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A Voice in the Box

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    A Voice in the Box
    Book Description:

    The host of The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend on Sirius XM Radio, Bob Edwards became the first radio personality with a large national audience to take his chances in the new field of satellite radio. The programs' mix of long-form interviews and news documentaries has won many prestigious awards.

    For thirty years, Louisville native Edwards was the voice of National Public Radio's daily newsmagazine programs, co-hosting All Things Considered before launching Morning Edition in 1979. These programs built NPR's national audience while also bringing Edwards to national prominence. In 2004, however, NPR announced that it would be finding a replacement for Edwards, inciting protests from tens of thousands of his fans and controversy among his listeners and fellow broadcasters. Today, Edwards continues to inform the American public with a voice known for its sincerity, intelligence, and wit.

    In A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio, Edwards recounts his career as one of the most important figures in modern broadcasting. He describes his road to success on the radio waves, from his early days knocking on station doors during college and working for American Forces Korea Network to his work at NPR and induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. Edwards tells the story of his exit from NPR and the launch of his new radio ventures on the XM Satellite Radio network. Throughout the book, his sharp observations about the people he interviewed and covered and the colleagues with whom he worked offer a window on forty years of American news and on the evolution of public journalism.

    A Voice in the Box is an insider's account of the world of American media and a fascinating, personal narrative from one of the most iconic personalities in radio history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3451-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-2)

    November 6, 2004. Another cold, crisp night in the Windy City, but it’s warm inside the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Chicago Hotel, where hundreds of radio royalty have gathered. Men in tuxedos and women in beautiful gowns or sexy cocktail dresses are clustered at thirty-four tables, each adorned with flowers and a burning candle. At one end of the ballroom is a bandstand, where Mickey and the Memories will entertain for everyone’s dancing pleasure. That will come later, after dinner, many speeches, and a ceremony that is also a live radio program carried by the Premier group of stations....

    (pp. 3-5)

    It was a perfect day for lust, a mild, sunny day in October 1968. The program director of the radio station had figured out a way to rendezvous with a female listener without his wife noticing he was not on the air. He preempted local programs, including his own, and carried ABC’s national coverage of Apollo 7. The station had not shown such dedication to public service in the past, but his wife, listening from across the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, would not question his absence from the air. After all, this was America’s first manned Apollo flight.


  5. HOME
    (pp. 6-11)

    On the afternoon of May 16, 1947, my mother heard the Friday novena bell from our parish church as I was about to be born across the street at St. Joseph’s Infirmary on Eastern Parkway in Louisville. The hospital was a fabulous period structure, its corridors lined with ancient radiators and cane-backed wooden wheelchairs. Sisters of Charity in their starched, white nursing habits scurried about the place, which I would come to know so well as a bronchial pneumonia patient just a few years later. My older brother had been born at St. Joseph’s before my father went off to...

  6. VOICE
    (pp. 12-15)

    Little boys want to be firefighters or athletes or rock stars. I wanted to be on the radio. The radio in our house was a handsome mahogany Zenith purchased by my parents when they married in 1939. Now decorating my living room, the Zenith Long Distance Radio remains a marvel to me. It’s more than three-and-a-half feet high, more than two feet wide, and a foot and a half deep. It doubles as a piece of furniture, the perfect pedestal for flowers in a vase next to a framed portrait of Grandma. As a toddler, I ran my fingernails across...

  7. WHEL
    (pp. 16-21)

    In my first three years of college, neither my academic nor my job performance was exemplary. I had to struggle for every C in class while inevitably getting fired from almost every job I had. After serving as a bank messenger and a trading-stamp-premium stock clerk (remember S&H Green Stamps?), I became a bookkeeper for an oil company, then an accounting clerk for a distillery (loved those discounts!), and finally a playground instructor for the county parks system. My favorite job was delivering flowers on Mother’s Day. All the moms were thrilled to see me, and they all gave me...

  8. ARMY
    (pp. 22-29)

    I did my basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and moved on to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where I married Joan Murphy. When I was sent to Asia—but not to where my fellow soldiers were dying.

    When I arrived in Seoul in November 1970, there were more than seventy thousand American troops in South Korea, including two infantry divisions (one was sent home shortly thereafter). Wherever the United States stations its military, it tries to bolster morale and provide a little bit of home. That means entertainment, and entertainment includes broadcasting.

    The American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) traced its proud...

    (pp. 30-35)

    Graduate school was not in my plans until I learned that enrolling in school for the fall term of 1971 could get me out of the army three months ahead of schedule. Education benefits under the GI Bill were not nearly as generous as those enjoyed by my father’s generation, but at least they would pay for books and supplies.

