Stamberg has been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and earned many awards and honorary degrees. After hosting “All Things Considered” for 14 years, Stamberg switched to “Weekend Edition Sunday” and now works as a guest host for “Morning Edition” and “Weekend Edition Saturday” as well as recording pieces on cultural issues for “Morning Edition.”
She recently invited a reporter to her office at NPR — a small, somewhat cluttered place with a vintage radio sitting on a shelf — and talked about growing older and wiser. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Radio seems like a good medium in which to age.
It is a wonderful medium in every way. You don’t have to comb your hair before you go to work.
How has your voiced aged?
It’s produced through happy, happy years of smoking. Maybe a pack a day. That will roughen up your pipes.
I hear the difference between me and Linda Wertheimer, who is a bit younger than I am, maybe four years, and maybe Nina Totenberg, who is also maybe that much younger than I, but neither of them are smokers. I can hear that in their voices. It is a rounder sound. Mine has little prickers in it. I think it makes for interesting broadcasting, but it’s not a bell-like sound. It was when I was younger in the smoking days, but over time, I think, the pipes age.
[Recently,] we dug into the archives to remember Dave Brubeck [the jazz musician who died in December] with a 1981 interview that I did with him. I brought him to my house, because we had no piano at NPR. And he played. I heard my voice then and they told me the “Weekend Saturday” staff crowded around listening to how I sounded once. My voice was really, really younger.
What else about aging on the radio?
I’m certainly slower. [In December], Ravi Shankar, the great guitarist, died. In 2004, I had gone to India to be with him for a profile. In 2006, I did Shankar’s obituary, and when it ran on the air what I noticed is that my voice is somewhat the same, but in my writing, I’ve lost a certain flexibility and a richness. I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, but there were two parts that I thought: Susan, Good! [She laughs.] I described his music as being like an Indian sari, rich and subtle and spilling out over something. His music was so beautiful, it broke your heart.