What to do when you really, really want to listen to The Bob Edwards Show, but you don’t have Sirius XM Radio?
Let’s face it: NPR has made its share of colossal goofs—one of which continues to unravel in public this week, even as nuclear reactors melt down in Japan.
If fan (or un-fan, or hate) mail is anything to go by, then the firing of radio journalist Bob Edwards was the “thriving media organization’s” biggest faux pas. Who takes the time to write—much less send—a letter pointing out that you don’t change a good thing? In marketing terms, you might hear them say you don’t kill the cash cow. And in former Morning Host Bob Edwards, NPR didn’t just have a very, very good thing—it had a great thing, a beloved thing, a well-established thing whose value listeners recognized. And loved. Edwards was a cash cow—a Charolais or Limousin, breeds both known for “a higher percentage of saleable product”—worth keeping!
So who does take the time to carefully compose and then email a message telling the least-biased news agency around that in 2004, when they let Edwards go, they didn’t just goof—they goofed as never before in their recent history? I’ll tell you who: more than 27,000 Americans, as of April 6, 2004, according to Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR ombudsman who wrote about it. At that time, more letters were pouring in, and Dvorkin himself said Edwards’ departure became “the most e-mailed complaint I have ever received.”
This isn’t a rant about Bob Edwards or NPR, but it does help put what I wanted to say into perspective. The day after the last Oldsmobile GM ever made rolled off the assembly line was also Edwards’ last newscast for the media giant. Edwards introduced that report by Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio. Pluta spoke about how the Oldsmobile helped make chrome trim and front-wheel-drive popular, and how the cars defined their eras.
Definition is missing from today’s newscasts, newspapers and new media. But a broadcast by Bob Edwards—now there’s something with definition! I knew that when I received the invitation to be interviewed by the iconic Edwards. I looked forward to hearing how well he defined the story of my life, as told in my book, Sister of Silence.
Unfortunately, Sirius XM Radio didn’t tell me how to go about listening to the interview, once it aired. (I’m someone who doesn’t own a car new enough to subscribe to their programming, and I’m not a huge radio listener anyway—unless it’s to NPR.)
It was only because I began chatting with Bob about the Louisville-WVU men’s basketball game one Saturday, that I even learned it would air the following Tuesday, March 8. He told me to go to Best Buy and buy a satellite radio. I’m sure it never occurred to him I wouldn’t have enough money in my checkbook to do so. It never occurred to me, either. (The least costly one is $150.)
By the time I figured this out Monday, I had downloaded a free one-month subscription to Sirius XM. Unfortunately, by the time Best Buy was already closed Monday evening—and long after I told everyone on Facebook to do the same, if they weren’t Sirius XM subscribers—I realized my error: you must have the premium package, to listen to The Bob Edwards Show. (Or Oprah. Go figure.)
No problem, I told myself—myself being the ever-innovative, make-do-in-a-pinch mother I’ve always been. I’ll just upgrade to the premium package! All I needed, according to the online payment form, was my car’s vehicle identification number. Or so I thought. By then it was after midnight, and I didn’t feel like traipsing downstairs and outside into the cold night air to retrieve the VIN.
So I went to bed, eagerly awaiting the next morning when I would sit inside the warmth of my own home and listen to Bob’s voice one more time. Only this time, he would be talking about me. How cool is that, really? Turns out, I didn’t have long to wait—I woke up at 4:30 a.m. Immediately got online, ready to enter the VIN I had run upstairs with, waving it on the scrap of paper I held in my hot little hand.
An hour later Rick Shartzer posted on Facebook. “Too excited to sleep? You’re like a kid waiting to go to Disneyworld!” he wrote. (Rick is a Cleveland, Ohio, schoolteacher and a fellow writer who loved Sister of Silence as much as Bob did, when he read the first three chapters at the writer’s conference where we met several years ago. I would call him my number one fan, but I’m pretty sure there are several people lined up for that spot at the moment, so I can’t. Sorry, Rick!)
