Emily Leva: “Listen Up: The Relationship Between Young Vermonters and Vermont Public Radio”

When it first aired in 1975, many thought that Vermont Public Radio (VPR) wouldn’t last. Thankfully it not only has lasted, it also has proved a valuable resource in teaching the adolescents and young adults of Vermont many social skills. As VPR host Bob Kinzel explains on their website, “As a state-wide resource, VPR is integral to the journalistic and cultural life of the region. Listeners are regularly heard on VPR, via call-in conversations on the daily noon newsmagazine Vermont Edition. Although it may have grown in size, VPR is still driven by its original mission: to extend involvement in contemporary affairs through programming that provides context to the events of today and the impact they have on the lives of Vermonters” (Kinzel, 2011). The majority of VPR’s funding comes from the community, whether small businesses or individuals. This includes young adult and adolescent listeners.      


There are 89,863 fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds in Vermont (American FactFinder – Results 2010). Reuben Jackson, a VPR host, mentor in the Young Writers Project, and high school English teacher in Burlington, said, “Radio is like any other program — it needs funding” (R. Jackson, personal communication, April 18, 2013). VPR must appeal to young listeners in order to ensure its future.

According to the study “Development Through Media Use,”  “[S]ome 91% of US seventh graders and some 96% of US ninth graders are guided by the music in their choice of radio use” (Hoffmann, Munch, & Boehnke, 2002, p. 195). Music is what seems to start a child’s interest in radio. VPR used this to their advantage by targeting young adults who have explored the radio enough to be interested in VPR. In this video they make themselves look hip (which they totally are) by lip synching a pop song for a pledge drive:


(VPR, 2013, February 8)

Income also might play a role. Reuben said, “The only obvious difference between those who listen and those who don’t seems to be economic. Many kids are from families with minimal disposable income… Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t listen… But you cannot discount the aforementioned factor” (R. Jackson, personal communication, April 21, 2013).

Howard is a 22-year-old sustaining member since 2012, and he has minimal disposable income. When I asked why he started listening regularly he replied, “I realized that it was more than news, and more than people talking about bland topics… they go out of their way to be non- biased by incorporating perspectives you don’t normally get…Different views are possibly what draws people in to listen in the first place” (H. Metzner, personal communication, April 17, 2013). Most media sources are very repetitive; VPR does this only to a degree, and mixes other topics with it, as well as public opinion. Howard mentioned that Public radio in general also tries to supply a broad outlook on an array of topics. Below, Alisa Miller, head of Public Radio International talks about the sad state of major news media today.


(Miller, 2008 March)

It is likely that one could adopt VPR’s open attitude from listening. Albert Bandura’s Cognitive Learning Theory “relies heavily on information-processing theory, which holds that individuals perform a series of discrete mental operations on incoming information and then mentally store the conclusions they have drawn from the process… [this] emphasizes the ways that children and adults mentally operate on their social experiences and how these mental operations then influence their behavior” (Crandell, Crandell, & Vander Zanden, 2009, p. 51).

VPR in the context of this theory is providing many social skills for young adults who listen, including proper argument techniques, moral reasoning, thinking outside the box, and acceptance of diversity. All of the social interactions that Howard hears on the radio create a learning experience in the lesson of life. According to a study on adolescent media use, “For the Euro-American cultural context, Noack (1990) named the following developmental tasks for youth:…engagement in intimate friendships, learning to exercise fairness, vocational preparation, peer group integration… achievement of ego identity, successfully encountering autonomy, [and] development of a political orientation…” (Hoffmann, Munch, & Boehnke 2002, p. 194). For many of these tasks, VPR can be seen as an excellent role model. Below is an example that Howard gave of VPR’s non biased approach.


(Zind, 2012, July 30)

When I asked Howard what he has gained from being a listener he said, “I know more about world events, politics, local news, and I’m more interested in the current affairs of our country and state. I now feel like I have a stake in the greater community of Vermont” (Metzner H., personal communication, April 17, 2013). Interestingly he also mentioned, “There are people that want to be spoon fed what they already believe and know, but I think the average VPR listener finds that condescending” (H. Metzner, personal communication, April 17, 2013). Since he became a listener he has become more aware of what is being said and the motives behind news, government, and individuals. VPR has helped Howard along the path of becoming an independent thinker.

