Tuesday, February 8, 2005

The pipes still work. If you haven’t heard from Bob Edwards in a while, too bad. His deep, smoky baritone hasn’t faded a bit since he bolted National Public Radio last year to join XM Satellite Radio, an upstart subscription service.

In fact, the voice may be even richer than it was when he hosted NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Listen closely and you’ll hear a hint of giddiness. It’s slight — this is Bob Edwards, master of the understated, after all — but it’s unmistakable.

“The atmosphere here is much like the early days of NPR,” Mr. Edwards said last week as he hunched his lanky frame over a Greek salad at XM’s Northeast Washington studios.

“It’s much looser. The question is: Will they do what NPR did? Will they start taking themselves dreadfully seriously?”

Unlike “Morning Edition,” which is essentially a daily newscast with interviews, XM’s “Bob Edwards Show” is strictly about conversation. Mr. Edwards still talks with newsmakers, but he also chats up the many musicians who pass through XM’s funky studios each day.

“I’m not a slave to breaking news anymore,” he said.

Life on the next frontier in radio is surprisingly relaxed.

Before joining XM, Mr. Edwards woke up each day at 1 a.m. to drive from his Arlington home to NPR’s downtown Washington studios in time for the start of “Morning Edition.”

He sleeps a little later now, but still gets up early — 5 a.m. — to avoid traffic.

Mr. Edwards has one gripe these days: He doesn’t know how many XM subscribers are listening when he turns on the microphone.

At “Morning Edition,” he drew about 13 million listeners a day.

XM reaches about 3 million subscribers. Each one pays $9.99 a month to hear 120 commercial-free channels that are beamed via satellite to receivers that cost between $100 and $350.

“We have no idea who is listening. We really don’t. And we’re all wondering about it,” he said.

NPR stunned listeners last spring when it moved Mr. Edwards off “Morning Edition,” saying it wanted to enliven the show.

He fielded offers from ABC, CNN and others, but signed on with XM, which gave him what he wanted, a daily interview show. It debuted in October.

Mr. Edwards listens regularly to “Morning Edition,” saying “It’s still the strongest, most authoritative, most thorough news program in all of radio, and it beats … most TV.”

His opinion of the people who replaced him as hosts, Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne? “They’re fine.”

An NPR spokesman declined comment, and said it’s too early to say how “Morning Edition” has fared in the ratings since Mr. Edwards left.

Mr. Edwards said NPR has lost its freewheeling spirit.

“They’re trying to be the news source of record. That’s very admirable, but it also means taking that responsibility seriously. You can’t be loose if you’re worried how you sound with every word,” he said.

• Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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