NPR's Longest-Serving Staff Share Why They Love Radio and How It's Changed

May 3, 2019
Originally published on May 3, 2019 12:50 pm

Some NPR staff members have been with the NPR family since its beginnings, watching the organization grow and change—and with it, audio storytelling. From Dale Neiburg behind the scenes to Susan Stamberg over the airwaves, each of NPR's longest-serving employees took a moment to speak with us about how radio has changed, why they love the medium, and what first brought them to NPR.

Nina Totenberg
Doby Photography / NPR

"Anything was possible"

Dale Neiburg
Kelly Myslinski / NPR

NPR's early days were set against a backdrop of makeshift offices populated by tireless twenty-somethings eager to cover the news. Reporter Nina Totenberg remembers the typewriters and triple-copy paper that were used when she first arrived in NPR's newsroom. "It was a tiny place. And I stayed, initially, because it was very hard for women to get jobs—and it was a good job," she noted, even though it did not pay well. But that was not unusual for the industry, and Totenberg stepped up to help organize NPR's union, which still exists today.

Network Operations Center technician Dale Neiburg supports the distribution of programs to public radio stations across the nation. He was first drawn to NPR because he was "excited by the fact that this was a new company, a new start-up," he shared. "Anything was possible — that is, anything that could be done without money was possible."

"We're very closely connected to our listeners"

Radio is an incredibly intimate medium, bringing comfort to listeners in their cars, their living rooms, and throughout their daily routines. "We spend more time with most people than their friends and family do," shares Linda Wertheimer, who has done everything from producing to directing and co-hosting All Things Considered. "We're very closely connected to our listeners, and they to us."

Scott Simon
Stephen Voss / NPR

This connection is palpable during both routine and national events. Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon will "always recall the nights following September 11, when our show went on as a unit to keep company with an America that had been staggered. I think, in a small way, we did something good for our country."

Original All Things Considered co-host Susan Stamberg believes that "stories told aloud—no matter how people hear them—will always be with us." She notes that "the box on the kitchen table that transfixed me as a child may be gone," but she still appreciates the eight radios she has at home and celebrates that "the new media [of] podcasts [and] iPods will continue to bring the essence of radio's virtues to listeners for ages to come."

Susan Stamberg
Amy Ta / NPR

"It's grown so much"

"Radio has changed about as much as any institution could," Wertheimer observes." [It's] been a very fluid medium for many, many years. I've seen—and heard—radio pronounced dead lots of times during the course of my decades at NPR." But through all of that, radio is still here, keeping millions of listeners company every day.

Linda Wertheimer
Doby Photography / NPR

"The main objective of reporters at NPR is to tell a good story, and that hasn't changed," said Totenberg, "But almost everything else has changed, from technology to the number of platforms to the number of shows."

When Neiburg started at NPR, Member stations were connected by telephone lines and broadcasts were recorded on tapes to be mailed out to stations around the country. Now? It's all digital, distributed over satellite and the internet.

"I think back to when I started and it's hard to believe it's grown this much," Neiburg says. "But—with much-improved technology—we're really doing the same job. The object is to keep very high reliability and quality for the stations; that's always the goal."

Whether an NPR staff member has been at NPR for a few days or a few decades, they are an essential part of providing NPR programming to audiences across the nation and we are grateful for their dedication to our mission each and every day of the year.

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