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A working-class kid from Kentucky, Bob Edwards always dreamed of a career in radio. He got his start at a small station in Indiana whose signal was so weak, some listeners couldn’t hear it unless the wind blew the right way. In just a few years, Bob was asked to read the news for a fledgling start-up known as National Public Radio. By 1979, he was the host of “Morning Edition,” which would eventually become the nation’s highest-rated public radio show. How a small-town boy became one of public radio’s most beloved hosts, and why leaving NPR revived his career.
- Bob Edwards Former long-time host of NPR's Morning Edition, author of "Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism" and "Fridays with Red"
In 1979, Bob Edwards became the host of NPR’s Morning Edition, a post he held for nearly 25 years. Now, in his new memoir titled “A Voice in the Box,” Edwards writes about his more than 30,000 interviews, why he left NPR and what it’s like to be a satellite radio pioneer. Edwards talks about his interview style, how radio and the media have changed since his early days, and more.
Putting Himself Through College and Getting in to Radio
Edwards earned his college degree while working full-time, which was the only way he could afford it. He knocked on radio stations’ doors, begging to join the staff. His senior year, he got a job in radio, and it was all he had ever wanted to do from the time he was very young. “I thought, a voice in the box. I wanted to be one of those voices in the box, the big, big radio in our living room.”
One of Edwards’ major influences was Ed Bliss, with whom Edwards had a life-long friendship. Bliss worked at CBS for years and wrote for Edward R. Murrow. “He was a sweetheart, a very sweet, gentle man until you handed in your copy…then he was Attila the Hun.” Bliss taught Edwards how to write for broadcast, and he thought there were no small mistakes in writing.
Early Days at NPR
Edwards started at NPR when it was only a few years old, in the early 1970s. He began co-hosting “All Things Considered” with Susan Stamberg in 1974, and learned a lot from her, saying she was “a natural” on the radio and that he could see on a program like “All Things Considered” that the questions had to be at least as interesting as the answers. Edwards enjoyed his early days at NPR. “There’s a big difference in the beginning when you’re in a tiny little organization and there are no rules and you can have fun. There are also no resources, which is why you can have fun.”
Edwards was with NPR for 30 years, most of them in his role as host of “Morning Edition.” “At the end it wasn’t a lot of fun because there were 27 people in the building who could order me into a studio to change a word or something because the national desk didn’t like this or the science desk didn’t like this. And I just felt micromanaged.” Edwards says he thinks that ultimately, management simply got tired of him and wanted someone else. Sirius XM Radio was one of the first of many offers Edwards received, and he has been doing “The Bob Edwards Show” there ever since.
An Enduring Love for Public Radio
Despite the tensions that surrounded Edwards’ exit from NPR, he still loves public radio and continues to fund-raise for WAMU 88.5, the NPR member station in Washington D.c. But he says that public radio needs to find a way of replacing federal funding. “I think the super committee is going to zero out all federal funds to public radio and it’s now about seven to 15 percent of a station’s budget, and that doesn’t sound like much, but try to replace it.”
You can read the full transcript here.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from “A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio,” by Bob Edwards. Copyright 2011 by Bob Edwards. Reprinted here by permission of The University Press of Kentucky:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. In 1979, Bob Edwards became the host of NPR's Morning Edition, a post he held for nearly 25 years. Now, in his new memoir titled "A Voice in the Box," Edwards writes about his more than 30,000 interviews, why he left NPR and what it's like to be a satellite radio pioneer. Bob Edwards joins me in the studio. I just wish I had your voice.
MR. BOB EDWARDSBut that would be redundant. We already have one of those.
REHMI'd love to have your voice, Bob. It's great. I've already got people writing in. Here's a comment from Liz on Facebook, "There just is no other that can take his place and my morning coffee hasn't been the same."
REHMSo nice to have you here, Bob.
EDWARDSYou should go decaf, maybe.
REHMYeah, right, maybe some change. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. I understand you were named after a pirate.
EDWARDSRobert Edwards served the crown by removing the treasure of Spanish ships along the East Coast, yes, and as a reward was given property in lower Manhattan. And I don't know, it was supposed to fall to various heirs of Robert Edwards. And there's an organization called Edwards Heirs and many people named Edwards have been defrauded by lawyers who say that property is rightfully...
EDWARDS...Edwards and does not belong to Trinity Church. And the New York Stock Exchange and the other -- you know, and people have actually given money to this -- this goes on today. My grandfather knew all about this. And...
REHMBut, you know, it's so interesting because your parents were such frugal...
EDWARDSOh, my God.
EDWARDSThey were indeed. And to this day, I squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom up. I, you know, use the bar of soap 'til it's a bubble.
EDWARDSBecause they were depression people and...
EDWARDS...that's how they trained me.
