Goodbye, Bob

April 30, 2004

WE LIVE IN a fast-paced media world. Radio doesn't talk, it shouts. The television brightly flashes the day's topics in a matter of seconds. Newspapers yearn for the short and punchy. Commentary lunges for the jugular, manic and angry.

And then there is Bob Edwards.

Do you know this man? For nearly a quarter-century, he has hosted Morning Edition on National Public Radio. He is not an anchor, he is a pillar, his deep baritone voice a steady, calming influence no matter how frightening, how chaotic the day's events. He doesn't hype. He doesn't shill. He doesn't spin. He soothes.

And today is his last day on the job.

Mr. Edwards doesn't have the audience of a Dan Rather or a Tom Brokaw or a Peter Jennings. But he doesn't do too badly, either. About 13 million people hear him each week. It's American radio's most-listened-to news program. For those of us information junkies who like our news in sensible and quiet tones, who want it unbiased but not uncritical, who appreciate thoughtfulness and reason, Mr. Edwards is the real deal, the sine qua non of his trade.

When NPR announced last month that Mr. Edwards would have to step down as anchor (to be retained only as a senior correspondent), the network was flooded with letters of protest. Officials claimed they wanted to move the program in a different direction to address the "changing needs" of listeners, whatever that means. Then came the gossip. At age 56, the chatterers chattered, Mr. Edwards was too tired, too bored.

No doubt Morning Edition will continue to be a terrific news program (even if it must become as fast-paced and edgy as everything else). No doubt Mr. Edwards will do good work as a correspondent. But for longtime listeners, it won't be the same.

There is something intimate about radio. We sit alone in our cars with Bob. Or we sit with Bob in a bathrobe at breakfast. We laugh at Bob's stories about bank robbers who leave behind ID's or towns that get tricked by Internet hoaxes. The most loyal of us think of Bob as "Colonel" because that's what Red Barber used to call him on the air.

He was good for our blood pressure. We've never had that sort of relationship with other news anchors. Invite Dan or Tom or Peter over for a drink? Not for a pin-striped minute. But Bob? That's a different story. He's family. He'll be missed.

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