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

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

When listeners first heard that voice, they might have imagined a figure of great authority, an avuncular newsman dressed in a pinstripe suit. But that was not Bob Edwards.

He was the consummate newsman

Margaret Low started at the company in 1982 as a Morning Edition production assistant. Now CEO of WBUR in Boston, she served for three years as NPR’s senior vice president for news. She says Edwards always walked in the door right at 2:30 a.m., but he was casual.

“He was tall and lanky and wore jeans, and I think, if I remember right, was sort of pretty much always in an untucked flannel shirt.”

Low says Edwards’ seeming casualness belied a seriousness — about radio, about the news and especially about the art of writing. Like several of his contemporaries at NPR, he studied writing at American University with former CBS journalist Ed Bliss.

“He used to say that Ed Bliss sat on his shoulder as he wrote,” Low recalls.

In fact, Edwards’ Washington, D.C., office overlooked CBS News.

… he sort of set the bar for how we approach stories, because he would convey these stories with a kind of simplicity but also with real depth, and make sure that they somehow resonated. And that’s lasted.

I have this total image of Bob sitting in his office on M Street and it would be dark outside because it would be the middle of the night, and he faced the window over CBS News,” Low says. “And he would be typing on his manual typewriter with these really, really big keys, and they would go click, click, click, and behind him you would hear … the AP and Reuters wires.”

Edwards, Low says, was the consummate newsman.

“He was a total news guy, and I think understood the news deeply,” she says. “And in some ways he sort of set the bar for how we approach stories, because he would convey these stories with a kind of simplicity but also with real depth, and make sure that they somehow resonated. And that’s lasted.”

‘Mr. Cool’ and Red Barber

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.

One of Edwards’ longest-running radio relationships was also one of his listeners’ favorites: his weekly conversation with sports broadcasting legend Red Barber.

Edwards eventually wrote a book about his radio friendship with Barber, the first of three he authored, including a memoir, A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio.

Edwards’ approach helped set the tone for NPR

Edwards left NPR after the company decided to remove him as host of Morning Edition. Though his many fans protested mightily, Edwards closed out his last show on April 30, 2004. He ended his tenure just as it started, by interviewing one of his radio heroes, Charles Osgood.

“You were the first person I interviewed for Morning Edition, and I wanted you to be the last,” Edwards told Osgood on air.

Edwards went on to host his own interview show at Sirius XM Radio and continued to be heard on many public radio stations on Bob Edwards Weekend. But Margaret Low says his contribution to NPR will never be forgotten.

“He sort of set the tone and the bar for all of us,” she says. “He understood the power and the intimacy of our medium and captured the attention of millions and millions of people who are still with us today.”

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