A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio

by Bob Edwards
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A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio by Bob Edwards

The host of The Bob Edwards Show and Bob Edwards Weekend on Sirius XM Radio, Bob Edwards became the first radio personality with a large national audience to take his chances in the new field of satellite radio. The programs’ mix of long-form interviews and news documentaries has won many prestigious awards.

For thirty years, Louisville native Edwards was the voice of National Public Radio’s daily newsmagazine programs, co-hosting All Things Considered before launching Morning Edition in 1979. These programs built NPR’s national audience while also bringing Edwards to national prominence. In 2004, however, NPR announced that it would be finding a replacement for Edwards, inciting protests from tens of thousands of his fans and controversy among his listeners and fellow broadcasters. Today, Edwards continues to inform the American public with a voice known for its sincerity, intelligence, and wit.

In A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio, Edwards recounts his career as one of the most important figures in modern broadcasting. He describes his road to success on the radio waves, from his early days knocking on station doors during college and working for American Forces Korea Network to his work at NPR and induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2004. Edwards tells the story of his exit from NPR and the launch of his new radio ventures on the XM Satellite Radio network. Throughout the book, his sharp observations about the people he interviewed and covered and the colleagues with whom he worked offer a window on forty years of American news and on the evolution of public journalism.

A Voice in the Box is an insider’s account of the world of American media and a fascinating, personal narrative from one of the most iconic personalities in radio history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813134512
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 09/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 236
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Bob Edwards is the author of Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism and Fridays with Red: A Radio Friendship. Edwards has been awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for radio journalism, a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, and the Edward R. Murrow Award for outstanding contributions to public radio. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2011 Bob Edwards
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8131-3450-5

Chapter One


November 6, 2004. Another cold, crisp night in the Windy City, but it's warm inside the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Chicago Hotel, where hundreds of radio royalty have gathered. Men in tuxedos and women in beautiful gowns or sexy cocktail dresses are clustered at thirty-four tables, each adorned with flowers and a burning candle. At one end of the ballroom is a bandstand, where Mickey and the Memories will entertain for everyone's dancing pleasure. That will come later, after dinner, many speeches, and a ceremony that is also a live radio program carried by the Premier group of stations.

The announcer is Jim Bohannon, one of my oldest friends in radio. He has alerted the diners to the Applause sign behind him and has let it be known that great audible enthusiasm is encouraged. At exactly 8:00 pm, we hear some upbeat theme music, and all respond to the sign's insistent demand for applause. A floor director cues Bohannon, who says, "Live, from Chicago, it's radio's biggest night—the 2004 Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Tonight, the Radio Hall of Fame inducts XM Satellite Radio superstar Bob Edwards."

Superstar? We do love our hyperbole in radio. As of that night, my show on XM was just four weeks old. I doubt if the fellow who, months earlier, fired me from my previous show at NPR regarded me as anybody's superstar. But no matter—I was in the Hall.

Radio is closing in on its centennial, and its Hall of Fame includes the scientists who invented it, the hucksters who made money from it, the journalists who informed, the smart people who enlightened, and especially the enormously talented entertainers who came into our homes and cars and offices and made us laugh, cry, wince, fear, dread, guffaw, and enter worlds we could not imagine on our own. So here I am with Marconi, Edward R. Murrow, Arthur Godfrey, Alan Freed, Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos 'n' Andy, Orson Welles, Paul Harvey, Wolfman Jack, Bing Crosby, Gordon McLendon, Studs Terkel, Ma Perkins, Cousin Brucie, Red Barber, the Lone Ranger—just a stew of people, programs, and genres spanning generations and having nothing in common but the microphone and an audience.

My induction ceremony was a watershed event—the last in a series of traumas and triumphs that had kept me in a state of emotional whiplash for most of the year. So this night in Chicago was the end of something but also the beginning of something. It symbolized my passage to a new radio home and an environment in which I could do what I regard as the very best work of my career.

