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Remembering longtime 'Morning Edition' host Bob Edwards who has died at 76

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And these are the voices of everyone who ever hosted this program across 45 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: I'm Michel Martin.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: I'm A Martínez.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

I'm Leila Fadel.

BARBARA HOCTOR, BYLINE: I'm Barbara Hoctor.

RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: I'm David Greene.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: I'm Rachel Martin.

NOEL KING, BYLINE: I'm Noel King.

INSKEEP: Of all the voices, one lasted longer than any other.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOB EDWARDS: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

INSKEEP: Bob Edwards hosted MORNING EDITION for almost a quarter of a century, from the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 to an attack on America in 2001.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: ...To give you breaking news from New York City, where planes - two planes - have hit both towers of the World Trade Center in lower...

INSKEEP: Bob has died of cancer at 76. Today we note his longevity, a career that lasted most of his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARDS: I swear I knew what I was going to do when I was 3 or 4 years old. I wanted to be the voice in the box.

INSKEEP: The box, he said in a memoir, was his parents' handsome mahogany Zenith radio, in a cabinet...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARD R MURROW: I'm standing on a rooftop, looking out over London.

INSKEEP: ...Like the radios Americans used to listen to Edward R. Murrow reporting on World War II.

(SOUNBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURROW: You will hear two explosions. And just - there they are.

INSKEEP: Edwards was born in Kentucky just after the war. He developed a lifelong fascination with Murrow, and when he grew up, he did get into the box - broadcasting for an easy listening music station.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARDS: My name is Bob Edwards, thanking you very much for all the kindnesses that you've given me over the year. I'll be leaving now - joining the Army, I presume.

INSKEEP: He served with U.S. Forces in Korea. Later, he was hired by a new company, NPR, and he was on the air from Washington on August 8, 1974, the day President Richard Nixon announced his resignation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: And also the people who have been with him today described him as being incredibly serene. And certainly he looked that way to to this reporter on television.

INSKEEP: He became co-host of NPR's afternoon news program.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: From National Public Radio in Washington, this is Bob Edwards.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: And I'm Susan Stamberg with All Things Considered.

INSKEEP: His colleague there was one of NPR's defining talents, and they sometimes clashed. In his memoir, Edwards confessed that he was jealous of Susan Stamberg's star power, though she says they grew to appreciate one another.

STAMBERG: Bob and I had our differences. I, of course, was always right. But (laughter), you know, those were formative years for the two of us. And, you know, you were lucky to have someone who was there when you were.

INSKEEP: Edwards wrote that the experience helped him to mature and prepared him to become the solo host of MORNING EDITION.

STAMBERG: As he was leaving All Things Considered, I said to him, you realize - don't you? - the only thing people are going to want to talk to you about in the future is what time you have to get up in the morning.

INSKEEP: Bob usually woke at 1 o' clock.

STAMBERG: He saved that show - he and his producer, Jay Kernis. They really gave it roots, gave it a purpose, gave it a shape.

INSKEEP: Looking back on it, Edwards said the news helped.

EDWARDS: The program debuted on November 5, 1979. On November 4, 1979, militant students took over the American embassy in Tehran, and it was the lead story in everybody's news for the next 15 months.

INSKEEP: Edwards was still on the air when the American hostages were released, on the same day that a new president took the oath of office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONALD REAGAN: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear...

INSKEEP: Presidents came and went while Edwards stayed. Soon after the September 11 attacks, he introduced a reporter covering the war in Afghanistan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: Also entering Kunduz today was NPR's Steve Inskeep. Describe the scene there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Bob, I drove in along the main street, the main highway that leads from...

The job called on Bob Edwards to cover everything. And his passion came out when he talked with musicians, especially musicians doing what Bob did - enduring year after year. He spoke in 1999 with Jimmy Buffett.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JIMMY BUFFETT: You know, people say, how the hell can you play "Margaritaville" for the 257,000th time? And it's because I watch the crowd, and it - you know, it's their song. It's not mine. I'm just singing. It's background music to their lives, and that's the way I look at it.

INSKEEP: Susan Stamberg says Edwards became the background to many people's lives - in their cars, in their kitchens, even in their bedrooms and bathrooms.

STAMBERG: Because you come at a most intimate moment, and you're bringing them into the world and that voice was so reassuring.

INSKEEP: Much of the program was live, which meant people heard him when everything went right and when everything went wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: Commentator Red Barber joins us now from Tallahassee, Fla. Red? Red was not joining us from Tallahassee, Fla. So what does Bob do when Red doesn't join us from Tallahassee, Fla.? Bob picks up some sports copy and moves on to find an interesting story to read.

INSKEEP: Or, as he said when another story went wrong...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: (Sighing) I'm going into the aluminum siding business tomorrow.

INSKEEP: He never did that.

EDWARDS: I thought I was going to die at NPR. You know, I was just going to do that the rest of my working life or retire from there, maybe.

INSKEEP: But he sometimes battled management. And in 2004, NPR told him it was time for a change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: This program is the last I shall host. I have been reassigned as a senior correspondent.

INSKEEP: His calm voice on the radio belied the chaos in much of the media. Tens of thousands of listeners wrote in protest. Fans shared his unhappiness that he was dismissed just short of 25 years. He went on to satellite radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDWARDS: Hello and welcome to the Bob Edwards Show for Tuesday, November 20.

INSKEEP: In a memoir, he criticized many of his old colleagues, yet also wrote that his new job had led to the happiest work of his life. Ten years later, when MORNING EDITION planned to celebrate its 35th anniversary, Bob was long gone from NPR, but his old colleague Susan Stamberg instructed him to show up.

STAMBERG: I called him up and I said, get dressed and come down here. Come now. There's a party, and it's a celebration and you need to be here.

INSKEEP: He met the younger staff of a program that has become a lasting part of American life.

EDWARDS: You know, my goal was to follow Murrow and Cronkite to the Tiffany Network, you know, at CBS. And I landed at NPR, and NPR became, in my mind, the Tiffany Network. So I was very lucky.

INSKEEP: And when I learned that Bob Edwards was in his final days, I recalled his final words as a host on NPR News, which were characteristically concise and focused on someone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: Many thanks to the hundreds who have worked with me on 30 years of NPR programs, and have done their best to make me sound like I know what I'm talking about. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.