Susan Stamberg walked into the auditorium at the Towson Sheraton Tuesday night and the crowd slowly fell silent.
"Keep talking, talk among yourselves," she urged as she took the stage.
And then came that hearty laugh known so well by listeners to National Public Radio's best-known commentator. It's a comfortable laugh whose genuineness seems a big part of Ms. Stamberg's on-air appeal -- and of her ability to coax memorable interviews out of an astonishing array of public and private figures.
In a fund-raising talk for Friends of WJHU 88.1 FM, Ms. Stamberg came across as being just as real as she sounds, leaning into the podium, connecting with her listeners as somebody merely engaged in "a conversation designed to be overheard."
She recalled and explained the process behind some of her work as the 14-year anchor of "All Things Considered" (she was there at the show's inception in 1971), first anchor of "Weekend Edition" (in 1986) and current senior correspondent for NPR.
A tiny sampling came out earlier this summer in her book, "Talk: NPR's Susan Stamberg Considers All Things," a roughly chronological compendium of 85 interview transcripts, woven together as "20 years of our collective history."
Ms. Stamberg read from the book Tuesday, and signed autographs after the talk. She told the audience she estimates her career at NPR has included perhaps 20,000 "considerations," or interviews, and that choosing what to include in the book was difficult.
"There were plenty of dreadful things that never even got transcribed," she admitted -- there was that laugh again -- and said "another whole book is already lying in a folder" holding rejects from "Talk."
Why a book?
"To see how it sounded in print," she said, noting wistfully that radio "is the most evaporating medium of them all. All that work and then it's gone."
The book "lets it, in some way, last," she said.
And among her memories?
She talked of inviting Dave Brubeck home to play her old upright piano while she interviewed him, and of how ballet doyenne Margot Fonteyn talked about her shyness.
She said Watergate figure John Ehrlichman might have been her "most chilling conversation," but that he also summarized the world of Washington in a perfect simile: likening the president to king of the mountain and everybody else as players trying to knock him off.
She interviewed Garrison Keillor, who would go on to "Prairie Home Companion" fame, when he was still doing local radio, and called him one of "a number of people who were just becoming" when she interviewed them.
Ms. Stamberg also revealed that for all their seeming spontaneity, up to three-quarters of the interviews we hear on NPR have been pre-recorded on tape and rigorously edited.
"The more you know about how we work, the better you can judge how we're doing," she said.
Mark your calendars, Rush Limbaugh fans. WCBM-AM (680), local carrier of "The Rush Limbaugh Show," has scheduled a "Rush Under the Tent" event for Sept. 24 in the station's parking lot on Music Fair Road in Owings Mills.
From noon to 3 p.m., listeners can dine on chicken and pork barbecue while hearing the conservative curmudgeon's broadcast piped over loudspeakers. The cost is for $10 a person. For information, call (410) 356-3003.