Induction really recognizes a much longer journey—the span of a career. So let's go back to the little burg where my radio journey began in 1968, when I had no notion of a hall of fame—only a burning desire to be a voice in the box.


It was a perfect day for lust, a mild, sunny day in October 1968. The program director of the radio station had figured out a way to rendezvous with a female listener without his wife noticing he was not on the air. He preempted local programs, including his own, and carried ABC's national coverage of Apollo 7. The station had not shown such dedication to public service in the past, but his wife, listening from across the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, would not question his absence from the air. After all, this was America's first manned Apollo flight.

Someone was required to sit at the microphone and fulfill the government requirement that the station be identified each hour. The program director chose me. I was a twenty-one-year-old college senior and had been hanging around the station for weeks to learn the ropes. For five years I had been knocking on the doors of stations in my hometown, begging for a chance. Station managers told me that the Louisville market was too big to hire beginners and that I should make my start in the smaller towns of Kentucky. I was just about to do that when the program director of this tiny blip of a station in Indiana allowed me to sit in his studio and observe.

Now he was away, succumbing to manly passion, and I had my opportunity. As the ABC anchor cued the station break, I flipped the switch and spoke the first words of my broadcast career: "This is WHEL, 1570, in New Albany, Indiana."

There were no fireworks in celebration and my debut escaped the notice of the local newspapers, but there's nothing bigger in a young man's life than realizing his dream. Never mind that I was working at the tackiest, most miserable little outpost in American broadcasting; I had crossed the threshold and joined the profession of Edward R. Murrow, Arthur Godfrey, and Red Barber.

Why wouldn't I be thrilled at joining the club? For nearly fifty years, broadcasters had informed and entertained Americans in ways that newspapers, magazines, theater, and motion pictures could not. They had made it possible for citizens to feel present at events occurring far away. Murrow's rooftop broadcasts during the London Blitz brought World War II into the living rooms of Manhattan apartments and Iowa farmhouses. Earlier, people short on hope during the Great Depression heard reassuring words from their president on the radio, and radio performers offered the only professional entertainment most Americans could afford. Baseball fans no longer had to gather at the local newspaper office to be relayed telegraph reports of the World Series. Graham McNamee in the twenties and Red Barber in the thirties magically transported fans in the bayous and the Rockies to the ballparks of New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Arthur Godfrey, on radio and then on television, brought a folksy personality to the airwaves and made his audience comfortable with the entertainers he introduced.

Broadcasting was run by people who, for the most part, believed they had a responsibility to listeners and viewers. The term public service was not uncommon in the early years of radio and TV. Broadcasting was a fabulously lucrative business, but money was not the only motivation. True, the programs were not always artful, challenging, and uplifting, but they were tasteful and responsible. Government told broadcasters they were to operate "in the public interest, convenience, and necessity," and most did.

Radio reinvented itself in the television age and began to rely on "narrowcasting," each station using a format designed to appeal to a distinctive demographic group. Television was now the mass-entertainment medium, with three commercial networks drawing tens of millions to their shows. Broadcasting drove pop culture. Radio and TV's Ed Sullivan Show had introduced us to Elvis and the Beatles—what next? TV had replaced newspapers as our primary source for news. Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. I began my career at a crucial moment in the nation's history, and I believe it was also a critical time for communicators.

Broadcasting delivered the news of 1968, and most of the news that year was bad. We turned to radio and TV for escapist pleasure, and they betrayed us. They told us of young people dying in Vietnam and of other young people rebelling against authority. They told us about assassinations, riots in the cities, the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring, and the chaos at the Democratic convention. Everyone seemed angry about something or somebody. Even the music was angry. In ancient times, rulers angered by news of a distant battle lost used to kill the messengers who brought them such bad news. In 1968, Americans began wondering if their messengers truly were their friends. Told by the scholar Marshall McLuhan that they should be more critical of broadcasters, they began using his terms for communicators. The trusted Walter Cronkite and his peers were now part of something vaguely sinister called "the media."

