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This Election's Riveting Anthem: The Constant Chatter of News Radio


I cannot imagine what it must seem like to my 2 1/2-year-old son. Where once the sweet birds sang, there is now a bare ruined choir. Gone are the "Broadway for Kids" tapes I usually play when we are in the car. In their place are NPR, KFWB and any other news outlet I can find that is ignoring other news of the day and focusing on the presidential election. Men and women delivering fact and opinion, conjecture and exhortation, on and on and on until for the 100th time, I switch off the radio, only to turn it on again five minutes later. Just in case I've missed something.

I am not alone in my compulsion. At stoplights you see them--drivers who might usually crank their tunes and groove now sitting strangely still while the tones of Karl Rove and William Daley seep out like smoke through open windows. Occasionally what either says will elicit a round of hand-waving profanity, but mostly there is just the fixed silence of tension.

For those of us in the Pacific time zone, drive time may never be the same. Last Tuesday, Los Angeles Democrats left work jubilant, Republicans depressed--Al Gore had "won" Florida. Less than an hour later, when many of us arrived at home, we discovered that while we listened to our hard-rock stations or our Mary Black CDs, Florida had been tossed back up.

The rest is, or will eventually be, history. But now we know--the world can change in the blink of a commute.

Tellingly, it changed back, or at least sort of, during another fateful drive. Gore was in his limo, on the way to make his concession speech in Nashville when the call came through that all, perhaps, was not lost.

Which may explain why so many of us have been driving around this week with news radio on--just in case something else happens: Martians land, for instance, or one of the candidates reveals he is really a woman.

Disgusted, we turn it off; anxious, we turn it back on, like sports fans torn between the fear they might miss some exquisitely important play and the suspicion that if they start paying attention, their favorite team will begin to lose.

Meanwhile, my son remains mystified. "No more man, Mama," he says plaintively from his car seat. "Sing music. Sing 'Wizard of Oz.' "

And I know how he feels. I was 9 when Watergate broke, and I remember how Richard Nixon's addresses preempted "Sonny and Cher," how John Sirica, Sam Ervin and that cast of thousands dominated the television in our house, the radio in our car. Now I wish I had been old enough to understand what was happening, to pay attention when, say, Barbara Jordan spoke, her deep clear voice cutting through the miasma of double talk and sidestepping.

Instead I clamored for cartoons and "Adam 12."

So this time I am listening, to what everyone has to say, and I am trying to think with the clarity of a Barbara Jordan, as if such a thing were possible. Meanwhile, my son clamors for music.

After the election, I tell him. For now, he'll have to settle for the opening strains of "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."


Mary McNamara can be reached by e-mail at

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