'NPR Interviews' revels in gray area

AIR CHECK

April 22, 1995|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Sun Staff Writer

Robert Siegel says the best interviews on National Public Radio are often with old people.

He should know. Mr. Siegel, a host of NPR's "All Things Considered" evening news report, is currently in the final stages of compiling a second volume of "The NPR Interviews," a collection of excerpts from NPR programs conducted in 1994 and due out in the fall.

He also compiled the first "NPR Interviews" (1993 excerpts), released late last year (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95). And he will be talking about the process of translating oral interviews into compelling print in a Baltimore appearance next week on behalf of Friends of WJHU, a support organization for WJHU-FM (88.1).

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bibelot, a new book store at 1809 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. Tickets are $10 for members, $15 non-members. Mr. Siegel will also autograph his book. Call 516-9548.

"Never did we say, 'Let's do a book of interviews with old people' . . . but it suddenly struck me that more and more the most compelling conversations were with people in their 70s and 80s," Mr. Siegel reflects over the phone from his Washington office.

For example, he chose to lead the first book with Susan Stamberg's interview with 70-year-old photographer Richard Avedon. And he is starting the second with his talk with 89-year-old Austro-Hungarian/American author Henry Roth, whose sole novel, "Call It Sleep" (1934), is now hailed as among the best of this century.

Why do older subjects seem more compelling?

"First, they have better stories to tell" from longer experience, Mr. Siegel notes. But in addition, he suggests they are less self-conscious in the telling -- perhaps because they pre-date the pervasiveness of media culture. "Over the 1970s and 1980s, everybody in America got interviewed," he jokes. As a result, "younger people are just more savvy . . . [and] shift into their about-to-be-interviewed mode" at the sight of a microphone.

Mr. Siegel calls "The NPR Interviews" -- the radio network hopes the books will be annual releases -- "interesting documents about what people are saying in a given year." But they also can measure the swiftness of change.

He notes the first volume covers the year following Bill Clinton's election. And he cites a series of interviews by Linda Wertheimer N NTC on a trip along U.S. Route 50 as demonstrating an optimistic "generosity of spirit" toward the incoming administration. "It's almost staggering to read them two years later," he says, in the wake of the mid-term election that appeared to repudiate much of that spirit.

*

Listeners who tune the shortwave bands, take note: "The Big Beat!," a new Baltimore-based program of blues, R&B, rockabilly, doo-wop and other "roots" music, is now broadcasting for an hour at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays (or 03:30 Sunday UTC, in shortwave's 24-hour clock) on 5745 KHz.

Target areas for the show's signal include western Europe and the Middle East. Host Ed Rothstein also says the show can be tuned via a satellite feed, on Galaxy 4, Channel 15, 7.55 MHz.

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