    Temple University offered me a graduate assistantship, but Temple was not my first choice because it had no broadcast journalism program. I wrote to Professor Edward Bliss at American University in Washington, D.C., and told him about my situation. He...

    (pp. 36-42)

    I received my master’s degree in communication in August of 1972, after taking several courses at AU’s School of International Service. A course on Southeast Asia provided historical perspective on the Vietnam War. The instructor was Kenneth Landon, a onetime missionary and diplomat whose specialty was Thailand. Landon had the distinction of being the author of the first Pentagon Paper, a memo he had written in 1945 recounting a conversation with Ho Chi Minh. Ho had asked Landon whether the United States was going to support Vietnamese independence following World War II or whether it was going to back France...

  11. NPR
    (pp. 43-49)

    I knew nothing about National Public Radio when I began working there, but I knew the reality of my situation. My severance money from Mutual was just about gone and I needed a job. I opened the phone book and called everything that had the wordradioin its name. Just before I got toradiologyandradio repair, I called NPR and talked to a producer named Rich Firestone. Rich said that the news director, Cleve Mathews, had a few projects in mind and I should talk to him. In fact, Cleve had just fired his newscaster and was...

  12. SUSAN
    (pp. 50-54)

    Professional marriages are even more difficult than the romantic variety, and the divorce rate is much higher. Mine survived a tepid honeymoon to blossom into a rewarding on-air partnership and enduring friendship.

    Susan Stamberg was a writer and tape editor forAll Things Consideredwhen the program debuted in 1971. Women didn’t anchor broadcasts in those days. They worked behind the scenes and made occasional contributions on the air. But when Susan filled in as cohost one day, the phones lit up with calls from appreciative listeners. She was a sensation—refreshing, intelligent, engaging, and honest. She wasn’t just warm...

    (pp. 55-60)

    By the mid-1970s, NPR had developed an excellent reputation with a small but loyal and very appreciative audience. We had respect within the industry too, as other networks began luring away our reporters. That was not hard to do, given the salary disparity between commercial and public broadcasting. Something had to be done.

    We tried forming an NPR Employees Association as a means of taking our concerns about salaries and other grievances to management. NPR insulted us with paternalism, making us feel that merely consenting to a meeting was doing us a favor. We needed some muscle, so we organized....

  14. SHARON
    (pp. 61-66)

    The late seventies were good to me. I lived in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, a lively area of bookstores, galleries, nightclubs, restaurants, and interesting shops, within walking distance of the Mall, Georgetown, and NPR. It was the perfect place and time to be young and single. Some of my relationships were not long-lived, however. They often would end when women determined I had no interest in marriage and family. I resolved that I would set things straight right at the beginning with the next woman I dated.

    Sharon Kelly was an adorable, blue-eyed blonde who worked at NPR. I took...

    (pp. 67-72)

    The commuting hours became radio’s prime time once TV captured the nighttime audience. That’s whyAll Things Consideredis broadcast during the late afternoon and evening rush hour. It took NPR nearly a decade to launch a major program in morning drive time, when the radio audience is even bigger.

    Morning Editionwas the dream of NPR president Frank Mankiewicz, programming vice president Sam Holt, and news vice president Barbara Cohen (now Barbara Cochran). In 1978, they hired a consultant, Larry Lichty, and formed a planning committee of NPR reporters and producers. These dozen or so people were the sole...

    (pp. 73-79)

    Morning Editioncelebrated its first anniversary in the same week that voters chose Ronald Reagan to be the fortieth president of the United States. For NPR management, Reagan’s election was ominous because Pat Buchanan and other ideologues were part of the Reagan team. When he had served on the Nixon White House staff, Buchanan had been the point man in a successful campaign to kill public television’s attempt to launch a national news production house. Public television was still trying to realize its potential beyond arts performances, children’s programming, and cooking shows. The National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT)...

    (pp. 80-86)

    When NPR nearly crashed in 1983,Morning Edition, then in its fourth year, was already too strong to be one of the disaster’s victims. BeforeMorning Edition, most NPR stations did not even show up in the Arbitron ratings for morning drive time. By the program’s first anniversary in November 1980, member stations had seen their morning audiences double, triple, or quadruple. A few had done even better. In hindsight, it’s easy to say this success was predictable. After all, NPR was merely inserting a strong news program into radio’s peak time slot. Those who would say that have never...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 87-88)

    Remember in 2000 when Governor George W. Bush became the Republican nominee and Dick Cheney was given the job of vetting possible running mates for Bush? Alone one day in his office, Cheney conducted a room-wide search and found the perfect guy for the job—himself.