REHMAnd so you graduated from High School in 1965, then registered for the draft and then what happened?
EDWARDSWell, I had to work my way through college. We were poor folk. And it was the only way I could do it was go to night school and I did that for four years, nights, weekends, summers, working full-time, knocking on doors with radio stations, begging to join the staff. And finally, my senior year, it worked. I got on the radio, my first job.
REHMBut, you know, I must say, I loved radio from the time I was a little girl, but it never occurred to me that I could be part of that process.
EDWARDSBecause it was a guy thing then.
REHMIt was a guy thing, but you saw yourself inside...
EDWARDSYeah, age three, age four, that's all I ever wanted to do. That's why the title of the book. I thought, a voice in the box. I wanted to be one of those voices in the box, the big, big radio in our living room.
REHMSo tell me about that first job.
EDWARDSLittle, tiny radio station, 15 -- 1570 on the dial, 1,000 watts, only a day timer, shut down when the sun went down. It's, you know, light bulbs have more power than that station had, but one of those places where you did everything. You know, you did the news, you spun records, went out and tried to sell commercial time.
EDWARDSFixed the plumbing, swept the floors.
REHMHow many people were there?
EDWARDSFour or five.
REHMFour or five.
EDWARDSIt was a -- we never saw the manager, never saw the sales guy. You know, the -- rarely had a paying ad, it was all trade outs. The manager and the sales manager were getting carpeting and TVs. And, I don't know, we were reading the commercials, but there was no cash.
REHMSo what -- but what was the programming?
EDWARDSThe world's most beautiful music. That's how I sounded.
REHMI bet you sounded...
EDWARDSOh, I mean, Sinatra was up-tempo for us. It was barely above dentist office and elevators.
REHMAnd so you had at WHEL 1570 in Albany...
REHM...New Albany, Indiana.
REHMAnd here he is.
EDWARDSMy name is Bob Edwards, thanking you very much for all the kindnesses that you've given me over the year. I'll be leaving now, joining the Army, I presume.
EDWARDSI presume, because they were drafting Marines at the time, too. So I didn't know if I was going to be...
REHM...the Marines at the time.
EDWARDSOh, it was bad. It was -- they were still recovering from Tet in '68 and they were taking any warm body. I'm telling you, the guy in front me in line had a pin in his hip and brought his x-rays. They drafted him, that's how bad it was in '69. I knew there was no way I was getting out of this deal.
REHMSo what happened?
EDWARDSI was drafted, I went off to Fort Knox for basic, made training films in Georgia and then became the 6 o'clock TV anchorman in Seoul, Korea. I told them -- this is the one time not to be modest about yourself because you're saving your life, right? I didn't want to be in the infantry. I told them I was Walter Cronkite, they would be missing out if they didn't make me a broadcaster. And it worked.
REHMAnd how did you like television as opposed to radio?
EDWARDSHate it, hate it.
EDWARDS...you don't want to go, just to be interviewed on television program. I'm nervous, upset, worried about what I look like.
EDWARDSHow do I look in this set?
REHMIt's very different.
EDWARDSYou know, everything is phony. It's a phony bookcase behind me. What is this? Phony flowers on the table, I hate it, I hate -- just love radio, crazy about radio, just keep me in a radio studio.
REHMIs mind to mind.
EDWARDSIt goes right to the head, yes. And the pictures are perfect because the listeners forming those pictures.
EDWARDSWe're helping, we're helping form them.
EDWARDSBut the listener is making his own pictures and is perfect.
REHMYou came to the American University...
EDWARDSRight out of the Army.
REHM...here in 1971 for graduate school in journalism. Ed Bliss became someone so important to you.
EDWARDSJust made my career. Everything -- all good things come from my friendship with Ed Bliss and his mentoring and he could teach writing. He had never been on the air, himself, but he could teach writing and that's the most important thing.
EDWARDSYou get writing...
EDWARDSRight. You get the writing down and you can get everything else somewhere else. But -- and he was just kind friend. He was a sweetheart, a very sweet, gentle man until you handed in your copy.
EDWARDSThen he was Attila the Hun.
REHMThen red pen all the way through.
EDWARDS...he -- oh, he had no mercy. No mercy.
EDWARDSHe would have girls in tears and tell them they needed to change their major and get out of the business.
REHM...were in that class?
EDWARDSAnd some -- oh, yeah, and some of them went on to be, you know, one of them I know became the Capitol Hill correspondent for UPI. But he was telling her back then, get out of the business. But they learned, see. It was tough love. You know, he thought, you know, there was no small mistake, every mistake was critical. I once put two t's at the end of Connecticut and he said, oh, Bob. That's the way he would do it, you know, oh, Bob, I thought you knew better.
EDWARDSYou know, it was like a poison...
