Noah Adams broadcasts thoughts about NPR in a radio journal

November 22, 1992|By Maude McDaniel

NOAH ADAMS ON ALL

THINGS CONSIDERED:

A RADIO JOURNAL.

Noah Adams.

Norton.

332 pages. $22.95.

"Lots of things to make noises and someone to tell us about them." It doesn't take much to keep Noah Adams happy.

Recognize the name and you're probably a regular listener to "All Things Considered," the show he co-hosts on National Public Radio. If so, this book will make you happy, too.

Not that he's the most exciting writer since Garrison Keillor. The book's forward, by colleague Susan Stamberg, imagines the 14-year-old radio news program as a "fabulous bullet train" that blurs in the memory until Mr. Adams periodically "brakes the train" for this informal journal of the year of June 4, 1989, to June 4, 1990. It's a time of great terminals -- communism's fall, Tiananmen Square, the San Francisco earthquake, Panama -- but this train ride halts longer at the whistle stops. He "climbs down and studies the shape of the place, notices how it smells, and what there is to eat there." This is not an express, you understand.

Ms. Stamberg calls the author "the most genuine, uncontrived voice in broadcasting," and he writes informatively about hot-air balloons, lighthouses, whales, Alaska, the old Great Northern Railway and getting his lawn mower sharpened. His private life and likings blend into his job as many readers may only wish theirs could. "I'm working for the radio program I'd like to be listening to," he says, and the quiet fulfillment shows.

Unlike many others in radio and television, he respects his listeners as people of "intelligence, common sense, a wide range of interests." Traveling from Idaho to Romania in pursuit of stories that will interest such people, he launches unknowns as well as public figures into broadcast immortality: Basque sheepherders, a Romanian toddler, a Detroit baker who turns out 14,000 doughnuts in 72 hours. A dog- and food-loving kind of guy, Mr. Adams gets some criticism for paying too much attention to animals and eating, but not from me.

If you're interested in the backstage action of "All Things Considered," Mr. Adams gives enough to satisfy some readers, and perhaps a shade too much technical detail for a few of us ("the outboard motors are Yamaha 70s"). His incidental points

are sometimes the most interesting: for instance, that most "All Things Considered" interviews are edited by 30 percent to 50 percent, that it's harder to find light stories than serious ones, how uniquely important sounds are in radio journalism, that material he used a decade ago would not fit today's heavier format. He quotes scripts and interviews from the target year liberally; some of them must have sounded more substantial on air than on paper.

So sensitive is Mr. Adams ("the conscience of the work we do," Ms. Stamberg calls him, though he's probably not happy about that), it's almost a relief when he's shown capable of an earthquake joke that should have been left out, and the idea that a science fiction radio drama would be just the thing to commemorate the completion of the Washington National Cathedral.

He doesn't spend much time second-guessing his work, although an interview with Baltimore director John Waters, whose film "Cry-Baby" Mr. Adams didn't like, leads to soul-searching as to whether it constitutes a recommendation. He cites only one case in which "the interview collapsed because the person and I just weren't getting along" -- one with, surprisingly, flutist James Galway.

Because he's interested in just about everything, Mr. Adams tends to go off on tangents, a sort of "now that I mention it" tropism, that leads him to interrupt earthquakes to discuss paging systems, and war stories to muse about the propriety of using personal pronouns on the air. The train ride can be bumpy, but you're traveling in good company.

You'll rediscover a world of places, facts and, perhaps most important, acquaintances. Mr. Adams says he doesn't like to talk to strangers. Those of us who have the same problem should consider his solution: make friends out of them right away.

Ms. McDaniel is a writer living in Cumberland.

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