BY PATRICIA MORRIS BUCKLEY
When Susan Stamberg visited San Diego June
In a way, she is the queen of radio. Not only did she make her
mark as the co-host of National Public Radio's "All Things
Considered" from 1971 to 1986, but she is one of the most
famous female broadcasters in NPR's history. If you meet her
in person, it's easy to see why her easygoing manner, deep insight
and honest voice has garnered so many fans. But Stamberg is quick
to reject any adoration from her listeners. "I'm uncomfortable
with the term celebrity," she said during KPBS's morning
program "These Days." "A celebrity used to be
someone who built a career based on talent. Today, it's someone
who gets exposure." Okay, but does she consider herself
a role model? After all, when she began broadcasting there were
few women in radio.
"I don't think of myself that way, but
I know others do," she admitted later at her book-signing
at the Point Loma Bookstar. "I don't have the nerve to think
of myself that way. It's boastful." But Stamberg must do
a little boasting. That's why she was in town: to promote her
third book, "Talk: NPR's Susan Stamberg Considers All Things."
The book contains a compilation of her interviews from the '70s
and '80s. The author chronicles her career at NPR, which began
with co-hosting "All Things Considered" until 1986,
when she left to host "Weekend Edition/Sunday." Since
Edition" and other NPR programs.
Stamberg launched her literary career with
"Every Night at Five: Susan Stamberg's All Things Considered
Book" and followed with "The Wedding Cake in the Middle
of the Road: 23 Variations on a Theme" (co-edited with George
Garrett). The genesis for her latest book can be traced to 1986,
when Stamberg left "All Things Considered." As a going-away
present, Stamberg's staff presented her with all her interviews,
neatly typed. But the book is more than a collection of interesting
interviews. Each one begins with a one- or two-page explanation
detailing its historical importance."These are the voices
that shaped the major events of two decades," she said.
"Separately and together, their talk makes up the soundtrack
of our time." The book also demonstrates the importance
of talk itself, especially talk radio.
"Talk always begins with a question,"
Stamberg explained. "Then comes the most important part:
listening. Listen for what's said and not said, listening for
the silences, the cracks between the words, the hesitations,
the contradictions, the glorious expositions."
The author includes interviews with such heavyweights
as: David Mamet, James Baldwin, Barbara Bush, Rosa Parks, Helen
Hayes and many others. Which one is her favorite? "That's
easy; check out page 91," she said, riffling through the
book to the story of her interview with writer Joan Didion, Stamberg's
personal hero. "I had read and re-read all her fiction,
essays and reportage, as well as the thickest clip file I could
put together," she recalled. "I was over-prepared,
over-awed." As a result, Stamberg became tongue-tied. The
atmosphere of the interview quickly grew uncomfortable.
"Then, mercifully, probably because I
ran out of unease, something clicked and we began talking together
so effortlessly that there were times when the broadcast miracle
occurred: I actually forgot we were making a tape," she
said. Those kinds of interviews, the type that invites the listener
into the world of the subject, made Stamberg a successful and
popular reporter. Her prestige was evident during the one-and-a-half
hour book-signing. The line never seemed to end. For example,
Elysa Waltzer of Point Loma waited more than a half-hour to get
"I've been a fan of hers for a long time," Waltzer
said. "She's a great interviewer. I feel like I can hear
her smiling over the radio."
Morris Cohen of San Diego had similar sentiments.
"I'm definitely a fan because she has warmth and insight
in her stories," he said. "She has the ability to get
the heart of a story without hurting the person she's interviewing
and without wasting time." When fans finally reached the
front of the line, they were not disappointed. Stamberg spent
several minutes talking to each admirer, who shared a laugh or
a memory of a favorite interview. Although her devotees felt
they already knew her from the radio, they left feeling like
they had a friend.
Stamberg may not be
the official queen of radio, but her stately behavior proved
why so many listeners consider her royalty.