Doing Radio ‘My Way’
Bob Edwards, former voice of NPR’s
Thursday, August 25, 2005
For a quarter of a century, he hosted the station’s popular Morning Edition, drawing more than 13 million listeners each week. But that all changed in March of 2004 when NPR abruptly excused Edwards from his position as host. Accusations flew that the ousting was rooted in NPR’s desire to have a younger host and audience.
More than 50,000 listeners wrote to NPR in protest. Blogs were started. Web sites were launched to “Save Bob Edwards.”
NPR offered Edwards a job as “correspondent,” and Edwards said no. So after 30 years with NPR, he quit.
Nowadays, Edwards is doing radio his way. His home is XM Satellite Radio, where he hosts The Bob Edwards Show every weekday.
This weekend, Edwards will be in Monterey to host a fundraiser for Pacific Grove NPR affiliate KAZU. He will talk about his career, and the career of legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow, about whom Edwards recently wrote a book. A book signing will follow. Edwards spoke with the Weekly by phone last week.
Weekly: Did you always know you wanted to go into broadcasting?
Edwards: Always. I focused on news in my college years because there was so much going on. The cities and campuses were aflame. I wanted to be part of what was going on in the world without being a partisan. It fit perfectly with what I wanted to do. When I could reach the dial, at about 3, it became my buddy, my pal, my playmate. I wanted to be one of the voices in the box.
Weekly: Tell us about your departure from NPR.
Edwards: They didn’t want me to do daily programs anymore, at least not host them after 30 years. Then they said a lot of stuff that wasn’t true, and I realized I couldn’t work for them anymore and made them apologize. They had lost their composure because the things they were saying as the reasons for the change weren’t going over well. They started to disparage work I’d done, work for which we won all the big awards. That was over the line. I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s just a couple of people, but they’re running the place. I love NPR. But the institution is more valuable than that. It deserves better. Someday it’ll be there again.
Weekly: You’re still very angry.
Edwards: I was part of building an institution for 30 years. And that became something of which I’m very proud. They took that away from me, and I am angry. But I am proud of what I’m doing now. I remember that feeling 30 years ago from NPR, being the underdog, the pioneer, doing something that’s not been done before. I’m enjoying that all over again. Who gets to do that kind of thing twice in a lifetime?
Weekly: You’ve interviewed world leaders, legends, icons. Is there one who stands out as particularly memorable?
Edwards: It was just last week. His name is Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest working among gang members in East LA. He’s running businesses just to give them jobs. He’s weaning them out of gangs. He is an absolute hero. I was so moved. Once we produced it, I was moved again emotionally, just hearing it.
Weekly: Is there one who got away, the interview you couldn’t land?
Edwards: I wish I had been successful in getting Harper Lee or the reclusive JD Salinger. I’d love to talk to the Pope.
Weekly: In 37 years, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed dramatic changes in journalism. Where are we headed? Are we getting better at it, or are we experiencing this dramatic departure from something much more true?
Edwards: It’s a mess. It’s shock shows on television. We have journalists being put in jail. There’s no respect for the principles of journalism, of keeping confidential sources confidential. They talk about us wanting a special privilege like it’s ours to have. It’s not our privilege we’re protecting; it’s theirs. Nowadays, it’s all about making money. News divisions are expected to make money. There was no profit in my day. Everything is wrong. But I’m the classic old crank who is sure it was better in my day.
Weekly: What is The Bob Edwards Show on XM now?
Edwards: It follows my personal whims. It’s the people I want to interview, the ones I think are interesting and I think an audience would find interesting. It’s not necessarily people who would be regarded as chic, fashionable or titillating. I wanted this show to be more about ideas, about getting people thinking. I’m finally interviewing the people I want to talk to. At NPR, I was micromanaged down to syllables.
Weekly: Do you miss news?
Edwards: Yeah, a bit. It becomes who you are. But if I were doing news, I wouldn’t be doing this. I love what I’m doing.
Weekly: Right after you left NPR, you said that if you had your druthers, you’d still be doing Morning Edition but that XM was a freer environment, liberating. Do you still feel that way?
Edwards: Yes. I can’t believe my good luck. The support I’m getting from upstairs is enormous. The CEO quotes my interviews. He listens. It doesn’t get any better than that. To be doing it my way is the icing on the cake.
Weekly: Have you done what you set out to do?
Edwards: Well, it’s difficult to say. We always want to do more. I’ve accomplished the minimum of what I set out to do. Now I want to bring more people to XM and carve out a place in this jukebox, a niche for news and public affairs.
Weekly: You’ll be in Monterey to help raise money for our local public radio station, KAZU. What is it about public radio that drives you?
Edwards: It’s about radio being done for the right reason, other than as part of a synergy of some big corporation. Public radio is still local. It’s what they have over satellite. They’ve de-emphasized their local character. But it’s still real and right in public radio. It’s the only one you can be sure of is run by people in your town, and the voice you’re hearing is down the street. That’s less and less true in radio. But it’s still true in public radio. Public radio programming reflects imagination, creativity, and American life. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. I’m a true believer.
ON AUGUST 27 AT 8PM, EDWARDS WILL HOST A FUNDRAISER AT THE GOLDEN STATE THEATER IN MONTEREY. TICKETS ARE $10-$40 OR $150 FOR DINNER AND THE TALK. FOR TICKETS, CALL 375-7275.