EDWARDS...dart to the heart.
EDWARDSYou know, I hurt Dad, it was my surrogate father here.
REHMHow long were you with him? How did he help your career?
EDWARDSWe were pals for 30 years and I would check in with him and some of the words I wrote in this book he objected to and told me -- and they remain in the book today, I'm sorry to say. But, you know, for 30 years until the day he died. And he was turning out books. He had a book in his typewriting and it was, in fact, a typewriter...
EDWARDS...the day he died. I wish he could've finished that because it was about the glory years of CBS news and he was part of that, being...
REHMOf course, Roger Mudd has...
REHM...also written a book about...
REHM...the glory years at CBS.
EDWARDSAbout the Washington Bureau.
EDWARDSYeah, the place to be, he called it. And that was the place...
REHMThe place to be.
EDWARDS...to be. And I was...
EDWARDS...right across the street.
REHM...how did you end up working for NPR?
EDWARDSI was with a Mutual Broadcasting System. And the now defunct network that served little stations like WHEL. And I was a big union guy, still am. And they threw me out of there because they didn't like union people. They were trying to bust the union at Mutual. And so at the end of '73, I was out of work and I picked up the phone book and called everything with the word radio in its name.
EDWARDSAnd I think I got to radio repair and radiology and called this thing called National Public Radio. I never heard of it.
REHMNever heard of it.
EDWARDSWell, it was only -- it was not yet three years old.
EDWARDSAnd I called up and they said, yeah, come on down. It was that kind of place in the earliest days.
REHMHow many people were at NPR at that time?
EDWARDSTotal, 80 or so.
EDWARDSAnd I mean, 80 doing station relations and doing other stuff, not on the air broadcasting.
REHMTrying to build a network.
EDWARDSWe knew each other so well. We knew the names of other people's children who worked there. That's how close we were in this tiny little place, a whisper of a place. They did have a Peabody for the first year of All Things Considered because it was just so innovative and not like anything that had ever been on the radio before.
EDWARDSBut the audience was, maybe, a million, maybe. And each day, it was a 90 minute program then that came on at 5:00. And we would start in the morning with a blank board, nothing, nothing. And by 5:00 o'clock, we had to fill 90 minutes. And the ways we did that were experimental, bold -- you could get away with trying anything because we had no resources.
REHMBob Edwards, he's the host of the Bob Edwards Show on SiriusXM radio and Bob Edwards Weekend distributed to public radio stations. His book "A Voice in the Box."
REHMAnd a voice you know very well, that of Bob Edwards. He's here in the studio with me. His new book is titled "A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio." He's a lifelong lover of radio. His program is now on Sirius XM radio and Bob Edwards "Weekend" which is on public radio stations around the country, including this one. He -- I think you're on at 3:00 on Sunday and I'm on at 2:00 on Sunday. So we're ...
EDWARDSWell, I've got the best lead-in, don't I?
REHMTogether at last. Tell me about what you started doing before you got to ATC, "All Things Considered," at NPR?
EDWARDSI was the newscaster for six months. They only did four newscasts a day and I did them all.
EDWARDSYeah, they did one rollover of "All Things Considered" so they repeated it for the west coast, like old time radio. And so there were two newscasts in "All Things Considered" at that time. So with the rollover, that made four. So I'd be the only one in the shop. Everyone else would go home 'cause they wouldn't update -- they wouldn't update the program.
REHMSo then you became...
EDWARDSNow it's completely different.
REHM...so then you became host.
EDWARDSRight, in August of '04 -- no, '74 just in time to do the talk-up to Nixon's resignation speech. Oh gosh, was I trembling when I gave that. I had mike fright in the early days.
EDWARDSYeah, I had really bad mike fright.
REHMYou and me both.
EDWARDSAnd I would lose my breath when I was...
EDWARDS...reading something important.
EDWARDSOh, my god, this is history.
EDWARDSYeah, thank goodness those days are over.
REHMSo hosting that program you also partnered with Susan Stamberg.
EDWARDSWow, did I ever and learned so much, so much. I have a whole chapter on Susan because I was going to school. And at first, I thought, you know, who is this person? Oh, my gosh, what's she doing on the radio? And I didn't get it that she was a natural on the radio. Listeners loved her.
EDWARDSIt was radio magic.
EDWARDSAnd it took me a little while to get that through my thick head.
REHMWhat was it that...
EDWARDSOh, because I was so Edward R. Murrow.
EDWARDSI was so strict so, you know, there is decorum at the microphone.
REHMIt had to be this way, yeah.
EDWARDSYeah, I was straight. I call myself Mr. Prig. Yeah, and I didn't get it. I didn't get that -- I'd so loved radio and didn't get it. You know, what's the matter? And Susan helped me get it. She also taught me how to do an interview by instruction just by my observing her that the questions had to sustain -- it wasn't like getting sound bites for a newscast -- that the questions also had to be as entertaining as hopefully the answers would be.
