NPR founding mother Linda Wertheimer is retiring. Read her bittersweet goodbye note
After 50 years, more than one dozen presidential campaigns and years of delighting audiences as co-host of All Things Considered, Linda Wertheimer is signing off the air for the last time.
Wertheimer, 80, announced her retirement on Tuesday, bringing an end to her iconic run. Below, in her own words, one of NPR's Founding Mothers takes us through the decades as only she can — with grace, pizzazz and unvarnished truth.
I was incredibly lucky to arrive at NPR when I did, which was at the very beginning, and that's what I want to talk about today. NPR was not yet on the air, All Things Considered was barely an idea and nowhere near a program. The only part of the company that was fully staffed was top management and engineering. Our many bosses wanted to be sure that when there was a program, technical folks could get it on the air, out of the building and headed for the rest of the country. I am proud to say I was one of the first hires on the news side. At our first staff meeting there were no chairs (or tables) but there were eager people with lots of plans sitting on the floor and I was one of them. That day we named All Things Considered. The winner of the naming contest was the head of engineering, George Geesey.
I started as a director for our first program, ATC, which was the only job I've had at NPR that I disliked. My colleagues somehow could not cram their news reporting into the number of minutes that were assigned and every day we had some kind of crisis as I ruthlessly chopped their wonderful pieces down to size. I moved, as quickly as I possibly could, to the reporting side and began the longest and most wonderful part of my long career as a Nipper. I was Congressional Correspondent, then Political Correspondent, covered four presidential campaigns and co-anchored NPR's coverage of national presidential conventions and a dozen presidential election nights and in 1989 I became the co-host of All Things Considered. I served for 12 years with wonderful partners Robert Siegel and Noah Adams. Along the way I spent many years traveling and listening to voters. I can say without a trace of modesty that after all those conversations I always knew who was going to win the election. Also along the way I made lifelong friends, covering Congress and politics and campaigns with the late brilliant Cokie Roberts who was a great partner and Nina Totenberg, the best Supreme Court correspondent there is. For years, the three of us sat in the corner of the newsroom and presided over what some of our colleagues called the Fallopian Jungle. We thought it was a nice nod to the fact that NPR put so many women on the radio. Susan Stamberg, Bob Edwards and Scott Simon also put an indelible stamp from the earliest days on the sound and style of NPR.
The sound of NPR depended from the very beginning on the engineers who did the technical magic that got us on the air and kept us there. There were also more women doing that kind of work from the beginning than there were at most broadcast operations. We had and still have a reputation for our use of music and sound and again, lots of help getting that kind of sound on the air from the engineering staff. In the early days, NPR could not afford to pay very well and so depended upon younger people at all levels. I have always believed that also contributed to our sound and to the reporting and kind of stories we covered in addition to the regular news. The young people are still with us, younger every year I think. We have heard from people who came to the studios to be interviewed that they were wondering when the grownups were going to show up and belatedly realized that they were already there. And they always have been; producers and production assistants, writers, reporters, folks who edit, people who direct the programs, interns. I believe it is one of the most remarkable things about the place that so many of the original thoughts and ideas are still at work, made modern, of course, by all those "kids."
We all owe a great deal to the man who first heard the sound of NPR in his head and then translated those echoes into programming. Bill Siemering is the person I think of as the creator of NPR and I also think of our first editor, Cleve Matthews, who came to us from the New York Times and established the journalistic standards and values that have governed our organization since the beginning.
I have had a great ride over more than fifty years – and now that ride is over.
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