Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend six months on the staff of "Talk of the Nation," the first three as an intern, the next three as a temporary assistant producer. I can say unequivocally that I have a career in journalism today because of what I learned there.
Producing live radio is extremely intense -- the best metaphor I can think of is delivering a baby. You make a plan, but anything can happen. A caller can tell you he has a question about tax subsidies but launch into a diatribe when he makes it on the air. Guests cancel, get lost and exhibit any number of behavioral anomalies that can transform a show into a high-wire act. Then, when things are finally in place, the president schedules a press conference, rendering moot all your best-laid plans.
Of course, when live radio goes well, it's beautiful: a conduit for raw emotion, insight and connection. My favorite moments are when a caller shares something that challenges my assumptions.
The staff of Talk of the Nation treats its air time like the precious and limited commodity it is. They don't produce what's easy, they produce what they think will be best. You will be missed, Neal, Sue, Scott, Sarah -- and the rest of the staff whom I haven't met. Thank you for filling our days with good, often great, radio.
Here is audio of Neal Conan's final sign-off today...