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9/10/2014


Bob Edwards Show Ceases Production

Filed under: News, Radio Today — Charlie Summers @ 12:10 pm
P-Dog Outside the Washington, D.C.-based Studios

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog (and I thank you both) have met my daughter’s stuffed prairie dog, P-Dog, before…he’s quite the little traveling companion, and this time he went with me on Monday to the Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C. for my final visit to the XM Satellite Radio studios. (Yes, the merged company is named SiriusXM - but for this piece I’ll stick to the sign behind P-Dog.)

My purpose in the visit was to, bluntly, find out what the devil is going on with the show. Between the speculation last month reported by Politico, and the announcement I quoted last week, something certainly is. Where better to find the answer than at the source?

I should warn you, this post is going to randomly swing in two different directions; legitimate reportage discussing the future (or lack thereof) of the show, and simple fan-boi excitement at being around the crew that has kept me thinking every morning for the past decade. I apologize in advance for not being a totally dispassionate reporter, but by warning you up-front, you should be able to easily separate the two. Also, I will carefully note some things I have inferred from the conversations - some of the most interesting sections of conversations can be the silences and what prompts them.

After checking in with the guard’s station (and the merry mixups that entailed), producer Chad Campbell led me through the building to the office suite bracketed by the photographs of Edward R. Murrow and Red Barber. A quick hello to executive producer Ed McNulty and we were in Bob’s office.

Bob Edwards, Working in His Office

After pleasantries, I asked the main question; an only slightly more polite version of “WTF?!?” And it is here I got the straight scoop, and begin reporting facts, not opinion or speculation. The final newly-recorded-and-produced edition of The Bob Edwards Show will air September 26th, 2014, one week and one day before the tenth anniversary of the show and at the end of the current contract. Beginning September 29th, The Bob Edwards Show will consist of “the Best of Bob,” re-edits of interviews recorded over the almost-decade the program has been on the satellite airwaves.

Bob will remain with the new incarnation, limited to recording updated open/closes; and at least one (maybe more, I was reluctant to delve too deeply into personnel issues) producer will remain to edit and produce the repackaged conversions and possibly perform other duties around the building as required. But there will be no new interviews recorded, no weekly visits with Doyle McManus, just a daily clip show, and those producers not remaining with the show will be leaving SiriusXM. The weekend show, Bob Edwards Weekend, will continue to be distributed by PRI, but again will contain no new programming, just re-edited conversations up to ten years old.

Ok, lemme switch away from reporting facts and get into some inferences and opinions. I got the impression that the staff generally feels that the folks in New York running SiriuxXM never really understood the show the way XM’s management, and specifically CEO Hugh Panero, did. Considering that Sirius’ biggest “contribution” to satellite radio was Howard Stern, I guess any show targeted to those older than sophomoric adolescents, anyone who is interested in more intelligent radio fare than the sound of someone slurping gelatin shooters off of a nude stripper’s stomach is something of a mystery to these executives. If you assume everyone who listens to radio is an emotionally-stunted freshman, your focus group data will eventually validate your pre-conceived notions based on your group selection, and *poof* - you can “prove” that no one who listens to radio gives a frig for intelligent talk that requires the listener to think, and maybe even to even learn something.

Couple that with the constant cost-cutting SXM has been performing (increasing Wall Street value by dramatically cutting costs and programming while raising rates to ridiculous levels), and in retrospect the writing was on the wall for this program…after all, intelligent talk costs a whole lot more to produce, package, and deliver than the sound of midget bowling ever will.

What I admit confuses me is how PRI could continue to pay SiriusXM for Bob Edwards Weekend (please note that The Bob Edwards Show was the first satellite radio program to be sold to terrestrial stations, and still provides income to SiriusXM through costs PRI member stations pay to air the program). I also don’t get why the stations buying this package from PRI would put up with paying for ten-year-old interviews which, I would guess, won’t be heavily promoted as such. But then, PRI has its own financial issues, as does practically every public radio station in the country (sometime I’ll write a piece detailing why I blame National Public Radio for the problems stations have staying relevant), so maybe they all just have bigger things to worry about. It may be as simple as stations figuring, so long as we can have the voice of Bob Edwards continue to make our weekends sound more intelligent, who cares if the conversation is seven years old, right?

At any rate, Bob needs to return some telephone calls, so Chad (who, because he signed me into the security station is now stuck with keeping me close, presumably so I don’t fall down an elevator shaft or something) and I leave Bob’s office, and he returns to working on the interview prep for this afternoon’s recorded conversation while I borrow another desk and begin to make notes for this article and annoy everyone with the loud tone announcing I received a text from my wife…yes, I forgot to put the d*mned thing on silent, and am properly embarrassed. It amazes me how busy the office still is; while Chad types phones need to be answered, other producers lob questions back-and-forth, Ed pops out of his office for questions and clarifications, you’d never know by the level of activity that the show was drawing to a close. Yet there’s a sadness that permeates the suite…when producers talk to me, there’s a lot of past tense in use. There’s a wistful look in everyone’s eye. The final board is up behind the conference table. And Chad has cleaned out his desk drawers.

Sidebar: Bob told me an anecdote I’m going to share with you. Back when he first arrived at XM Satellite Radio, Anthony Cumia (the Anthony of Opie and Anthony) was sitting with him at the conference table. Anthony looked at Bob and said, “Here we are…the yin and yang of radio.” And both, ironically, were removed from SiriusXM for doing exactly what they do best…Bob for holding thoughtful conversations with his guests, and Anthony for going out of his way to shock and appall.

