"Day in and day out, 'All Things Considered' is the most interesting program on the air," says newsman Charles Kuralt in his foreword to this lively book, a celebration of ATC's first 10 years. "Notice I didn't say on the radio. 'All Things Considered' beats anything else on radio, television, shortwave, CB, or ship-to-shore."
Susan Stamberg, the show's cohost since it began on National Public Radio in 1971, has compiled some of the program's best moments without, thank goodness, giving us a "that-was-the-decade-that-was" coffee-table book filled with stale news.
In fact, as you read "Every Night at Five," you'll find little reference to the hard news of the '70s. Because although "All Things Considered" was designed to be a comprehensive news show, it "was not to be only a news program," writes Stamberg, in explaining the show's goals. "We would also pay attention to the arts, humanities, science, and everyday life. 'All Things Considered' would take its name seriously."
So instead of confining the program to a studio or--worse--having its reporters rewrite wire service copy, later fleshing it out with predictable interviews from the White House or State Department, ATC saw itself "as the first program to recognize that people interested in news also play tennis and fix their cars and raise children and listen to music."
ATC's originators also recognized radio's unique qualities, that it presented opportunities for listeners to participate in stories and events by using their imaginations. "With our microphones we would take listeners to stock car races, duck blinds, Nazi rallies, and into a room where a child was being born."
"Facts alone are rarely interesting," writes Stamberg. "They're vital, but they don't nourish. Ideas, on the other hand, give you something to talk about. . . . If the news told here stays, it's because of something in the telling."
That something is a combination of ATC's drive for "getting it right," as Stamberg describes it, and the staff's insistence that a story be given the time needed for a thorough exploration.
"Every Night at Five," like the program it applauds, is a scrapbook bursting with "hustle, nostalgia, rage, serenity, optimism, confusion--a voice print of the country."
"We tell you whom the president saw at the summit conference, what influenced the Senate vote, and when African leaders will meet in Addis Ababa," writes Stamberg. "We also tell you what to do in a tornado, how the brain functions, and what happened to shopping-center parking spaces in 1979. . . . It's this mix of serious and foolish information that gives 'All Things Considered' its spirit."
A safecracker describes his nefarious trade ("the first time I opened a safe by myself was like discovering sex"); writer Joan Didion describes herself ("I'm a rather slow study, and I came late to the apprehension that there was a void at the center of experience"); NPR's congressional correspondent Linda Wertheimer reports on a Senate debate on abortion ("During one session a male Senate staff member whispered to a female colleague, 'Is ovulation the same as orgasm?' "); Ira Flatow, NPR's intrepid science correspondent, broadcasts from the South Pole ("There are no fancy markings on it, no gimmicks, nothing to give it away as the South Pole. Just a twenty foot wooden stick with green . . . and red flags at the top").
Stamberg's book has more, everything from essays and interviews on teen-age sexuality, Thomas Merton, and nuclear war, to inspired silliness. That ATC--and this book--can range so widely without degenerating into TV's "happy news"--that embarrassing me'lange of capped teeth, glottal stops, and blow-dry brains--is testament to ATC's commitment to good taste and integrity.
If this book has a potential weakness, however, it's that reading radio broadcasts is no substitute for hearing the real thing. A book that simply reproduced radio scripts would fall flat no matter how superlative the program it drew from.
Stamberg avoids this by careful selection of excerpts and photos, laced with her personal observations. The book's sprightly design is another plus. The reader's eye is continually pulled along by the breezy graphics.
Regular ATC listeners will find much to enjoy here: warmly humorous accounts of how the show is put together, anecdotes about ATC's staff, and many insights that should enhance a listener's appreciation of this publicly funded (thus jeopardized) broadcast service.
Those who haven't yet discovered "All Things Considered" will also enjoy "Every Night at Five," however, because in this case good listening makes good reading.