    Not to compare my good friend Robert Siegel to Dick Cheney, but he did something similar. It happened in 1987 when Robert was the NPR news director.

    The story begins in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Garrison Keillor had become a celebrity way beyond his comfort level. A local paper published his address, and he...

    (pp. 89-94)

    By the 1990s, NPR had recovered financially and was firmly within the circle of the most authoritative providers of news in America. The decade would see the TV networks shift their energies from daily news coverage to prime-time magazine features and celebrity interviews. Taking their place was the Cable News Network, able and willing to cover breaking news anywhere in the world at any time of day. C-SPAN now covered the political news conferences and congressional hearings once available only on NPR. United Press International was in critical condition, no longer a worthy wire-service competitor of the Associated Press. Fine...

    (pp. 95-98)

    In myMorning Editionyears, I went to a different NPR member station each month for some sort of fund-raising activity. It was good politics to help the stations, but I had other reasons for going. Telling people aboutMorning Editionwas good marketing. It also allowed me to meet the audience that brought me into their homes, cars, and offices—and it was useful to find out what was on their minds.

    The public radio audience is intelligent. Who but an intelligent, concerned person is going to bother listening to a two-hour program that’s serious about the news? So...

    (pp. 99-100)

    Back in the 1970s, NPR was the antiestablishment alternative. By the end of the 1980s, we could no longer claim to be the underdog; we were more like theNew York Timesof the airwaves. Our audience mushroomed by millions in the eighties, and I believe there were three reasons for that.

    Most NPR stations are FM, so the network was going nowhere until the market demand moved radio manufacturers to offer products featuring both AM and FM. Until then, an AM/FM radio was an option that might cost a car buyer an extra hundred dollars. When AM/FM radio became...

  23. STYLE
    (pp. 101-104)

    As a twenty-five-year-old at WTOP in 1972, I had the pleasure of working with Dave McConnell, who was then anchoring the afternoon drive-time broadcasts. Joking with the new kid in the newsroom, Dave said, “Bob, if you’re going to make it in this business, you have to have an act.” He used two of our WTOP colleagues as examples: sportscaster Warner Wolf, whose distinctive style made him the most popular broadcasting personality in Washington at the time, and features reporter Doug Llewellyn, who later became Judge Wapner’s announcer on TV’sThe People’s Court.

    “Look at Warner,” Dave instructed, “He’s got...

    (pp. 105-108)

    Who’s the worst person to interview? Is it a cliché-spouting professional athlete or a politician paying no attention to the question he or she has been asked? I think it’s the politician.

    Obviously, interviews regarding public affairs are crucial to any news program, but for the very reason that they deal with the news, they flunk the “memorable” test. The news is, by definition, transitory. A news story is already old once it’s been broadcast. We often follow up on stories that have dropped out of the headlines, but usually we move on to something new. Political interviews are important...

    (pp. 109-114)

    Musicians and writers are my favorite interviews because they seldom conceal anything. Their songs and novels often spring from the best and worst moments of their lives, and if they can talk about happiness and pain in music or in a book, most don’t mind talking about it in an interview.

    Disappointed by a Norman Mailer novel, I summoned the courage to ask him if he hadn’t just fired off a potboiler. I used the word courage because it’s risky asking a provocative question of a man who was once notorious for punching people in the nose and stabbing his...

    (pp. 115-117)

    NPR made it possible for a working-class kid from Kentucky to go places and meet people I could never have imagined. One of my first NPR interviews outside the studio was at the home of diplomat Averell Harriman. Waiting for him to get off the phone with some potentate or other, I had a look around his place in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood. All around me were items collected from a long lifetime of service: swords, vases, chests, urns, and pistols—gifts from Stalin, Churchill, kings, sultans, the Shah. Photos, framed notes, and other documents told the story of the American...

  27. WAR
    (pp. 118-125)

    For forty years, Harry Belafonte had been trying to get his recording project on the market. It was the history of African American music in the New World and titledThe Long Road to Freedom. He’d been at it so long that the technology of music recording had changed, and now the eighty songs would be on five compact discs, packaged with a hardback book and a bonus DVD. I was in my office reviewing all this material in preparation for my first interview with one of America’s musical legends.

    Outside my door, half a dozen members of theMorning...

    (pp. 126-127)

    I remain in awe of my NPR colleagues who reported the wars. They have been under fire, have been held prisoner by ugly regimes, and have endured the worst hardships. Anne Garrels is one of them.