REHMLet's hear a little bit.
EDWARDSBy the time I got there, you're number three.
EDWARDSI mean, this was the Susan Stamberg Show.
STAMBERGOh, I don't know about that, but I'll tell -- let me tell your listeners what it was like when you walked in that studio. First of all, a god, you were a blond god, tall, blond, handsome. And you'd sit down in your black turtleneck sweater -- you don't even remember this I bet you -- in a big room much like this one. And there was no separate place for you, hired to be the newscaster, to do your maybe ten-minute newscast or so. So Waters and I -- or whoever it was I was working with at that point -- had to sit quietly, not even burp for ten minutes while you did your little thing.
STAMBERGAnd then you would pick up -- take up your papers, leave and we could talk once again. 'Cause all the mikes -- well, your mike was on so anything that we did near you would get out on the air. But you did commend yourself very well. I must say, you did rather well in coming in there and I think you did it for two days before they made you my co-host. It was a meteoric ride.
REHMYou had fun.
EDWARDSYeah, oh, yeah. That was total fun. That's a big difference in the beginning when you're in a tiny little organization and there are no rules and you can have fun. There are also no resources, which is why you can have fun. We would do contests, we would do -- we had to come up with stuff to fill the program. We would say, all right, tell us where you get the best hamburger in America. And people would...
EDWARDS...you know, inundate us...
EDWARDS...with cards and letters.
EDWARDSAnd that would be good for ten minutes.
EDWARDSWe had interviews with dulcimer makers, we had the audio of a quilting bee. This was all things considered in the early days. But there would also be some brilliant piece of journalism...
EDWARDS...in the middle of it like...
EDWARDSIra Flatow was a reporter then, Linda Wertheimer, Barbara Newman, Josh Darsa. Bob Zelnick was covering the legal side. Judy Miller was a freelancer with us, later to get herself in trouble with the New York Times.
REHMWith the New York Times. And then you, after "Morning Edition," had gone on the air and flopped.
REHMYou became a host...
EDWARDSWell, it didn't go on the air. That was the important thing.
REHMWell, we heard it…
EDWARDSIt was a closed circuit.
EDWARDSThey did a pilot...
EDWARDS...and stations heard it...
EDWARDS...and it was an abomination. It was terrible. And...
REHMWhy do you think it was so bad?
EDWARDSThe fellow they hired to run it came from a local station, had been a hot news director there. But he was very commercial and he had a chip on his shoulder about public radio.
EDWARDSOne thing he tried to do is change the culture. He imposed a dress code. I mean, we had young women there who I don't think owned a dress. I know we had guys who didn't own a suit. I mean, we were young and didn't have any money.
EDWARDSWe're making public radio, though, you know.
EDWARDSYeah. And, you know, he imposed this kind of militaristic operating procedure we weren't used to.
REHMAnd what went on the air sounded that way.
EDWARDSOh, just awful. So they fired all those people. They fired the producers, fired the hosts who made out very well in television later and drafted people from inside the building who knew how to put on a radio program, and that public radio listeners would be used to. And I was one of the people they drafted. Said just...
EDWARDS...just do it for 30 days...
EDWARDS...and we'll get somebody else.
REHMYeah, we'll move you from ATC where you were able to get up, what, 7:00 in the morning, something like that to "Morning Edition" where you got up at 1:00 a.m.
EDWARDSThat's right. So do it for 30 days...
EDWARDS...and we'll get somebody else. And 24-and-a-half years later they found him, Bob. The extraordinary part was that I went on the air September of '79 knowing that you or somebody was coming to take one hour of my program...
REHM...which was actually three hours to begin with when...
EDWARDSSee, we made your life easier.
REHMIt really did. It was wonderful. And "Morning Edition," I must say, is absolutely a fabulous program. And you had a good time doing it for the most part.
EDWARDSI did. I did at the beginning. NPR got very bureaucratic and very -- took itself very seriously. And at the end it wasn't a lot of fun because there were 27 people in the building who could order me into a studio to change a word or something because the national desk didn't like this or the foreign desk didn't like this or the science desk didn't like this. And I just felt micromanaged.
EDWARDSThere were various people over there who wanted to impose pronunciation of syllables of words on me. And you can't do that to a broadcaster. You know, it's one person at a microphone communicating with an audience and they never got that, never got that. It's very top down now where at the beginning it was bottom up. We had to come up with material for the program. And now it's top down where you'll do this, you'll do that, you'll do this, you know, do it this way.
REHMSo when the end came how did it come?
EDWARDSI was called into an office and said -- this was like March 9, '74 -- '04...
