It’s Pledge Season!

rick-steves-pledge-young-fanFor about twenty years, I’ve hit the road every pledge season (March and early December) to remind people who enjoy public television that we need them to support it financially. I say things like this: “Public television is not a charity — it’s a service. If you’re enjoying consuming it but can’t afford to help, that’s fine. That’s the beauty of public television. But if you are consuming it and can afford to help support it, that’s a classy thing to do.”

I like to remind people that “public television is the one oasis on the dial that doesn’t dumb us down, but engages us. It treats us not as shoppers, but as neighbors and fellow citizens. It respects our intellect, assumes an attention span, and brings us programming driven not by a passion for keeping advertisers happy, but by a passion for bringing us a better understanding of our world.”

People respond by calling in — and that’s how we fund the one place on our media dial that’s not advertiser-driven. I was in San Francisco last night (KQED), Chicago the night before (WTTW), and started this little trip on Saturday night in Minnesota’s Twin Cities (TPT), where I was charmed by this little red-headed public television fan and travel enthusiast. (I told him I looked just like him when I was in 2nd grade.)

If you like what’s happened to the Travel Channel in the last decade (where so many thoughtful travel shows have been bumped by reality shows, binge-eating programs, and the like), then you apparently enjoy the impact of corporate-owned media — where the volume is cranked up and the shrill button is stuck on high in a frantic attempt to goose viewership and keep advertisers happy.

If, on the other hand, you recognize the value of the one station that is not a publically held corporation (in other words, that isn’t legally obligated to maximize profits in the short term for its shareholders), than you probably appreciate the existence of public television and what it contributes to our society.

Sorry for the pledge pitch. But I’m just in that mood. And I’ve been enjoying some great BBC productions lately (“Planet Earth” and “Rome”) that came from a continent where they value public broadcasting but don’t mess with “voluntary contributions from viewers like you” — they simply have “TV taxes.”(In much of Europe, a corner of broadcast media is kept public. When you buy a TV, bring it home, and plug it in, you also plug in a TV tax and pay about $10 a month for the service. But isn’t that a small price to pay for high-caliber programming like “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock”?)

For those of you who recognize the value of public television in our society, kick in a little money to help by going to your local public television station’s website. Thanks a lot. As I’ve been signing off on my shows for two decades now, “Keep on travelin’!”