Opinion: As NPR Turns 50, Scott Simon's View From Behind The Microphone

May 8, 2021
Originally published on May 10, 2021 1:37 am

I first heard of National Public Radio when it broadcast the Senate hearings into the Watergate scandal live, in the summer of 1973.

I was hooked; and stayed on to hear the effervescence of Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered, the rock-steadiness of Bob Edwards and the sharp insights of Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts, at a time when the voices of women in the news business were scarce.

NPR turned 50 this week. I have been with the place long enough to understand why all those great talents sometimes grimace to be told, "I've listened to you since I was in the backseat of my parents' car."

I began reporting for NPR from Chicago in the late 1970s, about crimes, corruption, blizzards, mob hits and political ferment.

NPR was not well known when we opened the first bureau in America's interior. When people called to ask, "What time is All Things Considered?" we'd say, "When would you like to hear it?"

I've been fortunate to play a small part in NPR's growth. We opened the network's first bureau in a war zone — El Salvador, in 1982. I went on to cover 10 conflicts, from Africa and the Middle East to the siege of Sarajevo.

I've interviewed all three astronauts who flew on the first mission to the moon, and profiled three people who've been made saints, including Mother Teresa.

Some interviews have been difficult, or painful — like when we asked Bill Cosby about the sexual assault allegations against him ... and he stayed silent.

But most of all, I've gotten to share the stories of thousands of people who opened their lives to us.

Since 1985, I've had the blessing to get together with you most every Saturday, for what I've grown to see as a weekly road trip through hearts and minds, and, expressions of joy.

Today, the initials NPR mean something special to tens of millions of Americans for whom we provide not only the news, music and entertainment, but a life's companion. NPR was founded with a mission, not just a business plan: to deliver news and share stories that can move and enchant, in a diversity of voices from around the nation and the world, in a way that is fair, nonpartisan, professional and accessible.

Today, you can get whatever news you want to hear, on platforms that place audiences into different foxholes of opinion, where they can dig in against any idea they don't like. At the age of 50, NPR has a renewed sense of purpose: to appeal to and sometimes challenge an audience that is more diverse in all ways, and help reach across some of those divides.

As we say in this business, there is more to come. Please stay tuned.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I first heard of National Public Radio when it broadcast the Senate hearings into the Watergate scandal live in the summer of 1973.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

JOSH DARSA: Speaking to you from the historic caucus room of the old Senate office building on Capitol Hill.

SIMON: I was hooked and stayed on to hear the effervescence of Susan Stamberg on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...And explains to me why I've become your devoted listener.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: (Laughter) How sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: But what caught my ear...

SIMON: The rock-steadiness of Bob Edwards and the sharp insights of Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts at a time when the voices of women in the news business were scarce. NPR turned 50 this week. I've been with the place long enough to understand why all those great talents sometimes grimace to be told, I've listened to you since I was in the backseat of my parents' car. I began reporting for NPR from Chicago in the late 1970s about crimes, corruption, blizzards, mob hits and political ferment. NPR was not well-known when we opened the first bureau in America's interior. When people called to ask, what time is All Things Considered? - we'd say, when would you like to hear it? I've been fortunate to play a small part in NPR's growth. We opened the network's first bureau in a war zone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON: There's been a shot behind it. It's impossible to say what it represents. The people are running.

El Salvador, 1982 - I went on to cover 10 conflicts, from Africa and the Middle East to the siege of Sarajevo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This war has no sense, you know, and everyone who fights is fighting for nothing.

SIMON: I've interviewed all three astronauts who flew on the first mission to the moon and profiled three people who've been made saints, including Mother Teresa.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MOTHER TERESA: It depends solely on divine providence, like the flowers and the birds and the grass. And it takes care of us and a lot of poor people.

SIMON: Some interviews have been difficult or painful, like when we asked Bill Cosby about the sexual assault allegations against him, and he stayed silent.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON: You're shaking your head no. I'm in the news business. I have to ask the question. Do you have any response to those charges? - shaking your head no.

But most of all, I've gotten to share the stories of thousands of people who've opened their lives to us. Since 1985, I've had the blessing to get together with you most every Saturday for what I've grown to see as a weekly road trip through hearts and minds and expressions of joy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon. And I wait all week to say, and now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Today, the initials NPR mean something special to tens of millions of Americans for whom we provide not only the news, music and entertainment but a life's companion. NPR was founded with a mission, not just a business plan - to deliver news and share stories that can move and enchant in a diversity of voices from around the nation and the world in a way that is fair, nonpartisan, professional and accessible.

Today, you can get whatever news you want to hear on platforms that place audiences into different foxholes of opinion, where they can dig in against any idea they don't like. At the age of 50, NPR has a renewed sense of purpose to appeal to and sometimes challenge an audience that is more diverse in all ways and help reach across some of those divides. As we say in this business, there is more to come. Please stay tuned.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOOL AND THE GANG SONG, "CELEBRATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.