EDWARDS...and was told April 30 will be your last show. And I said, but what about the anniversary, 25 years coming up in six months?
EDWARDSAnd I was told the anniversary will be about the future not about the past. Funny me. I always thought anniversaries were, by definition, about the past, but never mind. Yeah, so...
REHMWhat do you think happened?
EDWARDSI think they got tired of me and wanted somebody else. I think it's probably just as simple as that.
REHMThe story NPR put out was that they wanted you to have a co-host...
EDWARDSOh, no. That was not the original. The first story was we're changing the -- meeting the changing needs of listeners. That was the press release material.
EDWARDSAnd they got 50,000 e-mails of protests so they had to think of something else.
EDWARDSSo they lied and they said, well, we wanted two people in and we wanted to -- and he didn't want to co-host. Well, yeah, they wanted two people in, but they didn't want me to be one of the two people.
REHMThey never asked you whether you wanted to co-host.
EDWARDSNever asked me to have a co-host, never imposed one on me or ordered me to have one. If they had, I'd still be doing the program.
REHMBecause you would've enjoyed a co-host.
EDWARDSI would've preferred doing it alone, but...
EDWARDS...you know, I had had one with Susan and it was great.
REHMSure, sure. A number of...
EDWARDSAnd then there was other stuff. It was, oh, we want to bring in these people with great reporting skills. Well, they had just made me a reporter so they're knocking my reporting skills? That's the kind of stuff that made me want to leave. When they started saying that sort of thing to the New York Times, I couldn't work for those people anymore. So I left.
REHMSo you left...
REHM...on your own.
EDWARDSYep, yep. I had like 20 offers right away as soon as this hit the papers.
REHMIs that right?
EDWARDSYeah, and this was -- this is the front page of the Washington Post. I couldn't believe I got fired on the front page of the Washington Post. And, yeah, the phones started ringing, you know, CNN, AP. I had two teaching offers. It was very flattering. I thought, you know, gosh I was 57 years old at the time. I wasn't sure I'd ever work again.
REHMAnd XM Sirius?
EDWARDSOh, yeah, yeah. The CEO of XM was Hugh Panero. He wrote me a letter and he said, maybe NPR doesn't want to hear you every day, but I do.
REHMI love it.
EDWARDSWhen you get that on the worst day of your life...
EDWARDS...when you've been smeared in the New York Times, you say, yes. And so I didn't even return the other calls.
EDWARDSYeah, I went right to work for this guy.
REHMThere wasn't much time between leaving NPR and starting.
EDWARDSThere was a book tour. I had a book coming out.
EDWARDSAnd I wasn't going to leave until I had the book tour. So I went on the road for three months. I didn't have to be at the microphone anymore so why not? And so I did, in effect, a victory lap of the NPR member stations, raised, I think, $1.2 million...
EDWARDS...in the process because we always made it a benefit for the stations.
EDWARDSAnd I was selling books so I was happy. And it was great and I got to say goodbye to everyone.
REHMAnd that was the book about Red Barber.
EDWARDSNo, that was the book about Edward R. Murrow.
REHMOh, that first book...
REHM...was about Red Barber.
REHMAnd of course you were on here for both. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of folks waiting. I want to ask you, though, about the breakup of your marriage, which happened sort of in that same time period. What happened?
EDWARDSI think she got tired of me, lost patience. I think she was always looking for the time back when we were on "All Things Considered." When she married me, I was doing "All Things Considered." And I was home in the evening and could go out and didn't have to worry about getting to bed early, had more family time. I was really married to my job. And when "Morning Edition" ended, I thought -- I think she believed there would be a dividend for her. And it didn't happen.
EDWARDSI think she -- we had a little place out in Clark County, Va. and I think she thought I would go out there and commute. But it's an hour-and-a-half into the city each day and -- I don't know. We just grew apart. The kids were grown, empty nest and what can I say?
EDWARDSShe threw me out -- she fired me after 30 years and so did NPR.
REHMWell, I must say I am delighted today to meet your fiancé.
EDWARDSAh, yes, and who wouldn't be?
REHMAnd congratulations to you on meeting and your pending marriage to Windsor Johnston, who is here in the studio today with us. Going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Fayette, Ala. Good morning, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELGood morning. Mr. Edwards, let me open by telling you what an honor it is to meet you. You sound a little bit like, for those of us growing up as children in the '70s, the announcer -- although it sounded quite corny -- on ABCs and Hannah Barbara's revival of Super Friends in the late '70s. Perhaps you know his name. Perhaps you met him at some broadcasting industry convention some place. I wish I knew. But anyway here is a question that I have mainly about public radio itself that I've never gotten a chance to ask whenever a personality from public radio or PBS came on one of these talk shows.
