MAXWELL: A morning voice that will be missed 

3/28/2004 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

All good things must come to an end.

And so it is with the ouster of Bob Edwards as anchor of National Public Radio’s news program Morning Edition. Edwards, 56, whose mellow baritone has been associated with Morning Edition since its birth in 1979, will host the program for the last time April 30.

To say that Edwards’ leaving is the end of an era is an understatement. Like 13-million other listeners, especially news hounds, I automatically expect to hear Edwards’ opener, “This is Morning Edition from NPR News,” as I adjust my eyes to the light of a new dawn.

During the last 25 years, rarely have I missed at least part of Morning Edition, which is broadcast live from 5 to 7 a.m. and is rebroadcast throughout the morning. The only times I miss consecutive days of the show is when I am traveling abroad or find myself in a U.S. outpost where NPR’s signal does not carry.

Thanks in large measure to Morning Edition, when I report to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board room each morning at 9:30, I know what is going on in the nation and the rest of the world.

In a press release, NPR reassured distraught listeners that Edwards, a native of Louisville, Ky., will not disappear from Morning Edition. He will take on a new assignment as senior correspondent for NPR News. Beginning May 1, and until Edwards is replaced permanently, hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep will co-anchor the show.

When I first read of Edwards’ removal, I wondered why fix something that is not broken. Indeed, Morning Edition, the nation’s No. 1-rated morning radio show, is not broken. Word is that executives are re-evaluating programming in light of a $200-million gift in November from Joan Kroc, wife of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s.

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

“I am grateful for the many years of support from NPR member stations and look forward to continuing to visit them and meet our listeners. That audience is the best and the brightest in broadcasting, and it’s a challenge to meet its expectations. Morning Edition will continue to be my first source for news. I wish all the best to its new host.”

According to NPR, Edwards’ accomplishments have been recognized in many awards, including two Gabriel Awards; the 1984 Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for “outstanding contributions to public radio”; an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence; and the coveted 1999 George Foster Peabody Award for his hosting at Morning Edition.

For me, a columnist always searching for an interesting and new angle on events, I depend on Edwards’ interviews with his famous and not-so-famous guests. And when I need sheer entertainment, I can count on his interviews. I rarely missed, for example, Edwards’ off-the-cuff Friday chats with sports icon Red Barber.

Since Barber died in 1992 in Tallahassee Friday morning has not been the same. Will anything ever match the brilliance and levity of those talks?

Like Edwards’ other devoted listeners, I will have to get used to his absence. Knowing NPR executives, they have thought long and hard about this dramatic change, and Edwards’ replacement will take us into a new era with ease and reassurance.

I am now looking forward to Edwards’ work as a senior correspondent. Something tells me that he will become even more valuable to listeners seeking in-depth and interesting analysis of the news.

In his understated, modest manner, this is what Edwards said of his new assignment: “I am not totally clear what it is I am going to be doing, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to doing it. I’m trying to focus on the positive.”