Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

Article excerpt

In an unusually candid and insightful memoir, popular radio host Bob Edwards explores his own career.

By Alexander Heffner

Bob Edwards, the radio impresario who became an iconic voice on National Public Radio for millions of listeners, had longed to be on the airwaves since his middle-class boyhood in Louisville, Kentucky. And so he was. On their morning commutes and alongside their early cups of coffee, Americans from across the country became enamored of Edwards, tuning in daily for his poised delivery and his thoughtful yet probing interviews.

In an unusually candid and insightful memoir - uncommon for a journalist, many of whom prefer to keep their personal stories to themselves - Edwards opens up in A Voice in the Box. As he recollects his broadcast experiences, Edward divides the memoir into short chapters, each meaningful and concise.

The book, Edwards' third after a story of radio friendship and a later biography of Edward R. Murrow, is both an incisive look inside the radio haven and a revealing self-portrait. Edwards' storytelling, from his youthful obsession with radio to his early training with successful broadcaster CBS newsman Ed Bliss, is no less animated than his on-air persona.

In "A Voice in the Box," Edwards describes his journey from his early gigs - at American Forces Korea Network broadcasting from Seoul and WTOP-AM, the DC-based CBS affiliate - to his heydays on Morning Edition and more than two decades of soaring popularity and listenership.

"Back in the 1970s, NPR was the antiestablishment alternative," he recalls. "By the end of the 1980s, we could not claim to be the underdog; we were more like the New York Times of the airwaves."

When he landed at NPR, Edwards says he grew up co-hosting All Things Considered thanks to the tutelage of colleague Susan Stamberg, who remains a special correspondence for the network.

After he is tapped to anchor Morning Edition, we journey through some half-dozen election cycles on the program. Edwards recalls his favorite holiday traditions, like the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, as well his most tormenting experience: live unscripted coverage of 9/11.

We learn about his favorite guests, including beloved commentator Red Barber, and tidbits from the off-air chatter. Edwards says his most memorable interviews were with musicians and writers, such as author Norman Mailer and jazz musician Dave Brubeck. His single most satisfying interview, he adds, was with an inner-city priest who worked with young Latinos in Los Angeles.

Edwards is frank about his premature departure when NPR brass unceremoniously pulled the plug on the eve of his 25th year as host of Morning Edition. Large listener protests - thousands of letters according to NPR's ombudsman - caught NPR executives off guard as they scrambled for a coherent explanation for Edwards' firing. …

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