MICHAELNot so long ago, last year "Talk of the Nation" Suzanne -- or the year before -- Ms. Suzanne Gladden was on. I think that's the name of the director at the time, and I should've asked her this question. Instead I asked her about the possibility of a merger with PBS someday.
REHMOkay. Come on. Let's have the question.
MICHAELOh, I'm sorry. And I thought about Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno becoming the honorary chairpersons to get back at Sesame Workshop for the way it had mistreated their dignity in the '70s when we grew up watching them on the Electric Company. Here's my question. The -- it's not about the recent controversies about public radio and whoever that journalist was who worked for another company...
REHMTell me what the question is.
MICHAELOh, I'm sorry. It's about fund raising and the choice of music on local stations.
MICHAELI know it's a decision by local station managers.
MICHAELBut there are too many people who don't know the positive benefits of public radio journalism because I hear most of the local stations playing at least down here in the southeast classical music. And yet they beg for money. Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copeland would want -- symphony orchestras and opera companies have the same problem.
REHMAll right. I'm going to stop you right there. Bob, are you in charge of the music?
EDWARDSThat was fascinating. The person should have his own show. That was great. No. No, I don't rule on the music, but...
REHMWe'll have to talk to our own engineer, Tobey Schreiner about the music he chooses for the program. But in reality it is up to each individual station. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail for Bob Edwards from Gary in Florida who says "In the late 1980s, I lost my job, then went through a divorce. One of the two things," he said, "helped hold me on during those darkest of days was looking forward to your Friday interviews with Red Barber. Thank you so much for the therapy and the interviews as well as the great book you wrote about Red." Tell us about Red.
EDWARDSOh my, gosh, that's great to hear.
EDWARDSYeah. We started "Morning Edition" and it had designated segments, news segments, business segments, art segments and a sports segment. And there was no tradition of sports in public radio.
EDWARDSWe had no resources or knowledge to do that so we filled the time with commentary. Frank DeFord was one of the original commentators and he's still doing it.
REHMStill doing it.
EDWARDSAnd Ketzel Levine was the sports producer. And she had interviewed Red about Jackie Robinson, Red Barber pioneer sportscaster was at the microphone in Brooklyn when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers and integrated baseball. And she'd interviewed Red about that and loved him, just loved him and asked him if he'd be a commentator on "Morning Edition."
EDWARDSHe said, yeah, but he didn't want to read a script, write an essay or whatever and read it. He wanted to have a conversation with the host of the program and he wanted it live, which terrified me at the time because it's a very scripted program, there's no spontaneity on there. I wasn't used to seat of the pants radio. Well, I got used to it...
REHMYeah, you bet.
EDWARDS...thanks to Red.
EDWARDSAnd he's another one I went to school on, you know, just learning how to be a broadcaster from Red Barber. One week, he couldn’t hear me. He -- we lost the connection somehow. We could all hear him. He -- while we spoke from his home in Tallahassee, we had a line into his house. And he understood right away that he could be heard.
EDWARDSHe says, I'm assuming that I can be heard. And he filled the four minutes...
EDWARDS...by himself. And he had a stop watch so he knew when to wrap up. What a pro.
REHMWhat a pro, indeed.
EDWARDSYou learn from a guy like that.
REHMSeveral tweets like this one by -- from Elise, who says "Hearing Bob Edwards' steady voice on 9/11 is something I will never forget. I miss him every morning. NPR made a big mistake." Talk about 9/11 and what happened.
EDWARDSI think people liked what we did because we were not able to show them the crashes again, and again, and again and assaulting their nerves and sensitivities and good tastes and everything else as television did. Because...
REHMNPR was criticized because it did not make the announcement until late.
EDWARDSYeah, Carl had it -- Carl had it at the top of the hour at 9 o'clock. We did not break into programming until about 9:20. I remember interrupting -- Susan was doing a recorded story. And, yeah, it was, again, resources. We didn't have the resources then. They got them now, they're very attentive to breaking news now and I think 9/11 probably changed that.
EDWARDSAnd yet, what we did won a Peabody Award. So, you know, I can't be ashamed of it. I went on the air when they told me to go on the air. But I think what we did -- and our reporters in New York, WNYC, was very helpful that day because they were off the air. Their tower was on top of...
EDWARDS...one of the World Trade Center towers.
EDWARDSAnd I learned that day that anyone with a cell phone is a reporter. We had everyday New Yorkers giving stunning word pictures of what they were seeing in lower Manhattan.
REHMWhich were even more vivid and dramatic...
REHM...then those we saw. Here's an e-mail from Lynn in North Carolina who says "During our 20 minute drive to school, I always had the local NPR station on radio. One day, about three weeks after Bob left "Morning Edition," my 10-year-old son piped up, where's Bob Edwards? Just so you know how far your influence went." And let's go to Clemson, S.C. Good morning, Abel.
