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90.9 FM

Ode to WBUR

By Zarminae Ansari

Staff Writer

In the fall of 1995, my class was the first to use the architecture department’s spanking new Studio of the Future near the Dome Cafe, and there was one thing my friends and I relied on to keep us awake in our regular all-nighters. It was also the one thing that added life and intelligent dialogue to an otherwise sterile environment. And no, it was not the coffee. It was WBUR 90.9 FM.

WBUR is Boston’s National Public Radio (NPR) news station. To my pleasant surprise, it had better, more extensive world news coverage than local newspapers. WBUR also carried BBC -- and, therefore, cricket news. Slowly, as no one bothered to turn off the welcome chatter of the radio, and a disheartening string of thefts made keeping CDs in the studio risky, the radio became a staple to go along with the endless all-nighters.

Before long, I was hooked. Not only hooked to up-to-the-minute world and national news coverage by BBC and NPR, but to the other programs as well. Weekends had “Car Talk,” with the Magliozzi brothers: hilarious chatter and baffling brainteasers that could turn up in a job interview. Weekdays had “Fresh Air with Terry Gross”: even Vogue magazine did a story about this interview show. There were also “Talk of the Nation” with Ray Suarez and “Here and Now” with the always engaging Bruce Gellerman and Toni Randall talking about local stuff.

And I became a true fan of “The Connection” and Christopher Lydon, the host of the program. From 10 a.m. to noon every day I was not to be disturbed as I worked with my headphones or the radio on, busy opening my mind to the world as Chris Lydon brought it to me. Those two hour-long programs were always too short.

I could easily strike up a friendship with anyone who listened to “The Connection.” Friends and I would furiously email back and forth our views about a topic recently discussed on the program. We talked about topics as varied as Quick Recipes, the Koran, Teletubbies, the Impeachment, and, more recently, about Kosovo, Tales from Arabian Nights, Duke Ellington, Nabokov, and Hemmingway.

At some point in time I knew I was one of the family: I pledged during their on-air fund drive and one day even gathered the courage to call in. Most of my calls were to “The Connection.” During a discussion with John Williams I called to tell him that the Star Wars theme was my childhood favorite. During a program about astronomy I called to ask if the fascinating story about the pyramids and their relation to the constellation Orion was true. It wasn’t (to my great disappointment) -- or rather, it is unproven, so I choose to keep believing it.

Then there was a program about the 50th birthday of independent India (August 15th, 1997). Pakistan, too, was 50 years old. I called in to say that I was fascinated, as usual, by the program but was surprised that Pakistan, the creation of which is such an inextricable part of the independence of India, had not even been mentioned. Ironically, the program was airing on the 14th: Pakistan’s Independence Day. It was after that call that I actually found out how many acquaintances of mine listen to the show. There were messages on my answering machine from friends when I got home.

I even owe one of my life’s most exciting moments to WBUR. On “Talk of The Nation,” Salman Rushdie was discussing his book The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I was reading, so I called. I actually spoke with my favorite author. I am still overwhelmed.

Recently, I realized that “The Connection” fan club wasn’t a cult when the Improper Bostonian ran a feature about Christopher Lydon. And then MIT announced that this year’s commencement speakers were Click and Clack from “Car Talk.”

I still have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I feel vindicated, my interest validated, my credibility with friends to whom I have been recommending WBUR restored. On the other hand, now everyone is in on the show. I fear it is no longer the one topic that brings like minds together. WBUR was something I had in common with a perfect stranger. It was a delicious secret we shared.

I almost wish I graduated this year, with Click and Clack delivering the commencement address. It would have been the perfect ending of a journey, an experience that had WBUR as an opinion-forming and informative soundtrack.