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Friday, June 7, 2019

RADIO FREE VERMONT: A FABLE of RESISTANCE (audiobook) by Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

Published by Penguin Audio in 2017.
Read by Danny  Campbell.
Duration: 5 hours, 53 minutes.

The premise:

Vern Barclay feels that something about the modern global economy just isn't right. His beloved home state of Vermont is losing its unique character. Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Coors beer are moving in. Small farms are fading away and the local radio stations are now corporate radio stations with national programming taking a priority over local news.

This last bit was especially tough for Vern Barclay. For decades he was THE voice on a statewide radio station - the guy who did the local sports, interviewed everyone with someone to say and just talked about the events of the day.  He loved Vermont and Vermont loved him. Generations of listeners sat around the breakfast table drinking coffee and learning about their own state and the people that lived in it. Now, his station has cut back his time on the air, began playing out-of-state shock jocks from a satellite feed.

When the station sends him to cover the opening of the first Wal-Mart in Vermont, a store that was delayed by lawsuits and protests for years, Vern decides to act. He stages a series of fake interviews with "employees" of the store that point out that the goods come from China and local stores will likely go out of business and then arranges (with the help of a computer-savvy youngster named Perry) for the sewage to reverse its flow and flood the Wal-Mart.

Perry and Vern go on the run and start pushing for Vermont to secede from the union through a website and a podcast. Perry has to use all of his tricks to keep the site alive because the government of Vermont is starting to take this very seriously...

The review:

I get why Vern Barclay is irritated. My own local radio station, the one that won awards for news, covered all of the sports and made everyone feel part of a community that talked to one another has primarily become a giant angry political talk station - a station that is way more concerned about something silly that Bill Maher or Elizabeth Warren said than in interviewing the mayor. I hear more about former Congressman Beto O'Rourke than I do from any representative or Senator from my own state.

On the other hand, farms have been consolidating since the beginning of the country. What were plantations but giant corporate farms? The small stores in Vermont sell the same Chinese goods that Wal-Mart does. And, that corporate radio station knows what draws in the ratings - they wouldn't play the shock jocks unless they were a bigger ratings draw than Vern.

Vern is also really irritated about global warming (the author has written several books full of essays on the topic) and I don't really see how an independent Vermont would do anything about that. As noted in the book, there are less than 650,000 people in the whole state with almost no manufacturing base. They are not really a big factor in global warming anyway.

A great deal of the book is a series of speeches given by one character or the other. This makes sense because, as I noted above, the author is an essayist. Everyone speaks in long monologues (or short essays). This style gets the point across but it can get a little monotonous.

In the end, this is an entertaining but disjointed book. I like Vern Barclay and I found myself agreeing with a great deal of his sentiments, even if they don't quite make a coherent philosophy. It's a little bit political thought and a little bit of an old man yelling "get off of my lawn" at the modern world, but it's fun.

Danny Campbell's reading of the book was excellent. He sounded exactly like the old school radio personality when he voiced Vern.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben.

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