “Channel 4.”  To take one example.  When I discussed the craze over bottled water recently, I was tempted to mention a fascinating program we saw on Channel 4 when in London a couple of years ago.  It was entitled “A World Without Water.”  Much to our astonishment, since we always assumed that folks everywhere had wells in the country, and city water in the metropolises, we learned that in many parts of the world this is not true.  That folks must buy water from suppliers.  Among the scenes that I recall vividly, was a woman holding out a container, while a water merchant filled it - for a price.

I should add that the great Perry Miller did not confine himself to the American Puritans.  You will find in our public libraries, along with his volumes on the Puritans, a great anthology of the American Transcendentalists.


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