Bob Edwards In Studio Recording a Public Radio Station Promo

After a delightful lunch with Chad and Shelly Tillman (I wonder if that Thai restaurant would deliver this far north…) it’s a quick trip to the studio where Bob records a promo for a local station, a show open and other tracks. I have to admit the single take of the open surprised me a little, but it really shouldn’t have. After all, the guy is a National Radio Hall of Fame inductee, so knocking out a 60-second opening perfectly timed with the theme music is just another day at the office. Watching Chad duck the theme in real-time was also a surprise…the two of them working effortlessly together made it look really simple. Trust me, it ain’t.

Back to the offices for the 1:00pm staff meeting. Or…not. Apparently there was a vote, and the staff meeting was cancelled, so I had time to chat a bit with producers Cristy Meiners and Kim Dawson. Remember, Chad was stuck with making sure I didn’t steal the Sirius silverware, so the poor guy was forced to hear the same tired joke every time someone referred to me as the show’s “biggest fan.” To his credit and with my eternal gratitude, he never once groaned (audibly, anyway). And as an aside, I’m supremely grateful I never needed to make a trip to The Orson…the poor guy would probably have had to follow me there, too.

Next, a walk back to the studio to prepare for recording an interview with author, sports writer, and commentator John Feinstein. I have to admit, when first told he was to be interviewed today, I immediately heard in my head his standard, “Bye, Baab” tag; I’ve heard countless conversations between Bob and John over the years, and admit I was a little intimidated when he was lead into the studio by producer Dan Bloom. After all, this is the guy who can make sports interesting and exciting even to someone like me, who has never been able to comprehend why grown men paint their faces and cheer on “my team” composed of people who are paid millions of dollars to play children’s games. I discovered he is a very nice guy; he introduced himself to this studio interloper (as if he needed an introduction!), said hello to everyone else, and was set up in the studio by Dan, who returned to record the conversation. And wide-ranging it was, with the two producers and lone visitor in the control room frequently howling with laughter at his refreshing candor…the guy has solid opinions based on decades of writing about sports and isn’t even a little shy about sharing them, seasoning them with wit and humor. I know the conversation will be edited, but dear lord please let them keep what John would ask Tiger Woods if he got a no-holds-barred one-on-one with him!

John Feinstein - Yes, I know it’s a bit out of focus. I found myself uncharacteristically flustered upon meeting him.

The conversation wound down, with John making some closing comments about Bob that you may or may not hear but I did, and then it was over, with no pencils pitched. The audio files were moved for editing, and the studio closed down. (Watching the audio files get shunted from place to place, server to server, seemed to this observer unnecessarily complex; I couldn’t help but think there should be a more fluid and intuitive way to manipulate the files throughout the system, but then streamlining computer workflow is a part of my job I enjoy.) I went back to the offices to say my final goodbyes to the staff and host, and then Chad and I left the building, me for the final time as at the end of the month there will be little left for me to visit.

It should be noted that the last time I was in that building, almost nine years ago, there was a pretty serious party going on, so this may not be the proper comparison, but I got the sense this time while I was in the building that it was…empty. Where before people were constantly ducking into and out of studios up and down the hall, “On Air” lights constantly flashing on and off, now there was only silence and darkness. The studios exist, they have their station signs on them, but there’s no one inside of them to give them life. And as of the end of this month, one more studio in this dying structure will be finally darkened.

Here is where I would normally make some strident “call to action,” imploring you, dear reader, to cancel your SiriusXM radios in complaint, write to your congresscritters, or storm the castles with torches and pitchforks. But the truth is, it’s far too late to save intelligent radio on SiriusXM; their idea of news is the Today show audio, their idea of talk is Opie-minus-Anthony, always looking for the cheapest, not the finest. I can only hope that somewhere, be it at local public radio stations, large public media distribution companies, or heck, just one of the 1% dropping pocket change, there is some money lying around to pay for smart, intelligent conversations, lovingly produced and packaged. I’m getting sick and tired of the dumbing-down of American media, and the loss of the Edwards show is just the most recent, and the most personally devastating, example. We need more programs and conversationalists that don’t talk down to us, not fewer…and I invite suggestions on how to pay for them.

Following are more photos taken at the D.C. studios, as well as a short video excerpt of the conversation Bob had with John Feinstein. Don’t miss the photos…there’s even one in 3D! Click the thumbnails for a large version, and click on the video to play it.

Post edited the evening of 9/10 to make clearer “the Best of Bob” is a description, not a new name for the program. Edited 9/11 to clarify PRI member stations.

Watch Now:
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icon for podpress  Bob Edwards Interviews John Feinstein September 8, 2014 [0:40m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

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One Response to “Bob Edwards Show Ceases Production” »

     

  1. Charlie Summers Says:

    There is an odd coda to this story. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I am in possession of the Bob Edwards Show archives. While going through the DAT (Digital Audio Tape) backups that were made in the studio, this evening I found one that contains a promo for WHRV (”Cold read, one take!”), a complete show tracking from open to close, and then an interview with John Feinstein. Yup, I found the DAT tape that was running while I sat in the studio control room on September 8, 2014.

    I am such a fanboi to be this excited about finding this tape, but hey…


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