Getting Nerdy with it...#PBSNerd

By: Bob Beard, Promotions and Events Coordinator for Eight, Arizona PBS 

Whether it’s space, kittens, typesetting, coffee, philosophy or retro-Westerns, there’s no denying that everyone’s a nerd for something.

 Courtesy of Tumblr 
The great thing about working at PBS is that we get to be nerds for EVERYTHING! 

Think about it…our programming ranges from the ABCs on Sesame Street (with knowing winks to pop-culture savvy parents), to historical documentaries, to the chemistry of crème brûlée. There’s no other channel anywhere that has the opportunity, the time, or for that matter, the responsibility to deep dive into the most arcane subject matter and document every fascinating facet of human existence.

PBS was the first to introduce Monty Python to American masses. Likewise with Dr. Who. The public got its first taste of hard, mind-bending science in prime time with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. For years we’ve been the original dorky destination for anyone with an intelligent, obsessive pursuit – and we’re ok with that.

Courtesy of a 2013 PBS Annual Meeting presentation.
View entire deck here
Admit it. You’re a PBS Nerd (it’s okay, there are lots of us out here).

Plus, we’re living in an interesting time. One has to only look at mass culture to see that nerd-dom is becoming a desired identity where intellectualism is now on a pedestal, geek is chic, and niche interests are now big business. For many who had the nerd label foisted on us, this is a fantastic development. 

Friends, it turns out that Huey Lewis was right - it’s hip to be square.

For this very reason, a few of the Poindexters at Eight, Arizona PBS decided to take our nerdery to the streets (quite literally) during the Homecoming Celebration at Arizona State University and the Arizona PBS Nerd Walk was born. The first PBS Nerd walk took place October 2011; the second walk was held October 2012, and the upcoming PBS Nerd Walk is slated to take place October 19th, 2013.

Arizona PBS Nerd Walk 2012
After publicly copping to our own nerd status, we offered up a special commemorative T-shirt to anyone who shared their geeky interests with us via Facebook. The response was incredible with gamers, Steampunks, Browncoats, post Doc. researchers, Red Green fanatics, etymologists and entire I.T. departments weighing in on their unabashed love of the uber-cerebral and obscure. We then invited this throng of self-proclaimed geeks, eggheads, and know-it-alls to join us in the Homecoming parade and loudly proclaim our support of public media among frat houses and football players.

True, “we're here, we're nerds and we support educational television in Arizona" might not be as catchy a rallying cry compared to some other revolutionary demonstrations – but, through this event, it quickly became clear that our herd of PBS-loving brainiacs will forever be a force to be reckoned with.

Bob Beard, Eight, Arizona PBS
The Arizona PBS Nerd Walk has been a successful event for community engagement, station branding and audience cultivation. In our first year, over one hundred people joined in the fun, and in our second year, we nearly tripled that number. Our demographics run the spectrum and put a public face on something we, as public media professionals all know - that PBS is an amazing convener for community and the diverse backgrounds and interests of its members. Not only does the Nerd Walk support the mission and values of PBS – but it also demonstrates the positive impact that member stations can have in their community. Families use the opportunity to come together in a fun and meaningful way, and teachers organize their classes meet outside of school on a weekend to participate. Last year, virtual Nerd Walks took place in Second Life and Minecraft and as far off as the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. Tweens and young viewers have the opportunity to “be nerdy” in a safe space because for every kid dressed up as their favorite superhero, there are at least two more adults similarly costumed and cheering on their younger counterparts. Trust me when I say it is an amazing experience.

“After the first walk, my son began to have confidence about being a nerd. Seeing everyone together helped him realize that there are plenty of amazing people like him, and that there is no shame for his passions (Something I was trying to teach him but unable to fully show him in the local community). I really appreciate you putting it together and hope for many more fun experiences connecting with fellow nerds through the walk.” –Tia, Nerd Walk participant

Everyone is a nerd for something – and PBS is the place that can bring them together on-air, online, and especially in your community. Whether marching in a homecoming parade, starting a nerdy book swap or having a dedicated “geeks night out,” I encourage you to start a PBS Nerd movement of your own. By embracing your nerd status now, your station is sure to live long and prosper in the future.

Bob Beard is the Promotions and Events Coordinator for Eight, Arizona PBS. A life-long geek himself, Bob created the Arizona PBS Nerd Walk and is currently writing his graduate thesis on nerd culture for the Communication Studies program at Arizona State University. He can also beat you at Ghostbusters trivia, so don't even try.

This blog post is based on the Arizona PBS Nerd Walk article posted on ASU Magazine's site.