Monday, July 24, 2006

Book review:Public Radio behind the Voices

When I lived in London I was an avid listener of BBC radio. Imagine how happy I was when I arrived in the US and discovered the American equivalent known as National Public Radio, the unapologetic thinking man and woman's radio, a refreshing oasis amid the jangle-jangle detritus of America's commercial networks.

Well thanks to author Lisa Phillips who has worked at local NPR stations I'm even happier now because her book entitled Public Radio Behind the Voices yields deep insights into NPR from the shoestring early days to its now polished broadcasts that are choc-a-bloc with humor, intelligence and insight.

In breezy, uncomplicated prose she unfurls rich information about some of our favorite personalities, Liane Hansen, Terry Gross, Scott Simon, Robert Siegel, Susan Stamberg--many of whom she interviewed personally at their studios. Others who did not grant her an interview--either because they are publicity shy, or just don't do interviews out of out principal, or plain just didn't get back to her--she has researched meticulously so that we are left with a complete picture of the personalities rise to prominance.

One of my favorites concerns an anecdote in her essay entitled The Fallopian Jungle about Nina Totenberg, whose husband was hospitalized after slipping on an icy sidewalk and was not expected tio live. Totenberg, at one point during the hospitalizations, was in Oklahoma City to cover the bombing there, but her husband's health plunged and a plane had to be chartered by ABC TV to get her home chop chop. On the plane, she cried because she thought he was going to die alone. She arrived at the hospital to find out her good friend Cokie Roberts keeping vigil at her husband's bedside.

Most fascinating during the read was seeing the development of NPR from its amateurish origins to the powerhouse it is today in American society. This book is a must for NPRophiles.


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