National Public Radio: The Cast of Characters

National Public Radio: The Cast of Characters

National Public Radio: The Cast of Characters

National Public Radio: The Cast of Characters


Every day, millions of Americans tune in to their local public radio stations, and much of what they hear -- news, music, and other cultural offerings -- comes from National Public Radio in Washington, D. C.

This visually stunning and engagingly written book traces the history of NPR from its tentative beginnings in 1971, through its financial crisis and growth in the 1980s, to its current status as a preeminent source of news and entertainment".... informative, charming, even compelling... The photographs and design are absolutely first-rate and make the book a joy for all of us hooked on public radio". -- Doug Bennet, former NPR President


"I'm Bob Edwards. Today is Friday, June 19th, and this is 'Morning Edition."'

Millions of drowsy Americans wake up every weekday to Edwards's steady, deep Kentucky voice looking for news, the time, and a peculiar sense of security. It's early morning silent, and the host's encouraging tone helps fill the void.

Edwards himself is actually chewing gum and reading a newspaper when National Public Radio fans hear the prerecorded introduction. He sits in the cocoonlike quiet of the gray, compact news studio. Four large microphones fill the table. An old globe lies on a pile of cheap plastic chairs in the corner. The rug smells of mildew.

When Edwards looks up he can see through a large window into the control room, where director Barry Gordemer performs as "part musician, part air-traffic controller." Gordemer makes sure Edwards and Carl Kasell, who delivers the short news updates for the news service, get on and off the air when they're supposed to. It's an exercise that requires exquisite split-second timing.

Gordemer's hand goes up. Edwards leans into the mike. By the time the director drops his hand and the host finishes saying, "It's twenty minutes before the hour," it's exactly twenty minutes before the hour. The member stations that carry "Morning Edition" must know precisely when the program cuts from Kasell to Edwards or to a music break; otherwise they're faced with the ultimate nightmare for a sound medium--silence. "A second can be an eternity in broadcasting," says Gordemer.

NPR and the member stations rely on the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock, which synchronizes their timers via satellite. At the end of every year the observatory must account for a lost second, so all of the stations' clocks leap forward simultaneously. Gordemer uses a special calculator that adds time to help him hit the eight station breaks during the two-hour broadcast. Sometimes Edwards helps fill in a second or two by slowing down his delivery or adding a word that's not in the copy.

It's a tightwire act, which perhaps explains why NPR is so unstructured soutside the control room. Edwards lopes across the newsroom in jeans and a casual shirt. Technicians wear shorts. Birkenstock sandals are about as fashionable as the dress code gets, particularly for the overnight crew.

The director can let a bit of the network's quirky side seep into the broadcast with the signature pieces of music played between news items. The staff call the short takes between stories "buttons" and the longer ones used for local station . . .

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