ABELGood morning, Diane. Wonderful show.
ABELBob, I grew up -- I mean, I went to school at Florida State University and I used to listen to your interviews with Red Barber. And I've always been intrigued with radio announcers. My question is this, same question I asked years ago to Ed Bradley. If you could go back in time and pick anybody in history to sit down and have a one hour interview with, who would it be and why?
EDWARDSOh, I've got a long list, you know, Thomas Jefferson, of course. I would -- I'd love to talk to Amelia Earhart. I have a crush on Amelia Earhart.
REHMI like that. I like that.
EDWARDSEdna St. Vincent Millay, there's so many people but, you know, Jefferson, I would just...
EDWARDS...you know, open the mike and let him talk for an hour and find out what's going on in that very inventive mind because he had so many interests and so many different fields.
REHMAnd I think that goes right to our next caller. Jim is in Rockville, Md. Good morning to you. Jim, are you there?
JIMGood morning, good morning, Diane. How are you?
REHMGood morning. Hi, fine, thanks.
JIMGood. I want to thank Bob for teaching me a very important lesson. I'm a Chaplin and I teach out at Chaplin's. And most people don't know how to ask a question. They ask way too many words -- use way too many words in their questions, like, we heard earlier in the show.
JIMAnd Bob Edwards has the best way to ask a question. Oh? Bob taught me that and I teach it to my students. That's a very, very affective way. And I want to thank Bob for all he has done for me and for my profession and for the spirit of public radio.
EDWARDSYeah, another good one is, Really?
REHMThat's it. Do you...
EDWARDSWell, that's a signal that, you know, this is very interesting and you should go on in that, you know, tell me more. It's the same as saying, tell me more.
REHMBut you don't need a whole...
REHM...barrage of questions, words.
EDWARDSRight. And I'm a minimalist. And in the show, you know, especially "Morning Edition," doing NPR news, it wasn't about me, it was about my guests. My guests were super so I wanted to hear more of them. You know, I had enough ego satisfaction just to be hosting the program. That did it for me. I didn't need to talk.
REHMHere is an e-mail from Mack in Maryland who says "Since your departure, 'Morning Edition' has adopted a less formal presentational style. Hosts and reporters often chat and the use of language has become less precise, more conversational. Bob, do you like this new style? It seems designed to engage the listener. But do you think it is more informative?"
EDWARDSI read a piece in either the Columbia Journalism Review or American Journalism Review about -- on television, there is less video now, there's less reporting, more chatting. When news breaks, there -- you know, you don’t have the reporter with the camera crew covering it. You call a bunch of people into the studio, sit them around and chat about it. And why?
EDWARDSWell, this is cheaper, it's a lot cheaper. I don’t know why NPR would be doing that because NPR has the resources to do serious journalism and always has. Well, always has done serious journalism, they haven't always had the resources. But they do now and I don’t know why they would go to the chatting.
REHMDo you still listen to NPR?
EDWARDSI do. I do.
REHMWhat do you listen to?
EDWARDSI listen to "Morning Edition." A lot of those -- a lot of the public radio programs are on my channel on SiriusXM. Ira Glass...
REHMIsn't he something?
EDWARDS...used to be my intern.
EDWARDSDo you believe that?
EDWARDSThe guy is now producing Hollywood movies.
REHMHe is something.
EDWARDSHe's working with Errol Morris.
REHMYeah. He is something, he's got quite and imagination.
EDWARDSI know. I know and he does a great show, found a new way of telling stories.
EDWARDSThat's what we all do.
EDWARDSJust do it in different ways. And he found a new way.
REHMLet's go to New Haven, Conn. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning, good morning. I really appreciated Bob's presentations for so long. And one of the things I most miss now, I still do, but nowhere near as well as Bob did, and that is at the half hour mark of each Good Morning show, he'd have some very humorous antidote or some story he would tell. And I wondered how, Bob, you developed that and how -- you know, which -- where you got your inspiration for doing those stories because they were so fantastic. And like I said, they still do it, but nowhere near as well as you did.
EDWARDSI suspect what's happening is that somebody else is writing it for them, that the hosts are not writing it themselves. I don't know that to be true, I just -- it just sounds to me like they're not putting the effort into that I did. I put probably too much effort into that and wasted a lot of time.
REHMTell me how you did it.
EDWARDSIt was a 30 second thing kind of fluke in the format. What do we do in these 30 seconds? I don't know, what do you want to do in these 30 seconds? And so I would do a kicker, just a little funny thing...
EDWARDS...in the news.
EDWARDSBut I had some standards about it. I wanted it to be really good and write it well. It was 23 seconds of writing, by the way, so try to write something well in 23 seconds.
