| Home | Interview With NPR's Bob Edwards -- October 2000
September 16, 2014

Bob Edwards has hosted National Public Radio’s daily newsmagazine 'Morning Edition' since its premiere in November 1979. Morning Edition is the most listened-to program in public radio, boasting 8.4 million listeners each week. At what age did you know you wanted to be in radio?

Bob Edwards: Three. Well, we didn't have a television in those days. I was 3 in 1950. And I loved the radio. The radio was my pal. I was just crazy about it. I wanted to be one of the voices in the box. It was just a magical thing. These voices came out of the box, as well as music and news and drama. You still had the soap operas on the radio in those days. I used to listen to the soap operas with my grandmother. I got to know every format of every station and who was on and what time. In the evening you could get these Clear Channel stations from all over the country. And I would wonder about these towns. I was encouraged to read aloud in class and vocalize. So that directs a person into "well, I'll make use of my voice." It all coalesces somehow. In college, I got interested in news because the world was coming apart. The civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women's right movement. That focused my radio ambitions toward news. Where did you start in the business?

Bob Edwards: At a tiny station in New Albany, Indiana, which is right across from the river from Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up. The Louisville stations were loath to hire beginners, so I had to go across the river. It was like working at a little paper where you learned to set type, sells ads, do obituaries, cover fires. That's what working at a small radio station is like. You have to spin records, fix the plumbing, try to sell ads. It's a good place to learn. The audience is small so you can be bad. What is an average workday?

Bob Edwards: I wake about 1 a.m. I'm in the office by 2 a.m. We're on the air at 5. Between 2 and 5 I'm reading in to find out what's been going on while I've been asleep. I have to write the open -- the introduction to each hour, and what we call "the return," which is the kicker at the bottom of each hour. I'll do interviews with people on the other side of the world, where they're making news. Some are pre-taped interviews because maybe we can't get that person live or maybe we're not sure it's going to work out right so we tape it an hour in advance. That's also a time when we mix pieces. Someone will leave me a script that they've written that incorporates my voice with music and other elements. We want to produce that so that it comes out a nice well-produced piece of radio. That's what I'm doing up until 5 a.m. After each program I'm fixing it, because we're on in other time zones, and when the news changes, I have to update it. I go home by noon, and I'm in bed by 6 p.m. I get up at 1 and do it again. What are people's impression when they meet you?

Bob Edwards: Oh they used to say, 'We expected you to be so much older.' But they don't say that anymore. They haven't said that in about 10 years. No, they usually say, 'You're nothing like I imagined.' I'll say, 'What did you imagine?' And they'll say, 'You don't want to know.' It's just that people have an image -- whatever that image is. I think that we should never have our pictures taken. They shouldn't know. Let 'em keep the mystery. What makes radio so special as a way of delivering the news?

Bob Edwards: For one thing, you can get old, fat, bald and nobody knows and nobody cares. So there's great longevity in radio, more security there. Nobody cares about your wardrobe, what your tie looks like, or even if you're wearing one, and I don't. It's also a more personal medium. It seems to go directly to one's brain. There are no pictures to distract. The pictures are created by the listener, with a little help from the broadcaster. The pictures are perfect. If you're showing pictures, different things in that picture can distract from the spoken word. So maybe the viewer is not absorbing everything the viewer should absorb. The viewer is looking at the correspondent instead of listening, thinking 'oh, she's done something with her hair.' Or, 'doesn't she look lovely in red?' With radio, the listener absorbs everything. In my case, the listener is often in an automobile driving to work. You can concentrate on the road while still getting an audio message that can be riveting. I hope it is sometimes [laughs]. You have interviewed more than 16,000 people on 'Morning Edition' in the past 20 years. Who is the most interesting person you've interviewed?

