Ok, let me start out by admitting I am anything but unbiased. I have spent almost my entire adult life waking up to the voice of Bob Edwards, on Morning Edition and now on The Bob Edwards Show, to the extent where I’m not certain what I’ll do to get moving in the morning if the guy ever retires. He is an intimate friend, just as he is to millions more who start their day with him in their ear. So I’m not going to pretend this is an impartial review…I can’t help but bring the last thirty-plus years along.
Now that that’s out of the way, Mr. Edwards’ new memoir, A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio, begins with what must be the high point of his career, his induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Edward R. Murrow and the following year Walter Lanier “Red” Barber. This is only a few months after being removed from the role of host on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in what is certainly NPR’s most idiotically-handled decision ever, and only a few short weeks into his blind leap into the brave new world of satellite radio with his possible listening audience only a pittance of his former program’s weekly rating.
The rest of the book is simply how he started, how he survived, and how he prevailed.
From memories of his childhood in Louisville, KY and his burgeoning desire to be one of the voices in the box he listened to so often, through his first radio job, hired less for his skill at the microphone than you might think, through his work in the American Forces Radio and Television Service (those of us who are familiar with the Armed Forces Radio Service of the 1940’s might have trouble with the frequent name changes of this organization), to his graduate work at American University under the tutelage of his mentor, Ed Bliss, through his hiring at the then wet-behind-the-ears National Public Radio, Mr. Edwards displays a newsman’s respect for the facts while maintaining an irreverence that frequently appears unexpectedly. (When reading about his time in Korea, I swear one line actually made me hear a snare drum rim-shot.) Indeed, the book frequently sparkles when he steps a little away from reportage and allows us not only to see what he sees, but know what he feels.
This is nowhere more achingly apparent than during his removal from National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, the show he took over in a crunch for only a month and owned for over twenty-four years, becoming for many “the” voice of NPR. Those who have been reading this blog a very long time will remember my outrage at this kerfuffle (the rest of you will need to search the archives)…knowing that it seemed to make as little sense on the inside as it did to those of us on the outside is sparse comfort. That Mr. Edwards still can’t answer the simple question, “Why?” makes the whole sordid affair even more puzzling, if such is possible. I do know that, in the reading, I became angry all over again. National Public Radio screwed around with my mornings. No one screws with my mornings.
Oh, alright, it isn’t all doom-and-gloom; in fact, his recollections of this time become an almost medieval saga, complete with dragons, jesters, and even treachery and a Mata Hari…Arthurian legends meet the cold war. Some of the incidents, while serious, can’t help but make the reader laugh. And to completely mangle my metaphors, there’s even a little bit of the Keystone Kops in the stodgy management of National Public Radio, frequently more interested in their own image than in making sensible decisions. The months between NPR’s initial announcement and Mr. Edwards’ decision to leave play out in these pages more convoluted than most feature film plots…it’s almost unbelievable it really happened.
The rest of the book details his, “second career,” that as host of satellite radio’s The Bob Edwards Show. He can finally answer the question, “Who is your favorite interview subject?” (Father Greg Boyle, and I discovered through this book that I was involved in a tiny sideways fashion in the run-up to that interview), and he tells some behind-the-scenes stories about producing seven hours of radio every week (five one-hour morning shows for SiriusXM and the two-hour compilation distributed through PRI to public radio stations, Bob Edwards Weekend).
Throughout the book, Mr. Edwards discusses his personal successes and failures, triumphs and disappointments with honesty and modesty. It is the life of a man who rather inadvertently became a huge part of our national culture while being our surrogate on the national stage; someone who on the worst days reassured us with his calm delivery while asking the questions we wanted answered. The story he tells here is presented in the same manor, by that personal friend of ours who roused us from our sleep and rode beside us on our drive to work.
Since his career is far from over, I look forward to listening to this particular voice in the box, even though that “box” is changing radically from the simple radio he loved as a child, for many years to come. And I expect one day I’ll read the sequel to this memoir detailing the adventures he has yet to experience.
Bob Edwards is also the author of “Fridays With Red: A Radio Friendship” (1993) based on his Friday morning radio interviews with renowned broadcaster Red Barber, and “Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism,” published in 2004. He is a national vice president of AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the host of “The Bob Edwards Show” every weekday morning on SiriusXM and the compilation show, “Bob Edwards Weekend” distributed to public radio stations by PRI.