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Louisvillians remember NPR legend and city native Bob Edwards

A banner with Bob Edwards on it hanging on a building in downtown Louisville.
Greater Louisville Pride Foundation
Bob Edwards was honored with one of the iconic banners in downtown for "hometown heroes." He died Saturday at the age of 76.

Before becoming the host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Bob Edwards was a Louisvillian. Those who knew him said he was erudite, but never lost his love for Kentucky and local public radio. He died this weekend at 76.

Bob Edwards was born in Louisville and grew up on Concord Drive in a small neighborhood near the fairgrounds and, now, Cardinal Stadium. He was the son of Joe Edwards and Loretta Fuchs, both with generational ties to Kentucky. In his autobiography he described his upbringing as “frugal” and “working class.”

Dan Gediman, who worked with Edwards on a long-running series of personal essays called “This I Believe,” said those qualities never left him, despite his meteoric rise in radio.

“He was this incredibly erudite, well educated, well read, extremely well spoken guy who interviewed heads of state and multiple presidents,” Gediman said. “On the other hand, he had this blue collar background from Louisville and liked to eat at Check’s Cafe [in Schnitzelburg.] He had a deep love for everything Kentucky and everything Louisville.”

Bob Edwards during a Louisville public radio pledge drive.
Stephen George
Bob Edwards participating in a Louisville Public Media pledge drive on October 15, 2015.

Edwards graduated from Our Mother of Sorrows School in 1961, then attended St. Xavier High School. As an adult, he was named a “Distinguished Alumnus” in 1997, served on the board of the school from 2002 to 2011, and helped organize alumni events in the Washington, D.C. area.

“He couldn’t have done any more for St.X in his lifetime,” said Michael Littell, senior VP for special initiatives.

Edwards also attended the University of Louisville and, after a distinguished career in journalism, was inducted into the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Hall of Honor.”

Edwards first radio broadcast was at WHEL, a small AM station in New Albany. He translated that experience into a stint in the U.S. Army producing radio during the Vietnam War. Edwards is best known for hosting NPR’s “Morning Edition” for nearly 25 years.

Gerry Weston, former manager of WFPL and WFPK, said Edwards always advocated for a strong public radio presence in Louisville while he was producing national shows in Washington, D.C.

“In the winter of 1986, I had been manager for maybe three months, and all of a sudden I had the entire ‘Morning Edition’ crew in the radio station – which at that time was at the Louisville Free Public Library,” Weston said. “They were here for a whole week, doing stories about Louisville every morning for a week. He couldn’t have been more helpful to [Louisville’s] public radio at that time.”

Weston says when the stations held an annual Mardi Gras fundraising event, they honored Edwards as the first Mardi Gras king and had him back for many events, including a “celebrity roast.”

Bob Edwards spoke at a fundraiser for public radio in Louisville. It was a Mardi Gras party where we was honored as the "king."
John Grantz
Bob Edwards spoke at a Louisville public radio fundraiser Mardi Gras party where we was honored as the "king."

“Bob was pretty much off the air the way he was on the air,” Weston said. “He had a good sense of humor – very dry. And if you made sure that he had his favorite bottle of whisky handy, he was your best friend.”

NPR replaced Edwards as the host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” just shy of 25 years on air. Following that, he hosted “The Bob Edwards Show” distributed on satellite radio.

“I can’t tell you what a huge deal he was. In his heyday, he ruled NPR,” Gediman said. “The folks that I worked with, when he was at Sirius XM, they loved working with him. I’m so glad that he got that as sort of a last chapter of his career because they valued what he was doing there.”

Edwards struggled with cancer and underwent several medical procedures in the final months of his life. His wife, NPR journalist Windsor Johnston, wrote in a message that he “passed peacefully” with family at his side on Saturday while listening to well wishes and memories people had recorded and sent.

“He helped paved the way for the younger generation of journalists who continue to make NPR what it is today,” Johnston wrote.

Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.

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