    As war with Iraq became inevitable, major American news organizations pulled their reporters out of Iraq. Annie stayed, and she was one of the very few who did. She and I had a daily on-air conversation as the United States prepared to bomb Baghdad—where Annie was. She was living in the Palestine Hotel, a place where British journalists would later be killed by...

    (pp. 128-136)

    In late October 2002, I received a letter from Hana Lane, senior editor at the John Wiley & Sons publishing house. She invited me to become one of the authors for a new series of volumes Wiley called Turning Points. “In the spirit of the ‘Penguin Lives’ series of short biographies,” Hana wrote, “these books are capsule histories on significant moments.” Other authors in the series included Alan Dershowitz, Eleanor Clift, Douglas Brinkley, William F. Buckley, Jr., William Least Heat Moon, Sir Martin Gilbert, Thomas Fleming, and my public radio colleagues Scott Simon and Martin Goldsmith. Seemed like good company to...

    (pp. 137-141)

    Should I have seen it coming—that truck that hit me on March 9, 2004?

    I was a company man who loved NPR, but I was never a contender for employee of the month (not that NPR has such a thing). People in the news business disagree about the value of stories and how they should be covered—and these disagreements can sometimes be spirited, even passionate. I think it’s a healthy thing that makes a news organization stronger. Maybe over the course of thirty years, a company gets tired of hearing it and fires the guy who won’t immediately...

    (pp. 142-152)

    After being trashed by NPR management, I had no intention of serving them as a senior correspondent. Judging from the negotiations between NPR’s Ken Stern and AFTRA’s Ken Greene, NPR didn’t want me to be a senior correspondent either. The two Kens were supposed to determine my salary and working conditions for my new job, but they also negotiated severance terms that made it extremely attractive for me to leave the network. Under the agreement, I’d get a generous check if I voluntarily left the company within one year. The amount would be cut in half if I resigned a...

  32. DENNIS
    (pp. 153-154)

    Then came Boston, on a hot day in June, halfway through our trip. Arriving at Logan Airport, we couldn’t find our driver because we didn’t know that Logan has a designated place away from the terminal where drivers of limos and town cars wait for their clients. By the time we figured this out, our driver, a large man who weighed at least 280 pounds, had been waiting a long time, sweating in the hot sun.

    We headed into town through the Liberty Tunnel and our driver, who’d been talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone, lost his connection....

    (pp. 155-160)

    Sharon joined us for the North Carolina part of the tour. Her mother, a North Carolina native, still lived in Mocksville. Sharon brought Sam with her. Sam, named for Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was the Border collie that Sharon added to the family when I got fired and told her she could have a dog. I did my lastMorning Editionshow on April 30, and Sam took up residence on May Day. After I revealed Sam’s identity onFresh Air, listeners started bringing dog treats and chew toys to my book events.

    During our road show at Fearrington near Chapel...

  34. AFTRA
    (pp. 161-163)

    God help the American labor movement, for I am one of its leaders. In fact, for a brief time, I was a union president. I am a proud member of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. AFTRA represents actors, singers, dancers, game show hosts, stunt performers, comedians, voice-over artists, models, news anchors, reporters, editors, producers, disc jockeys, announcers, play-by-play sportscasters, meteorologists, and recording artists. Tom Brokaw, Susan Lucci, Norah Jones, Jay-Z, and George Clooney are my union brothers and sisters. AFTRA looks out for the stars, but it’s the rest of us who really need AFTRA.


  35. XM
    (pp. 164-167)

    While on the three-month book tour, I told very few people about my plans because they had to remain a secret. By June, I had to start recruiting a staff, even if it meant risking that the news would leak. At XM, workers were busy converting an employee break room into the office space to be occupied by our program’s staff. I had to find an executive producer to work with XM on preparation while I continued to tour. Mark Schramm came to mind because I knew he’d recently left NPR. Years earlier, Mark was the producer in charge of...

    (pp. 168-170)

    XM Satellite Radio arrived at a time when conventional radio was lacking in imagination and interesting programming. I could sell XM in my sleep because it was that good. It offered 170 channels of programming—80 music channels, most of them commercial-free. It had every nuance of rock, from the hits (Top Tracks) to the “other” cuts you always loved (Deep Tracks). There was a singer-songwriter channel (The Loft) and some alt rock channels. You’d find folk music on The Village and reggae on The Joint, country on America, honky-tonk on Willie’s Place, R & B on The Groove, hip-hop on...