Running for election that year, Richard Nixon, who believed television had cost him the White House in 1960, showed how much he had learned in eight years. His campaign was run by advertising executives who were masters of the art of selling on TV. Nixon was a packaged product that year, sold to viewers who never saw him challenged in a forum that wasn't controlled by his handlers. This is standard practice in today's politics, but it began with the Nixon campaign of 1968. Once in office, Nixon's ideologues mounted a highly successful campaign to smear journalists, particularly TV journalists. A broadcaster's relationship with the audience would never be the same.

If the red-baiting anti-Semite from California didn't like journalists, it must be a club worth joining. Just days before Nixon's election, I reached for a microphone switch to speak to an audience for the first time. Astronauts were preparing to go to the moon, and I wanted to tell the world about it. Never mind that I was really telling only New Albany, Indiana, about it—it was a beginning. Finally I was doing what I had wanted to do from the time I was barely more than a toddler. I had waited long enough. I wanted in.


Excerpted from A VOICE IN THE BOX by BOB EDWARDS Copyright © 2011 by Bob Edwards. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY PRESS OF KENTUCKY. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Ed Bliss....................30
All Things Considered....................55
Pilot Error....................67
Morning Edition....................80
Reconsidering All Things....................87
News Leader....................89
Two Babes in Baghdad....................126
Turning Point....................128
Texas Showdown....................155
Satellite Radio....................168
The Bob Edwards Show....................171
Father Greg Boyle....................175
Bob Edwards Weekend....................178
Western Swing....................179
The Invisible....................186
3rd Med....................191

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Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
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First few chapters good, but typical of NPR radio people, he showed his liberal bias.
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Although Bob Edwards was born the year I graduated high school his story brought back memories of some good, and not so good, days. The intrigue of National Public Radio reminds me of the turf-protection and heavy-handed management found in some government offices. Although at times his story seems self serving, Mr. Edwards gives credit where credit is due. This autobiography is a must read for anyone who aspires to radio journalism.
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FairjinDragonsbane More than 1 year ago
To see the title and the picture your thinking oh well hmm maybe...but it is a well written book in my view I enjoyed it. The inside look of something that is such a big part of our lives is something that I always liked
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LB1VA More than 1 year ago
Bob writes in a conversational style. An easy read, but he does touch on some controversial areas. if you are an NPR fan you will like this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a listener of NPR radio for many years and remember when Bob Edwards left. I guess I didn't pay much attention as I thought he had retired. He has a scratchy quality to his voice which made me envision an older gentleman who was non-judgemental and delivered the news daily. Boy was I surprised when I read this book! Not only was he younger than I thought, but very opinionated and bitter. His stories were not well written and left us asking for more, especially the story about the taxi driver who died while driving Mr. Edwards. So whatever did happen? Why tell us and then not finish the story? I think I was better off with my kindly gentleman image. I should have known when Sirius Radio gave it out for free.
GypsyJon More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me in electronic format, because I am an XM Radio subscriber. Alas, Barnes and Noble does not support ePub format, so I am not able to read it on my PocketBookPro902.
bob5958 More than 1 year ago
Upfront, I'm biased. I have so much respect and admiration for what Bob Edwards has accomplished that I couldn't find fault with him or his book even if it weren't well written. But, it is well written, enjoyable to read and fills in a lot of the gaps and questions about what went on when he left NPR (temporarilly). Mr. Edwards to me is what i can only imagine my parents and grandparents thought of Ed Morrow, Douglas Edwards and all of the war correspondents that made radio the premier medium for news. In our 24/7 internet news hype, I am very concerned that people like Bob Edwards are someone to enjoy for now, because they unlikely won't be replaced. The book reads quickly and often makes you smile, because Bob Edwards and I are about the same age and many of his comments and observations brought back memories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The man had a very interesting life. Easy reading.
tulaDM More than 1 year ago
It was very enjoyable to read what life was like during the radio days. The author has a great sense of humor!