Reuben Jackson gets a lot of feedback from students about his program Friday Night Jazz. When it comes to young adult programming he said, “I think music is powerful… my dream program would combine music, interviews with area youth from various communities, and writings by kids… Music would be both recorded and live…” (R. Jackson, personal communication, April 21, 2013). Below is a specific example of something on VPR that he used in his class. This would definitely help young adults develop the ability for deeper and independent thinking, and moral reasoning.

I asked him if he ever encourages kids to listen to VPR because of the benefits. He replied, “I don’t have to, a lot of them listen to it anyway” and mentioned, “either they like it or they don’t” (R. Jackson, personal communication, April 18, 2013). It is hard to get numbers but Reuben said he knew of at least a dozen or so students who contribute money to VPR. A good amount considering that they are still in high school.

Howard said, “You can’t make someone interested. The interest is because of me but the information is from VPR because they provide the resource” (H. Metzner, personal communication, April 17, 2013). The study on media use in adolescence concluded that “youth who express a strong desire to gain more autonomy (most importantly), better peer-group integration… an improved understanding of politics, use radio as a quasi-social means of mood management more than those age-mates who exhibit lower developmental aspirations” (Hoffmann, Munch, & Boehnke, 2002 p. 200). It seems that at this age, a person either likes VPR or they don’t, like anything. However, only exposure will tell. Thankfully VPR has such diverse programming that it seems a young adult is bound to like at least one program. Among Howard’s favorites are Marketplace, This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Ted Talks, Says You, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

In the words of a 22-year-old sustaining member, “To anyone reading this interview: you should listen and support VPR” (H. Metzner, personal communication, April 17, 2013). It can benefit youth and young adults who are at a time in their lives when they are trying to find themselves, but it can also benefit adult listeners with its insightful opinions and honest information.



American FactFinder – Results . (2010). American FactFinder. Retrieved March 28, 2013, from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=DEC_10_DP_DPDP1

Crandell, T.L., Crandell, C. H., & Vander Zanden, J.W. (2009). The Study of Human Development: Theories of Development. In Human development (9th ed.). Retrieved from http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/dl/free/0073370428/666687/Crandell9e_ch02.pdf

Hoffmann, D., Munch T., Boehnke K. (2002). Development through media use?: A German study on the use of radio in adolescence. International Journal Of Behavioral development, 26(3), 193. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.hrt-proxy.libraries.vsc.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e8f8598f-5f52-44c2-8e1c-f74a9abbb336%40sessionmgr113&vid=4&hid=117

Kinzel, B.. (2011).  Vermont Public Radio: Home of VPR news and VPR classical, and Vermont’s NPR news source. Retrieved from http://www.vpr.net/

Miller, A. (2008 March) Alisa Miller: The news about the news [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/alisa_miller_shares_the_news_about_the_news.html

The Moth (2007, Feb 21). Stephanie Summerville: Life Support. Podcast retrieved from http://themoth.org/posts/stories/life-support

VPR. ( 2013, February 8). VPR’s call me maybe [Video file]. Retrieve from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FPdjCsztmU

VPR [Image]. Retrieved from http://digital.vpr.net/membership

VPR Sustaining Member [Image]. Retreived from http://sustainers.vpr.net/

Weber C. (2007, Feb 21). Stepahnie Summerville [photograph]. Retrieved from http://themoth.org/posts/stories/life-support

Zind, S. (2012, July 30). Vermont Edition. [Radio broadcast]. Colchester, Vermont: Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.vpr.net/episode/54113/talking-about-gun-rights-laws-culture-after-traged/

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APA cite this article in text as: (Leva, 2014)

APA cite this article in References as: Leva, E. (2014).  Listen up: The relationship between young Vermonters and Vermont Public Radio. Vermont Psychology, 1. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-8x

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Emily Leva is a nursing student at Vermont Technical College.