    (pp. 171-174)

    Friday, November 5, 2004. It was the twenty-fifth anniversary ofMorning Edition, but NPR listeners heard a most subdued silver anniversary broadcast. Cohosts of six months barely mentioned the importance of that day for a program another guy had hosted for twenty-four-and-a-half years. I mentioned it onmyshow, however, and congratulated Carl Kasell and Ellen McDonnell, who’d been with program since its first day back in 1979.

    The very next night I was in Chicago being inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. No one from NPR attended the ceremony. I was inducted as an XM guy, though...

    (pp. 175-177)

    Andy Danyo was a radio producer all along—but maybe she knew that. She produced the first two interviews ever heard on our show, simple Q&A’s. The real test of a radio producer is in the arts interviews, particularly in music interviews, and in field recording—particularly documentaries. Those interviews turn the producer into an artist. Once I’ve done my interview, I have performed my particular art. Then I give that interview up to a producer who edits—eliminating questions and/or answers that didn’t work, were incomplete, or interrupted the flow of the story. When appropriate, a producer will add...

    (pp. 178-178)

    As we entered 2006, executive producer Mark Schramm had moved to another XM post, so Tish Valva moved up to replace him. Tish’s former job was filled by Jim Rosenberg. Heather Borthwick took another XM job, so I brought in Shelley Tillman, my formerMorning Editioncolleague. Producer Melissa Gray decided to return to NPR, and Steve Lickteig came over from NPR to replace her. Even with all these changes, I still had a staff who had worked for NPR or its member stations. That’s why we were all excited by the launch ofBob Edwards Weekendon Public Radio...

    (pp. 179-182)

    Chad Campbell was the next producer to get ambitious. Chad organized a January 2006 trip to the southern Arizona desert to report on illegal immigration. This was before immigration came up in Congress and set off a real media blitz on the issue, so we were ahead of the pack on this one. Chad, Geoffrey Redick, and I went to the border town of Nogales and rode in a U.S. Border Patrol squad car, interviewing our driver, agent Gustavo Soto, son of a legal Mexican immigrant. We witnessed the arrest of several Mexicans entering Nogales through a storm drainage tunnel...

    (pp. 183-185)

    The freedom to travel more often and collect interviews inevitably led me back to Appalachia, the land so rich with storytellers. In terms of economic reality, nothing had changed since the 1970s, when I did Appalachian stories forAll Things Considered. Big energy companies still exploited the region’s coal deposits with little benefit to the people who lived there. Whathadchanged was the process for extracting the coal.

    Industry used to burrow into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains and extract the coal through tunnels. Later it employed the more invasive process of strip mining, cutting away a slice of the...

    (pp. 186-190)

    Some years ago, Andy introduced me to her friend Jamila Larson, a social worker in Washington, D.C. Jamila has seen the worst that a big city can do to people without resources or family to get them through hard times. Most of her stories are heartbreaking, but one was so amazing and uplifting that I knew I had to get it on the radio. Jamila said there was a homeless teenager who lived on the streets of Washington and slept in Union Station, a short walk from the U.S. Capitol building, an iconic symbol of our nation’s greatness. The kicker...

  43. 3RD MED
    (pp. 191-194)

    One of my listeners wrote me an email in January of 2008.

    Dear bob: My name is Al Naar. I served as operating room corpsman with the 3rd Medical Battalion during the Vietnam War. On May 2 & 3, 2008, in Charleston, SC, the officers and men of 3rdMed will assemble once more . . . and hold their 40 year reunion. . . . There will be over 100 doctors and corpsmen who served together and will see each other for the first time since leaving Vietnam 40 years ago. This presents a rare and unique opportunity to interview...

  44. NOLA
    (pp. 195-198)

    My producers got even more ambitious in 2009. Ariana Pekary continued her run with a documentary show called “Hating Marcelo.” This was about hate crimes against Latino immigrants. Marcelo Lucero was thirty-seven years old when he was killed by seven teenagers in Patchogue in Suffolk County, New York. “Beaner hopping” is apparently a popular sport for bored Long Island high school boys who’ve had a few beers. Lucero had been a productive worker in his community for longer than his attackers had been alive. The local county executive used the immigration issue to increase his popularity with the masses and...

    (pp. 199-202)

    In July 2008, XM was absorbed by its rival to create Sirius XM Radio. The Federal Communications Commission had taken a year and a half to approve the merger, but despite that period of uncertainty, the staff ofThe Bob Edwards Showremained stable. In fact, the show matured during that time and was finally over its initial shakedown period. This had a lot to do with the leadership of executive producer Steve Lickteig. Steve appointed Ed McNulty as senior producer for our daily show and Chad Campbell as senior producer for our weekend show. Steve also hired producers Dan...

  46. INDEX
    (pp. 203-214)