By then, a sad realization had begun to dawn: Unlike the final 2004 Oldsmobile, my Chrysler LHS was made in 1997, so Sirius XM rejected my VIN. Meaning I couldn’t listen to Bob Edwards as he talked with me, and about me, to the world. Fate could not have been more cruel!
So I did what I would under any circumstances such as those: at 6:30 a.m. I texted a friend. Or two, or three. None of them had Sirius XM. But then Cathy called me back. If she could reach her husband, Mark, who was on his way home from midnight shift, they would trade vehicles and I could drive over and listen to the show in his car—which came equipped with Sirius XM.
But no, that was too easy. For once I arrived, 30 minutes prior to the show beginning, and Mark was ready to drive home for some much-needed sleep, we couldn’t find either channel: Sirius 169 or XM 133. He was sure it was there; he had seen the show flashing across the dial. Sure enough, he was right: it said something about needing to upgrade to the premium version.
By this time, Cathy was as upset as I was. I told her I was going to drive all over town, until I found a new car lot that had the right Sirius XM package. (Yet another bridge to cross was how I would convince them to let me listen to it. But I had some ideas, like this one: “I’d like to take your new vehicle for an extended test drive. There’s a show on I must hear, to make sure I like the way it sounds on your car’s stereo.” That was one idea.) Cathy suggested I drive across town to the Kia dealership where they bought their new vehicle. Maybe they would have one with the premium package on the lot.
They didn’t—and by then the show had already begun. But, eternal optimist that I am, I decided I could listen to the second broadcast, at 9 a.m. I wasn’t too far from some other new car lots, but for some reason, I felt like I should jump on the interstate and head to Mt. Morris, Pa., to the Honda dealership there. (Maybe it was because I would pass my favorite doughnut shop along the way, which would surely brighten my morning.)
By the time I pulled into the parking lot at I-79 Honda, it was 8:40 a.m. I jumped out, went inside, and asked the service desk about their new cars. They assured me some of the vehicles did, indeed, have the premium radio package, and directed me to a salesman who had just arrived.
With few minutes to spare, I simply told salesman Ryan Heaster the truth: “Bob Edwards interviewed me and they’re going to air it at 9 a.m. I don’t have any other way to listen to it. Would you please let me listen to it in one of your new vehicles?” Ryan didn’t even pause to wonder why I would make such an odd request. He just began peering through the car windows, until he found one that had what he was looking for: an XM button, there in the dashboard. (Imagine that—that’s how you can tell if you really own a vehicle that will let you listen to Bob, and Oprah, and other great radio folks!)
Now granted, this particular show was important to me because I played a role in it. But long before Bob’s producer contacted me, I’ve been a listener. I remember him from his Morning Edition days. Since then, I listen to his Bob Edwards Weekend show at—where else—NPR. Because I’m also an iTunes customer, I quite often download the shows I miss and listen to them while I’m working at my laptop, or working out on my elliptical, thanks to my iPod.
But here’s the thing that I find most interesting: according to NPR, it now has 27 million weekly listeners. In 2004, when Bob departed, he had more than13 million, or 50-percent of the listening audience himself. Even with Sirius XM’s 20 million subscribers, given my informal local “poll,” I can’t imagine more than 25-percent have the premium package. That’s 5 million, tops.
So it stands to reason that the number of listeners who benefited from hearing Bob interview me about Sister of Silence on Sirius XM, versus the people who could do so by listening to the same interview on Bob Edwards Weekend, which is an NPR program, would be a much, much higher figure. Maybe that’s because so many NPR listeners are just like me—ever-innovative, make-do-in-a-pinch mothers!
Editor’s note: If you didn’t hear the interview, you can do so by downloading the podcast here. Otherwise, we can only hope NPR airs it! Sister of Silence is $14.99. To order your copy, go to: http://nellieblybooks.com/sister-of-silence.html