A Voice in the Box – Bob Edwards (Netgalley)

When I saw “Bob Edwards” I pounced on this Netgalley offering, and was glad to be granted access – thank you to them. Probably twenty years ago a friend twigged me on to NPR, and I didn’t look at another radio station for years. The only reason I stopped listening in 2008 was that I reached my tolerance level for politics and had to have music – but I missed Morning Edition and All Things Considered; I missed Bob Edwards and Carl Kassel and Michele Norris and Robert Siegel and Linda Wertheimer and Nina Totenberg and Steve Innskeep and Renee Montagne (and Faith Middleton and Kai Ryssdal and John Dankosky and Ray Hardman) like friends removed from my life. But I could not tolerate even one more minute of election coverage. (Yay – we’re coming up on that time rapidly again. Hurrah.) I began listening again a while later, but with one thing and another it has not been practical to have it on in the car or at work.

And I still miss it. I miss driveway moments – I remember sitting in the parking lot of the restaurant where I was supposed to be picking up dinner listening to a story about Gene Amole that was one of the most enchanting and moving things I ever heard. I remember one moment which should have been in a driveway, because I almost went off the road when Linda Wertheimer followed a listener letter about Star Wars with “NPR this is.” Even stories about things I hadn’t the remotest interest in beforehand were captivating. (And on the station I used to listen to, the reception for which fades drastically and quickly, I used to know I was late if John Lienhard’s “Engines of Our Ingenuity” came on and I wasn’t within sight of work. Yeah. I miss it. I miss the sense of humor that produced the Nina Totin’ Bag. I miss the sheer intelligence; with network news too often I watch with the firm conviction that I’m smarter than not only the people I’m looking at but miles smarter than the idiots who put the words in their mouths. With NPR I am secure in the knowledge that I am being provided with reliable information by writers and broadcasters (often one and the same) who are miles more intelligent than I am – which is very comforting in regards to the least of issues, much less the vital ones. I love NPR, and it would be on right now if I had the choice. (Even though I did just win a $500 shopping spree from The River. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry.  Excited.)

Morning Edition

Image via Wikipedia

It’s the gaps in my listenership that explain how I did not know that Bob Edwards was – for reasons unknown, at least to Bob – fired from his position as the Voice of Morning Edition for just cruelly shy of 25 years. I’d heard something, knew that the hosting duties had passed on, but the ripples never reached me, somehow. And I’m utterly dismayed. This memoir is, in places, disconcerting in its bitterness against NPR in general but more specifically Ken Stern – not that I in any way think Bob Edwards doesn’t have the right to be deeply bitter. I think he’s been class itself in how he’s handled the ridiculous and inexplicable situation. But it leaves me deeply disappointed in my beloved NPR. Damn. Suddenly I’m glad I wasn’t connected at the time. Still, his affection for and loyalty to his fellow broadcasters, his guests, and above all his listeners throughout the years is uppermost.

A Voice in the Box is what Bob Edwards wanted to be from his earliest memories, always enamored with the magic of radio. And that is what he became, through a textbook example of reaching goals through sheer determination, focus, hard work, and refusal to give up. He takes us through his youth to an enviable college experience, to his first penny-ante jobs and into his stint on (Armed Forces Radio) in Korea and, eventually, to NPR and out again. A lot of what attracted me to NPR is what led him there – intelligence and a sense of humor; and, of course, his long presence there contributed to the same.

He pulls no punches about the duplicity involved in his departure from Morning Edition and, subsequently, NPR; he justifiably gloats a tad bit about the tens of thousands of protest calls and letters and emails, and the standing ovations – and rapid job offers – he received on the book tour (Bobapalooza) he embarked on immediately after. In other areas – failed marriages, other job endings – he is starkly honest about his own culpability, not yielding to the temptation to put the blame for divorces on the stresses of a job that required him to get up at 1 AM every weekday; it follows that the blame for his “reassignment” away from Morning Edition (it bears repeating: LESS THAN SIX MONTHS BEFORE HIS SHOW’S TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY) is placed where it ought to be. It’s incredibly sad that an institution that has given me and millions of others so much pleasure – yes, and joy – should be so prone to the same pathetic bureaucratic lunacy as any other company. (“The company’s press release stated that I was being replaced in order to ‘refresh the program to meet the changing needs of listeners.’ Listeners had not discerned that their needs had changed, and they recognized press-release gobbledygook when they saw it.”) In a way, success ruined NPR. Damn.

But, as Morning Edition moved on, so did he. One of the job offers he was almost immediately presented with was a daily show on what was XM Radio – and he very shortly joined Channel 133. And there he has been able to concentrate his focus on exactly where he wants it to go, to do more of purely what he wants to do – which is, for the most part, to talk to people. His passion for finding out people’s stories is what always made him such a wonderful companion, and … I admit it. Now I want Sirius XM Radio.

If the bitterness made this difficult to read, there was still much joy to be found in the anecdotes about fellow broadcasters and about the wild variety of people he interviewed through his career. I know and love cowboy, poet, philosopher, former large-animal veterinarian (not vegetarian) Baxter Black; I did not know Father Greg Boyle, and I hope to find the stories about him archived somewhere. The same goes for “Stories from 3rd Med – Surviving a Jungle ER”: “There were no defibrillators available to 3rd Med, so Dr. Jack Hagan and corpsman John Little fashioned one from a pair of kitchen knives, an electrical cord, and a generator.” And so on. It wouldn’t be hard to listen to nothing but archived stories for the next few years. I’m tempted.

I’ve been subscribed to the podcast of his weekend show for a while now, and – yes, there’s Bob Edwards, the dry humor and warm deep voice with whom I spent my morning commutes and – when I was lucky and had complete control over what I listened to – my mornings at work. It was a pleasure to meet him more thoroughly in these digital pages.

Now I want Carl Kassell’s biography. (And his voice on my answering machine.)

A couple of quotes:

This has me worried in light of recent developments in the GOP:

One of the major Republican campaign promises was to reduce the size of the Washington government bureaucracy. One of their big targets was the Department of Education, but eliminating an entire cabinet department would take time. They needed a scalp real fast – something that was easy pickings – a federal agency they thought no one would fight for. They chose the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the agency that channels federal funds to public radio stations and other recipients. … This was not just an idle thread; it was a fight the Republicans entered with enthusiasm. Newt Gingrich, destined to become Speaker when the House convened, threatened to use “the power of the gavel” to kill CPB. He promised he “will not even recognize a member who rises to propose funds for public broadcasting.” … They also greatly underestimated the popularity of public broadcasting, which, after all, was about much more than NPR news. Barney and Big Bird became symbols of the battle. In a match between stuffed animals and stuffed shirts, always bet on the bird.

May it still be so. I’ll keep an ear to the ground for when my letters and emails might be required.

On a related subject:

NPR should stop paying attention to right-wing criticism. The badgering of NPR is never going to stop – especially if it’s working. NPR should just use its own good judgment, report the facts, and not worry if political partisans don’t like it.


Thank you, Bob.

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2 Responses to A Voice in the Box – Bob Edwards (Netgalley)

  1. Thomas says:

    This sounds like a great read. There was a good interview with Bob Edwards on The Book Report on WIOD 610 AM in Miami. You can pick up the archives on http://bookreportradio.com. This show is rapidly becoming my main source of reading suggestions.
    Bob Edwards reminds us that there is sanity and intelligence out there.

  2. stewartry says:

    Thanks! I need to find a way to pack more hours into the day so I can catch up on Bob Edwards’s show, and now on The Book Report …

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