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Bob Edwards and satellite radio
Anchor says he’s ‘just doing public radio someplace else’

Originally published in Current, Aug. 9, 2004
By Jeremy Egner

After more than 30 years’ work for NPR and a summer of soul-searching and public speculation about his future, Bob Edwards appeared in Austin, Texas, on July 30 to put the poignant finishing touches on his career with the network.

Two days after an NPR reporter revealed the ousted longtime host of Morning Edition was defecting to XM Satellite Radio, Edwards appeared at the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in Austin to accept a DEI award recognizing his award-winning work for NPR. Amid multiple standing ovations from a ballroom full of station staffers, Edwards thanked public radio for the “best 30 years of my life.”

“That’s a long time to bond with an audience and with all of you,” he said.

Edwards’ last day on Morning Edition was April 30. Since then, during a long nationwide tour to promote his Edward R. Murrow biography, he has often acknowledged he was considering other job offers. NPR had assigned Edwards to do feature interviews with people in the news, he told Current in April, but he said then he would try to do other things he was interested in.

NPR shocked and angered many Morning Edition fans March 23 by reassigning Edwards to a senior correspondent position. The network wanted to strengthen the program by having two hosts, an idea Edwards reportedly resisted. NPR officials say he wanted to remain a solo anchor, but Edwards said he wasn’t formally given that option.

In May, NPR President Kevin Klose apologized for the network’s handling of the transition, telling a crowd of station managers, “I actually am embarrassed to think . . . of all the missteps we took here.”

The highly public divorce was awkward at best, but Edwards capped his last day as an NPR employee with a graceful, funny farewell address at the conference.

“I’m not leaving public radio,” he told the crowd, “I’m just doing public radio someplace else.”

“It’s an ideal I will always support,” he said, “and I’ll continue to visit your stations to help raise money whenever you ask.”
“But can we please have fewer of these nonsmoking, beer-and-wine-only receptions?” added Edwards, a fan of cigarettes and Jack Daniels. “Let’s put the ‘pub’ back into public radio.”

The speech was the coda to what Edwards described as a “90-day lovefest” in which he crisscrossed the country on his book tour and netted approximately $1.2 million for 65 stations in fundraising events along the way.

The tour, originally slated for three weeks, was extended as Edwards rode a wave of public empathy.

Edwards looked back on the wrenching period and the salve of his book tour just before a July 29 book signing event in Austin. Reclining on a cowskin-covered couch in a hotel bar, the weary but agreeable anchor said that while he was sad about ending his NPR tenure, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue hosting a daily program.

“Once you’ve done that, it’s hard to switch to ‘Oh, maybe you’ll hear him today, maybe you’ll hear him three days from now—whatever happened to Bob?’” he said. “With a daily show, you’ll never have to say, ‘Whatever happened to Bob?’”

Before news of his new job came out, Edwards said NPR execs had been “nervous that I was going to make some kind of announcement here in Austin,” and asked him to avoid disrupting the PRDMC that way. “Then they ran a story — that makes no sense to me at all,” he said. “If they were afraid it was going to disrupt the conference, why did they advance the ball?”

The network, in a statement, wished Edwards good luck and thanked him for his contributions to public radio.

The Bob Edwards Show will consist entirely of interviews with a variety of newsmakers and personalities, with breaking news handled by BBC hourly newscasts. Executive Producer Mark Schramm, whose 20-year pubradio career included 15 at Morning Edition, is recruiting producers with pubradio experience to fill out the staff. He says the new show, because it won’t be “wedded to the Morning Edition clock,” will be able to let interviews run as long as desired. “If we think we have a terrific 30 minutes of radio, then listeners are going to hear it at a half-hour,” he said.

The anchor returns to the air Oct. 4, working seven blocks from his old newsroom in one of more than 80 digital studios in XM’s vast radio factory, where former NPR colleague Martin Goldsmith already runs a classical channel. Edwards is predictably excited about the new gig. However, as he prepared for the last stop of the Bob Edwards summer tour, he allowed it’s no easy thing to leave the place “where I thought I’d retire from if I didn’t die first.”

“All along, I thought the book would have been a very nice station premium for the 25th anniversary of Morning Edition in November,” he said. “Now not only will I not be hosting the program, I won’t be on the payroll. So that’s very weird.”

Web page posted Aug. 13, 2004
Current
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2004

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