`Morning Edition' losing its voice

Host Bob Edwards to be replaced

March 24, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

National Public Radio announced yesterday that it would replace Bob Edwards of Morning Edition, the public broadcaster's most popular program.

"Bob's a voice that millions of Americans have woken up to for 25 years," said Ken Stern, NPR's executive vice president. "That's a voice of authority, a voice of credibility, a voice of community."

NPR likes to say Morning Edition is the second most-popular program on radio - after conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. The change, Stern said, "is about making sure that show can serve the needs of the people in the future."

Edwards is to become a senior correspondent for the news channel, contributing to a variety of radio news magazines. NPR hosts Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne will serve as interim anchors for the program; a replacement is expected to be named within weeks.

Edwards, 56, joined NPR in 1974 as a newscaster and became the first host of Morning Edition upon its creation five years later. The program became an idiosyncratic blend of news stories, interviews and features. Although it has taken on more of the tone of a conventional news program, it provides an antidote for listeners uninterested in the chat-happy fare of television and the sobriety of many print dailies. Edwards was not available yesterday for interviews, but released a statement through an NPR spokeswoman.

"Morning Edition, the most popular morning program in all of broadcasting, enjoys a well-earned reputation for integrity in journalism," Edwards said. "I am proud to have served with my Morning Edition colleagues, who perform a daily miracle at ridiculous hours when resources are not abundant."

On the air, Edwards' voice is that of a respectful skeptic. He is occasionally playful, and makes periodic references to his alma mater, the University of Louisville. His demeanor is pure Middle America - not edgy, not ironic, not drawing attention to himself - and seemingly reflective of a desire to learn about the world around him. And he comes across as an utter professional, smoothly presenting the information that listeners should know in an understated manner.

"I don't know if there's a voice I associate with NPR more than Bob Edwards," said Andy Bien- stock, director of programming for WYPR-FM in Baltimore and Frederick, an NPR affiliate. "It doesn't strike me that the show needs a whole lot of reinvention right now, so I hope they have something good in mind."

Edwards' new status was compared by NPR officials to the respected places held by former Talk of the Nation host Juan Williams and former All Things Considered and Weekend Edition Sunday anchor Susan Stamberg. Both are now senior correspondents whose pieces are featured prominently on NPR news broadcasts.

Over his nearly quarter-century on Morning Edition, Edwards has conducted an estimated 20,000 interviews, according to NPR. Edwards has won many of the most prestigious prizes for broadcast news, including the duPont-Columbia Award and the Peabody Award.

Edwards' final day is to be April 30. He is to begin a tour to promote his new book about legendary CBS radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow, according to NPR.

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