A Decade as NPR’s Amiable Morning Man : Radio: Bob Edwards celebrates 10 years Friday as host of “Morning Edition,” National Public Radio’s two-hour news magazine.


Bob Edwards is one father who is home when his kids troop in from school each afternoon. He is also one of the few men whose 4-year-old daughter tucks him in for the night. Well, at least for part of the night.

For 10 years now, Edwards has retired for the evening at 7 so he can climb out of bed at 1:30 a.m. each weekday to host “Morning Edition,” National Public Radio’s two-hour morning news program, which celebrates its 10th birthday Friday.

Over the years, the Washington-based show has covered everything from the Iranian hostage crisis to the Pina Bausch Wuppertaler Tanztheater performing at the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival, from the stock market crash to whether Placido Domingo sings in the shower, from the attempted assassination of President Reagan to sportscaster Red Barber’s assessment of Florida’s camellias, from the devastation of AIDS to the April Fool’s demise of a Zen baseball pitcher who could throw a ball nearly 200 m.p.h.


For all of those 10 years, Edwards’ soothing voice and friendly but incisive questions have guided his listeners through this maze of tragedy, culture and the somewhat bizarre, providing one of the most probing, most comprehensive roundups of news both at home and abroad available anywhere in broadcasting.

The show, heard locally live from 3 to 5 a.m. and then repeated from 5 to 7 a.m. and again from 7 to 9 a.m. on KCRW-FM (89.9) and KPCC-FM (89.3), has earned countless awards and accolades. It has also earned a devout following that now surpasses the audience of NPR’s older afternoon news magazine, “All Things Considered.” More than 4.8 million people nationwide wake up to Edwards’ potpourri of news and interviews every day, on a par with the audience for “Today,” the top-rated NBC-TV morning show.

“I’m still affected by the illusion of radio, the illusion that the person on the radio is talking only to me,” Edwards said, explaining the appeal of NPR-styled radio journalism. “When you watch television, you’re not under any kind of illusion like that. When you watch Dan (Rather) or Peter (Jennings), you’re always a part of a huge mass audience. In radio, you don’t have a sense of that mass audience. I don’t know why. It’s magic.”

The other advantage of radio, Edwards said in an interview from his Arlington, Va., home this week, is that it doesn’t have to worry about pictures; listeners create their own.

“If we’re doing a story about a factory, you, the listener, hear that factory and by hearing it, you see it,” Edwards said. “You form that picture in your mind and it doesn’t distract from the content. It enhances what I’m saying.

“If you’re watching Lesley Stahl on television and she’s doing a stand up somewhere, chances are you’re looking at her, thinking, ‘Boy, she looks good in red,’ or ‘Hasn’t she done something to her hair? Hey, Louise, come look at this,’ and you’re not listening to her. You’re distracted. We don’t have that.”


Ten years ago, the world almost didn’t have “Morning Edition.” The pilot program, developed when the Corp. for Public Broadcasting gave NPR $2 million in seed money, was a disaster, and the two top producers and the hosts were fired 10 days before the program was to debut. One week before “Morning Edition” went on the air, the new producer asked Edwards, who at the time was Susan Stamberg’s co-host on “All Things Considered,” to anchor the show for the first 30 days.

“I thought, ‘Well, what the hell? They’re desperate, and now they’ll owe me,’ ” Edwards said. “What a fool. But then I started enjoying it. It was exciting to be a part of something new, to have the challenge of building something up to the level of ‘All Things Considered.’

“And I thought if we could put on a halfway decent program, I would have a higher profile than I could have working alongside Susan Stamberg, who was really the star of ‘All Things Considered.’ I had more identity. Frankly, there was some ego involved.”

So, ego gratified, Edwards, who hails from Louisville, Ky., and began his radio career at a tiny station in New Albany, Ind., has stayed for 10 years, even though it has meant surrendering any hope of working normal hours. And, though he jokes that his low-key suburban home life with his wife and three daughters makes him seem more an aluminum-siding salesman than a media celebrity, he is not about to give it up.

“I think of leaving on days when I get ticked off at my boss, but then I think, ‘Where can I go?’ I can’t go off to television and start out at age 42. I want to grow old, for one thing, and they don’t like that in television. I can’t go into print (journalism) because I can’t spell. This is the finest news program in radio. Where do I go? To one that’s not so good?”

What makes the program so good, said Ellen McDonnell, the show’s senior producer, is Edwards.


“Everyone feels they know Bob. We did research for our anniversary to see where we’ve been and where we should be going, and the one thing that constantly came through is his warmth. People really believe they know Col. Bob from Kentucky, that he’s their friend. It’s stunning.”

Edwards said that if these “friends” saw him in person, many would be disappointed. When he travels around the country to NPR affiliates, he said, he often encounters people who don’t believe he is the Bob Edwards.

“Generally, people think I’m in my mid-50s, short, fat and bald. That’s just radio,” said Edwards, who is tall, lanky and wears his hair long. “People have an idea of what I should look like, and normally we don’t conform to the image that listeners have of us. One man told me, ‘It’s a shame that you don’t look like you sound.’ The only reply I have is, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

Listeners are rarely disappointed, however, that Edwards imbues the show with his own quirky, sometimes wicked sense of humor, picking out a short but weird wire story to read at the half-hour break and telling listeners which celebrities are celebrating birthdays each day. Earlier this week, on Halloween, he noted that Jane Pauley, who last week announced that she would be stepping down as co-anchor of the “Today” show at the end of the year, turned 39.

When asked if he was envious that Pauley was leaving her early-morning job, Edwards quipped: “Only when she talks to her accountant.”

What keeps him crawling out of bed each early, early morning, he said, is the endless variety of subjects he gets to explore. Every day he talks to politicians, economists, scientists, teachers, athletes, arms negotiators, novelists and artists.

“You can indulge your interests in all different fields, even fields that you don’t know anything about,” Edwards said. “I don’t know a lot about opera, but it was fun to interview a person like Placido Domingo and ask him if he sings in the shower. He said he doesn’t, but I have a feeling he does.”


He said he usually forgets the politicians rather quickly because they’re news, history, an immediately perishable commodity. What he remembers is talking to some of his heroes from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll--Little Richard, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins and Carole King.

After the countless interviews over the past 10 years, is there anyone he’d really like to speak with during the next 10?

“The Pope,” Edwards said. “Any Pope. And J.D. Salinger. My fantasy is I’m on the phone with the Pope and I have to say, ‘Excuse me, Your Holiness, but I’ve got J.D. Salinger on the other line.’ ”