REHMAnd where did you find your sources?
EDWARDSOn the wires and people...
EDWARDS...would call them in and small town newspapers and the like.
REHMDo you remember any?
EDWARDSOh, gosh. A lot of them were urban myths, you know. Stories that -- I actually got caught on one. It was an urban myth and it's about someone in an ice cream store and seeing a famous celebrity and putting the ice cream in a purse, you know. That's urban myth, but somebody wrote it up and it made the wires and I bought it and I'm ashamed of myself. And, you know, it wasn't my fault, but I'm still ashamed.
REHMYou couldn't actually check these out?
REHMYeah, yeah. All right, here's Deanna in Pompano Beach, Fla. Good morning to you.
DEANNAGood morning. Hi Bob.
EDWARDSHi, how are you?
DEANNAI wish -- I'm wonderful, ecstatic. I would set my radio alarm to go off five minutes before you would identify yourself so that I could get the fog out of the head. You'd come on and you'd go, this is Bob Edwards. I'd say, hi, Bob. And I could get up and start my day. I so miss that. What I would like to thank you for also is your Friday's with Red.
DEANNAI have such a great appreciation for baseball announcers because of what that man taught me through your interviews. And that has become my motto. The most important thing in baseball is listening to your announcers. And I just wanted to thank you for that.
EDWARDSOh, you're most welcome, thank you for that.
REHMThanks for calling, Deanna. Tell me -- and before I ask you, let me just remind our listeners, this is the Diane Rehm Show. Bob Edwards is here with me. His new book is titled a life -- "A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio." Tell me about your take on what happened to Juan Williams and how you believe it was similar to or different from what happened to you.
EDWARDSI think the only similarity is that shows they still don't know how to fire somebody. You know, what they should've done with me is say Bob, we're going to give you the show, you know, it's time for you to leave "Morning Edition." Go out and do a victory lap around the membership, you know, the stations and...
REHMWhich you did anyhow.
EDWARDSRight. And I...
EDWARDS...and do the show and it'll be really good for. They didn't do that. With Juan, they should've said, look, it's causing us problems, that you're over on FOX and saying outrageous things. Make a choice. Stay with us or go to FOX. You decide. And that's how they should've handled it, instead it was a miserable sensational public -- you know, Vivian Schiller talking about his psychiatrist. I mean, the implication was that he's a crazy man. Well, he's not a crazy man at all. You know, and he's a good guy.
EDWARDSSo they just should've, you know, done it that way and -- it was inevitable there was going to be conflict there. Serving two masters.
REHMBut how come Mara Liasson's name is not raised in that same frame work?
EDWARDSI guess she's not saying things about Muslim garb. I guess, she's more measured in what she says and it's not upsetting to them. I think it's a conflict. I think you should work for one or the other. If I were the news director, I would make them choose.
REHMIs there every any desire on your part to be back at NPR, given everything that's happened, given all the turmoil that NPR, itself, has gone through, since you've left?
EDWARDSWell, I continue to be on public radio through PRI.
EDWARDSAnd I'm very happy about that. And I love being part of the public radio family and my relationship with stations. Satellite radio has no stations. Where do I go to meet listeners? Me public radio.
REHMBut you got millions of...
REHM...listeners out there.
EDWARDSGod bless them all. Yeah, I...
REHMYou don't have to fundraise.
EDWARDSWell, I do.
REHMExcept that you do for WAMU.
EDWARDSYeah, if those stations...
REHMBecause you're here.
EDWARDS...if those stations don't survive, they're not going to carry Bob Edwards Weekend. You bet I pitch for them. I do promos for them. I will be in here at 3 o'clock on the Sunday that your pledge drive is going. And I am a day sponsor, twice a year.
EDWARDSYeah, that's important.
REHMWhat do you think is the future of public radio?
EDWARDSI think you'd better find a way of replacing the federal dollar. I think the super committee is going to zero out all federal funds to public radio and it's now about seven to 15 percent of a stations budget and doesn't sound like much, but...
EDWARDS...try to replace it.
EDWARDSIt's enormous. And I worry because I want stations to thrive so they can carry my weekend show. And, yeah, I think stations better get on that right now and find a way, a substitute for the federal dollar. There -- you know, it's not going to affect NPR except indirectly. NPR doesn't get a lot of money from the federal government, hardly any at all. But the stations pay dues to get the NPR programming and they'll have less money with which to do that. So it's important NPR, too.
REHMWell, Bob Edwards, it's clear you are very important to all of our listeners. I'm glad to have you on the program, to share the microphone with you. Congratulations on your program on SiriusXM and congratulations on your book.
EDWARDSThank you so much. It's always wonderful to be here and thank you for inviting me.
REHM"A Voice in the Box," Bob Edwards.
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