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Long Morning Edition tryouts segue to anchorhood

Originally published in Current, Dec. 13, 2004
By Mike Janssen

Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne dropped “interim” from their titles Dec. 6 [2004] and became the permanent hosts of NPR’s Morning Edition.

The former NPR reporters had served as interim hosts since March, when NPR reassigned longtime anchor Bob Edwards to a reporting position. That decision sparked a public furor and prompted tens of thousands of outraged calls, letters and e-mails to NPR.

Some station execs in public radio sided with the angry masses, but others supported a change, saying Edwards seemed to have run out of steam after anchoring the show for almost 25 years. They predicted a two-host format would improve the show.

In a summer review of Inskeep and Montagne’s performance, a panel of program directors assembled by NPR praised them for sounding more with-it in interviews and for being able to draw on their reporting experience.

Edwards, who left NPR to host an interview show on XM Radio, congratulated his replacements in a statement. “Best wishes to Renee and Steve as they take on one of the most draining but rewarding jobs in broadcasting,” he said. “. . . The folks at Morning Edition pull off a Herculean task every day by producing the best radio news program there is. I’ll be listening and everyone else should, too.”

NPR replaced Edwards with the two-host model it had tested during his vacations, when Montagne and Inskeep often substituted for him. NPR execs say the setup gives the hosts more flexibility to cover breaking news, prepare for upcoming shows and report from the field. Edwards rarely left the studio.

Montagne and Inskeep bring years of domestic and foreign reporting experience to the anchor jobs.

Inskeep, who joined NPR in 1996, reported from Iraq and Afghanistan and covered the 2000 presidential election. A 1990 graduate of Morehead State University in Kentucky, Inskeep worked at pubradio stations WMKY in Georgetown, Ky., and WBAI, WFUV and WBGO in the New York City area. He also freelanced at commercial WOR-AM.

Montagne, an NPR journalist since 1989, has reported extensively from Afghanistan and South Africa, winning a duPont-Columbia Award for her South African coverage. Before coming to NPR she freelanced for the network and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in New York. In San Francisco, she reported for Pacific News Service and served as news director for community station KPOO.

Both Montagne and Inskeep have hosted NPR newsmags. Inskeep hosted Weekend All Things Considered, and Montagne co-hosted All Things Considered in the 1980s. More recently, she was a frequent backup host for Morning Edition.

As co-hosts, Montagne and Inskeep have traded off studio duties to take such field assignments as surveying voters before the elections and covering Afghanistan’s transition to democracy.

“The audience loves the fact that the hosts went where the news was,” says Ellen McDonnell, Morning Edition’s e.p. They also liked hearing Montagne interview Arnold Schwarzenegger in his California governor’s office and Inskeep tail John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Field experience pays off when anchors return to the studio, says Inskeep, who visited swing states to hear voters’ opinions. “When you come back into the studio and are doing political interviews with a pollster or an analyst, it’s a little bit harder for them to push you around or spin you, because you’ve had this grounding in reality,” Inskeep says.
Inskeep says he and Montagne have also introduced a new interviewing style. “We do ask harder questions, but we still do it in a civil way,” he says.

"Our instincts are to wing a lot of it — to go in with knowledge and explore the subject,” Montagne says. The two more often stray from scripted questions during interviews to follow up on intriguing remarks, she says.

There have been more live chats, and having two hosts has helped the show land interviews at previously unworkable times of day. That can mean 12-hour days for Montagne and Inskeep — but neither host is complaining.

"The one thing about us being new to this is we’ll do anything,” says Montagne, who hosts from Los Angeles and starts her workday at 11:30 p.m.

"In 10 years, talk to me again,” she adds.

Inskeep and Montagne are “very much involved” in the show’s day-to-day editorial discussions, McDonnell says. “There’s a give and take that goes on, so the best ideas get on, the most challenging questions come up,” she says. “It’s a different level of discussion.”

McDonnell says that with the show devoting the past year to refining its new hosting setup, staffers have yet to explore all the directions they could take.

A tough part of the job is trying to connect with listeners, Montagne says, “particularly after Bob, who so many people had an emotional link with.”

Inskeep would like to try hosting the show from remote locations. He also wants to introduce recurring features such as the Monday business news segments devoted to technology that debuted last week.

"We can now start dreaming and come up with new ways of going out there and bringing the news to the morning audience in ways we don’t even know yet,” McDonnell says. “The potential is limitless.”

Well, not quite limitless. “No more radio dramas,” she says, referring to the debacle of the comic play “I’d Rather Eat Pants,” which aired two years ago and flopped bigtime. “We’ve been there, done that.”

Web page posted Dec. 15, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Current Publishing Committee

Usually on opposite coasts, Montagne and Inskeep bumped elbows in Washington last week. (Photo: Current.)


Two years earlier NPR named Inskeep to host Weekend ATC.

Mornings without Bob Edwards: The announcement shocked fans, the explanations befuddled

Why NPR did it and what listeners said.


NPR news release, Dec. 6.

Montagne and Inskeep in the studio