I believe in the women at NPR.
My most fulfilling job was as an on-air personality and reporter at an NPR affiliate, KCBX-FM in San Luis Obispo, California. I was fresh out of college and didn’t know what to do next. I needed work. I saw an ad for radio talent. That sounded fun.
I admit that I lied to the owners saying that I had worked at a college station. I faked my way around the board but I got the job. I worked crazy with joy six to seven days a week for only $4 an hour, part-time, at 20 hours but I gladly put in 60. One Saturday not a single, pre-scheduled volunteer showed up for their shift. I remained on-air for another 19 hours with only a tuna sandwich and a bag of Oreos. I read the news, conducted impromptu interviews with the town Mayor and two female college students having just returned from the Amazon. There was jazz and classical music. But the best part was flipping the switch to NPR programming originating from the nation’s capital.
NPR feeds were exhilarating because our tiny station grew exponentially in status when the NPR moderators and correspondents commandeered our airwaves. NPR had something that no other medium had–the distinctive timber of a handful of smart, smart women talking about important issues. I believed that Susan Stamberg was an enigma with her conversational tone while telling the story of post-war Vietnam vets. Ms. Stamberg was engaging, interesting and interested.
When Nina Totenberg first surfaced from the studio’s speaker I was in awe. Her stirring voice was a perpetual “driveway moment.” I listened intently to anything and everything she said because she said it with an educated authority. As NPR’s legal correspondent she made it possible to comprehend the importance of the Constitution and the nuances of American justice. Her assessments of Supreme Court decisions painted a picture of the law and what it meant to everyday people. To this day I listen to her with an abiding appreciation for her reporting and delivery.
On October 6, 1976, NPR’s Pauline Frederick moderated the second of three presidential debates between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. What made this interview monumental for me was Ms. Frederick’s voice and who was listening. The two most important men of their day were responding to a female broadcaster. And what she said and how she said it was just as important as what the candidates were about to say. Her voice and those of Ms. Stamberg and Ms. Totenberg demonstrated that women were breaking barriers in the media and doing it brilliantly. And I had a ringside seat in a closet-sized booth with enormous headphones cradling my ears.
Two years later I worked for another NPR affiliate, KVPR-FM in Fresno, California. After nine months at the station I left the best career ever for a “guy.” Dumbest thing I ever did. However, outside of the booth I’ve excelled in careers centered on communication. But nothing has compared to working in that genre of radio. The women of NPR inspired me to be fascinated with life, to be inquisitive and authentic. I believe in the women of NPR. And for a little while, in two small California towns, I felt like one of them.
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