Bob Edwards: Any interview with [radio sports broadcaster] Red Barber was always an adventure. He was a commentator for NPR for 12 years. It was the most distinctive part of the broadcast. It's the thing people commented on the most. They just loved him. It was done in the form of a 4-minute conversation every Friday. And it was so spontaneous. I just didn't know where the guy was going to go. And people loved that element of it. And he would surprise them, too. You had to be there. Red brought out more of my personality. I'm a very straight-laced, conservative news kind of guy. And he brought more of the real me out there, and kind of let me know it was okay to be more human on the air. He got me out of that news persona and into a more conversational style. He taught me to be a better interviewer, I think, because I had to be ready to go in whatever direction he was going to go in. He would throw me curveballs just to see what I would do. He would ask me questions. So I think he made me a better broadcaster and a better interviewer. Is that why you decided to write a book about your time with Red?

Bob Edwards: He was so special to the listeners, and they were so blown away when he died, even though he was 84. They felt robbed. At the time of his death, they were bawling, writing me letters and e-mails telling me about their feelings. And I thought, my God, they should have a little keepsake to recall those conversations we had. On a personal level, is there one 'Morning Edition' interview that stands out?

Bob Edwards: William Diggs. He had a little museum in Charles County, Maryland, that was all about slavery. What was really interesting was all the artifacts he had were from his own family, from his ancestors. The ball and chain that held his great grandfather. The bill of sale for his great grandmother. It made such an impression on me that I saw this horrible institution in a different light. I wasn't able to see it reading a history book. But when you see personal artifacts relating to -- by genealogy at least -- a living human being, it was just more impressive to me than just about anything I've ever read about slavery before. What interview was the most popular with listeners or got the most reaction?

Bob Edwards: The regular thing with Red got the most. At any given point, a news figure -- a president, a prime minister or somebody like that, will be important for the moment. That's the problem with news interviews, you work your tail off to get prominent figures in the news on the radio, but once they've been on, the event passes, the urgency, the issues you talked about evaporate. That's the nature of news. They're not important any more. They've been resolved somehow so that the interviews don't stick in one's mind. What's the future of public radio?

Bob Edwards: I've never been able to predict the future of anything. Public radio has always been so powerless. Any outfit that has to beg its listeners for money is an organization that has to constantly please its listeners or it will dry up and go away. It shouldn't work when you think about it. We're not owned by anybody. We're just an odd duck. All we do right is programming. Do you think NPR is doing a good job?

Bob Edwards: I do, I do. I think it sets the standard for broadcasting, for radio and television. I think we're doing the right things for the right reasons. We're not doing it to sell products. We're not doing it to be popular. We're doing it because in our judgment these stories are important to do, and at this length and this much depth. How long do you plan to host Morning Edition?

Bob Edwards: As long as they want me to, and as long as they are happy with my work. And as long as NPR remains the place I always thought it to be. Is your enthusiasm as strong as it was 20 years ago?

Bob Edwards: I'm still excited at being at a microphone and talking to listeners. I love that. It's the most basic element of what I do and I still enjoy it very much.

BIO FROM NPR.COM: Bob Edwards joined NPR in 1974 when the organization was in its third year of operation. Prior to becoming host of Morning Edition, he was co-host of NPR's evening newsmagazine 'All Things Considered.' Edwards’ 1993 book, Fridays with Red, chronicles his radio friendship with sports broadcasting legend Red Barber, with whom he talked about sports, camellias, and the nature of man every Friday morning for nearly 12 years. Edwards and Morning Edition have earned accolades of all kinds, most recently a 1999 George Foster Peabody Award. Edwards is also the recipient of the 1984 Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for "outstanding contributions to public radio." In 1990, Edwards won a Gabriel Award from the National Catholic Association of Broadcasters for "Born Drunk," a five-part Morning Edition series about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He won his first Gabriel Award in 1987 for a Morning Edition story titled "Bill of Sale: A Black Heritage." In 1995, Edwards’ report, "The Changing of the Guard: The Republican Revolution" earned him the prestigious Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for excellence in radio journalism. Edwards is a national vice president of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He and his wife, Sharon, have three children.

Earlier Interviews:

  • CNBC's Sharon Epperson -- September 2000
  • David Maraniss of The Washington Post -- April 2000
  • CNN's Wolf Blitzer -- March 2000

    Copyright © 2000, LLC. All rights reserved.