[../../../_private/magazine_tmp.htm]Radio Royalty: NPR's Queen of the Airwaves

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 Stamberg's signature.
"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.

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