I grew up with Bob Edwards on Morning Edition. We were an NPR family, so much so that I didn’t even know that there were other radio stations until an embarrassingly old age. My sister and I, if we didn’t wake up to taped Broadway soundtracks, woke up to Morning Edition, and it was always playing downstairs as we had breakfast and got ready for the day. Bob Edwards was the voice of my morning until I became a teenager and “rebelled” by switching my clock radio to the oldies station, and then to the non-threatening pop station.
I was in Slovakia, or about to be, when Bob Edwards left Morning Edition. It was a shock (for him as well), and now when I happen to hear Morning Edition, it feels familiar but different, like going back to the house you grew up in when someone else is living there. But when I happen to catch Bob Edwards’s “new” show, it instantly transports me back to the kitchen in my childhood home.
A Voice in the Box is Bob Edwards’s memoir of his time in radio, going back to his childhood. I would hesitate to call it an autobiography, because it’s not particularly detailed about his personal life. Not that his life outside work isn’t mentioned – it’s just much more about his career. Anyone looking for scandal and salaciousness is going to be disappointed. But Bob Edwards fans, and public radio fans, are not generally the type of people who look for scandal and salaciousness.
It felt, more than anything, like a Bob Edwards interview….with Bob Edwards. Each chapter could have been a prompt with his responses. There are a lot of famous names (some more famous than others, depending on your field of expertise) but it was very conversational, very much “regular guy gets to meet lots of people at his job”. And I wasn’t even as interested in the “famous people” mentions as much as I was the more backstage stuff at NPR. I once interviewed for a job at NPR, and it’s fascinating to think of what might-have-been if I’d gotten it. (It involves me being a lot more knowledgeable about US politics than I am at the moment. Also being able to recognize Nina Totenberg if I met her on the street.)
Like I said above, I grew up with NPR, so it was particularly interesting for me to read about its early days. To me, it’s always been sort of “the establishment” – but that’s not always been the case for the wider world. Morning Edition struggled to get started. Funding has always been tricky, especially under Republican-controlled Congresses. And then there was the firing, six months before the 25th anniversary of Morning Edition, with no explanation (still).
Obviously, it’s not a memoir that’s going to appeal to those who aren’t already fans of public radio. Most of the background and references are assumed knowledge, and if you don’t hear Bob Edwards’s voice in your head, you’re missing out on some level. But if you are – if for you, as for me, Bob Edwards is the voice of the morning and nothing else sounds quite right, or you can’t quite understand why anyone would have the Today show on when they could have Morning Edition – then you will appreciate this book and its look back into the voice that defined my mornings as a child.