Bob Edwards, former NPR host and lifelong Reds fan, dies at 76
Louisville native Bob Edwards, whose baritone voice calmly delivered the news on NPR’s Morning Edition for 24-1/2 years, loved to talk about radio history and the Cincinnati Reds.
Edwards, who died Saturday at age 76, perhaps is best known for talking baseball every Friday morning with legendary sports announcer Red Barber, who started his career calling Cincinnati Reds games for Crosley Broadcasting in 1934 before going to New York to work for the Brooklyn Dodgers, CBS Sports and the New York Yankees. Barber always addressed the Kentuckian as “Colonel Bob.”
Edwards, who began his career at a tiny station in New Albany, Ind., across the Ohio River from Louisville, was more than a public radio voice. He used his fame to help public radio stations raise much-needed funds, and to benefit his alma mater, Louisville’s St. Xavier High School.
He launched Morning Edition in 1979 after co-hosting All Things Considered with Susan Stamberg; hosted a daily show on Sirius XM after leaving NPR in April 2004; wrote three books; and won a Peabody Award, a duPont-Columbia Award for radio journalism, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting for outstanding contributions to public radio; and two Gabriel Awards from the National Catholic Association of Broadcasters.
Edwards was inducted into the national Radio Hall of Fame in 2004, after leaving NPR when told he wouldn’t be anchoring Morning Edition.
“Colonel Bob” never forgot his roots in the Bluegrass state, or the public radio stations that carried his broadcasts for 30 years.
“I get back to Kentucky a half dozen times a year,” he told me in 2007 before speaking to the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce. At the time, he was looking forward to attending the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth in Hodgenville, Ky. “We’re cousins. I’m a descendent from his grandmother, Lucy Hanks.”
I don’t know how it started, but a mutual love for radio, Red Barber and the Reds connected us shortly after I became TV/radio columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1985. We’d exchange emails or occasional phone calls about the Reds, or Barber’s Cincinnati connections, or various fundraising events he participated in at WVXU-FM (then operated by Xavier University) and Northern Kentucky’s old WNKU-FM.
Two months after leaving Morning Edition, Edwards attended a Reds game at Great American Ball Park with WNKU-FM on June 26, 2004, while working as a special correspondent for NPR.
“It was so fun to see how excited listeners were to meet him — the voice that woke them every morning,” says Maryanne Zeleznik, WVXU-FM news director and vice president of news, who was WNKU-FM’s Morning Edition host at the time. Edwards also threw a ceremonial first pitch that night to Zeleznik.
“While Bob was happy to meet with listeners, he really just wanted to watch the game,” Zeleznik recalls. “He was a quiet, somewhat introverted guy, but if you wanted to talk baseball, he was fully engaged.”
WVXU-FM, when owned by Xavier, brought Edwards to town four or five times “chat on our fund drives, and every time we’d get him tickets for a Reds game,” says Mike Martini, who worked at WVXU-FM until 2006, when Xavier sold the station to Cincinnati Public Radio.
In 2007, Edwards told me he still did “fundraising for any public radio station that wants me. I still believe in it. I’m a big public radio supporter.” He married NPR news anchor Windsor Johnston in 2011.
A former board member for Louisville's St. Xavier High School, Edwards was proud of the school, raising $26 million for the school, athletic facilities and student financial aid, he told me.
I’d share with Edwards my interviews with Barber or historic recordings I had found of Barber doing 1930s broadcasts. After Barber died in 1992, I provided some research on Barber’s Cincinnati career for Edwards' 1993 book, “Fridays with Red – A Radio Friendship: My 12 years with Red Barber on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.” He quoted my 1991 story about Harry Moorman, the Western Union telegraph operator who worked with Barber re-creating Reds’ road games from a Crosley radio studio in Camp Washington.
“Most achievements in broadcast sports journalism were done first and best by Barber,” Edwards told Morning Edition listeners after Barber died on Oct. 10, 1992, at age 84.
Edwards’ favorite Louisville broadcaster was Claude Sullivan, the University of Kentucky football and basketball announcer who did Reds games 1964-67. He once asked me if I had ever found recordings of Sullivan.
After graduating from high school in 1965, Edwards attended “night school” classes at the University of Louisville while working during the day. He worked at old WHEL-AM in 1968 before graduating in 1969.
“I was a DJ, did news, sold ads and everything else you do at a small station,” Edwards told me.
He was drafted into the Army, and used his broadcasting skills to produce and anchor TV and radio news programs for the American Forces Korea Network (AFKN) in Seoul, according to his University of Louisville biography.
He moved to Washington, D.C., after the Army and worked as an anchorman on WTOP-AM, an all-news CBS affiliate while earning a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from American University. At age 25, he became a correspondent with the Mutual Broadcasting System. He joined NPR in 1974, and worked there 30 years.
After NPR, Edwards hosted the Bob Edwards Weekend show distributed nationally by Public Radio International (PRI) and did a one-hour weekday show for Sirius XM, which he called “a dream” in 2007.
“My pieces are longer than Morning Edition. Sometimes I go a half-hour or an hour with one person. It’s easier to have a long conversation than a short one,” he told me.
He was inspired to write his first book, “Fridays with Red,” after receiving more than 500 letters from listeners who enjoyed his weekly chats with Barber.
“I knew that Red was the most popular figure on any NPR program, but I didn’t know that his death would cause our listeners to grieve so deeply . . . He was a stranger to no one who heard that soothing voice,” Edwards wrote.
His "Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism" was published in 2004. Edwards' memoir, “A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio,” was released in 2011.
John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent. Cincinnati Public Radio only edits his articles for style and grammar.