Bob Edwards, 1947-2024

The longtime NPR host is gone at 76.

New York Times, “Bob Edwards, Longtime Host of NPR’s ‘Morning Edition,’ Dies at 76

Bob Edwards, the host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” for nearly a quarter-century, whose rich baritone and cool demeanor imbued his radio broadcasts with authority in reaching millions of listeners, died on Saturday in Arlington, Va. He was 76.

His death, at a rehabilitation facility, was from heart failure and complications of bladder cancer, his wife, Windsor Johnston, said.

Mr. Edwards, a Kentucky native who knew from an early age that he wanted to be in radio, joined NPR in 1974, during the Watergate hearings. That year, he became a co-host of “All Things Considered,’’ the public broadcaster’s signature evening newsmagazine of interviews, analysis and features. Its success led to the spinoff “Morning Edition” in 1979.

Mr. Edwards began as a 30-day temporary host of that program before going on to serve as its anchor for 24 and a half years.

“Bob Edwards understood the intimate and distinctly personal connection with audiences that distinguishes audio journalism from other mediums,” John Lansing, chief executive of NPR, said in a statement, “and for decades he was a trusted voice in the daily lives of millions of NPR listeners.”

Washington Post, “Bob Edwards, radio host who built NPR’s ‘Morning Edition,’ dies at 76

Hours before dawn on Nov. 5, 1979, an NPR team gathered in a studio at the headquarters in Washington. A new show was about to air.

The program already had gone through serious growing pains. Some NPR member stations had complained that earlier test runs had sounded too chatty, too commercial. Emergency overhauls were made, including picking new hosts. One of them was a rising star at NPR with the flagship “All Things Considered” show, who was known for his unflappable demeanor and a basso profundo voice made huskier by a pack-a-day smoking habit.

He had a 30-day trial at the new show. The red “on-air” light blinked on. “Morning Edition” had begun.

“Good morning,” he began. “Today is Guy Fawkes Day. Guy’s plot to blow up Parliament was discovered on this day in 1605. Today is the beginning of National Split Pea Soup Week, and it’s the debut of this program. I’m Bob Edwards.”

Mr. Edwards, who died Feb. 10 at 76, stayed at “Morning Edition” for nearly a quarter century and became as much a part of the begin-the-day rhythms for NPR listeners as coffee, commutes and getting the kids off to school. Then in 2004, a decision by NPR to pull Mr. Edwards from the show touched off an avalanche of complaints from his fans that even included statements on the Senate floor.

Both his long NPR run and the uproar over his departure reflected Mr. Edwards’s deep influence on public radio as it moved from the margins of the national conversation to become a mainstay. His “Morning Edition” interviews — more than 20,000 from 1979 to 2004 — served as an audio scrapbook for a generation and helped establish NPR as a forum for guests to make news or raise their profile.

Mr. Edwards interviewed diplomats and autocrats, scientists and artists, the quirky and the powerful. He conducted regular check-ins with personalities such as a former veterinarian turned cowboy poet, Baxter Black, and the wondrously erudite former Major League Baseball announcer Red Barber, who might talk about sports or maybe describe how the lovely dogwoods were blooming outside his home in Tallahassee.

Mr. Edwards’s weekly live chats with Barber over nearly a dozen years became a fixture of “Morning Edition.” The freewheeling Barber began calling Mr. Edwards “Colonel Bob” after the NPR host was awarded an honorary designation as a Kentucky Colonel.

NPR, “‘The voice we woke up to’: Bob Edwards, longtime ‘Morning Edition’ host, dies at 76

Bob Edwards, the veteran broadcaster and longtime host of Morning Edition who left an indelible mark on NPR’s sound, has died. He was 76 years old.

NPR’s Susan Stamberg says Edwards’ voice became part of the morning routine for millions of Americans.

“He was Bob Edwards of Morning Edition for 24 1/2 years, and his was the voice we woke up to,” she says.

[…]

“As an NPR listener myself, I will always remember Bob Edwards’ deep warm baritone and the confident ease of his delivery. …” NPR President and CEO John Lansing says in a statement. “Bob Edwards understood the intimate and distinctly personal connection with audiences that distinguishes audio journalism from other mediums, and for decades he was a trusted voice in the daily lives of millions of NPR listeners.”

Edwards started his career at NPR as a newscaster and then hosted All Things Considered with Susan Stamberg. She says their styles sometimes clashed.

“We had five good — if rocky — years together, until we sort of got one another’s rhythm, because he was Mr. Cool, he was Mr. Authoritative and straight ahead. I was the New Yorker with a million ideas and a big laugh. But we really adjusted rather well.”

Stamberg remembers Edwards for his humor, a quality that was often on display in his hundreds of interviews with newsmakers, authors, musicians and singers.

I was still an avid Morning Edition listener when Edwards was pushed out almost exactly twenty years ago. It was simply a different era. While my car still has a radio, which defaults to the local NPR station, I essentially never listen to it anymore. I’ve long since switched to podcasts and have more of those downloaded on my phone than I’ll ever have time to listen to.

At the time, the talk was that Edwards was pushed out to attract a younger listenership. More likely, he was prickly to work with and uninterested in making changes to what had become a somewhat stale format. Regardless, it amuses me that I’m older now than Edwards was then.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    NPR has too many interruptions and ads for me nowadays. If I’m in the car around the top of the hour I might tune in to catch the headlines and the local news from our Baltimore public radio station, and maybe see if they have traffic and what the first story is. But other than that I only listen on the weekends, when I use the NPR app and pick only the specific stories from the two Weekend Edition shows.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I actually remember listening to Edwards and enjoying his newscasts. One of the few radio personalities I can say that about.

    I don’t much listen to NPR these days, for a number of reasons. #1 being that my p/u does not have a working radio. On the rare occasions I drive my wife’s car, the radio defaults to NPR, but I only drive it on Mondays when I go into STL to pick up baby girl and sometimes on wkends.

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  3. Scott says:

    NPR was always on in our car. Even when driving the kids to various sports activities. In the days before iPods and ear phones. It must have had an influence because those grownup, gross, smelly, football boys admit they still tune into NPR through podcasts.

    I listen to the podcasts on the daily dog walks.

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  4. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    RIP, sir.

    Thanks for the memories, Dr. J. Listened to him for years during college and commuting. Maybe someday this Luddite can figure out this newfangled podcast thing…

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