Culture
6:31 am
Thu June 27, 2013

'Talk of the Nation' Host Says Goodbye

WRKF will be airing Here & Now from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. starting Monday, July 1. Science Friday is keeping its weekly spot.

But, sadly, Talk of the Nation broadcasts for the last time Thursday.

Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan.
Credit NPR

The show has been on the air across the country for 21 years.

JEFFRIES: So, your second day on the job was 9-11. It seemed at that moment, at least to me that you'd already been on the air for several years, it was such a reassuring voice.

CONAN: Well, thank you for that. I'd been at NPR for quite a while before that and had been a substitute host on Talk of the Nation when various of my predecessors were hosting the show -- either Ray Suarez or Juan Williams -- and so it was something that I was accustomed to.

But it was also, I'd been lucky to-- I grew up in and around New York, so I knew the city well, and had covered the Pentagon, I'd worked in London as the bureau chief there, I'd covered wars in the Middle East. It was a moment where I felt as if, you know, strangely enough, that I'd live my whole life to that moment to get ready for that moment.

JEFFRIES: It feels like we've been through a lot together. Just last year when Hurricane Isaac was bearing down, you took a call from our regular WRKF listeners. …

CONAN: Dorothy's on the line with us from Baton Rouge.
DOROTHY: We have got bread and canned foods and batteries and candles and anything you can imagine to get ready for a power outage. … And we've got a full tank of gas in the car on top of it all, just in case we have to bail.
CONAN: And did you hit the ATM?
DOROTHY: Yes, we did.
CONAN: OK, good luck.
DOROTHY: Thanks.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call.

JEFFRIES: You're talking to strangers like this everyday on Talk of the Nation and you make it sound so easy to connect with someone who maybe is a Gulf Coast fisherman or a Buddy Guy fan, and you do it with such gentleness and without any hint of condescension or bias. But anyone who has a significant other knows that listening can be hard…

CONAN: And mine knows that I often don't. … It stems from an observation that I had -- that I learned from the great Susan Stamberg. I was terrified of what's the next question -- I had to write long list of questions because I was terrified I wouldn't be able to think of the next question. I was terrified of dead air. And what Susan taught me was, if you just listen to the person who's talking, they will tell you what the next question is. And that's the art of a conversation.

JEFFRIES: One of my mentors is John Dankosky, the news director and daily talk show host at WNPR in Connecticut; he's been a fill-in host on Science Friday a couple of times now.

He put a question to NPR's Senior Vice President for News, Margaret Low Smith, at a conference last weekend.

His question was, how will NPR still sound like American when it stops taking America's phone calls?

CONAN: I think it's a really good question. And it's going to be a challenge to the people who take over our time slot, a challenge to the people at Here & Now, who you're going to be broadcasting. Those people are going to have to rise to the challenge of connecting America in the same ways that Talk of the Nation succeeded at all those many years -- to explain what it's like to go through the regular band of hurricanes there on the Gulf Coast to people who weren't used to that sort of thing as they went through Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut -- those kinds of challenges, well, they're going to have to live up to it.

JEFFRIES:  Neal Conan, thank you so much for Talk of the Nation.

CONAN: It's been my pleasure, Amy. And thanks to all the people of Baton Rouge. I remember when we first went on the air there, you were kind enough to send us a king cake.  I'd never seen a king cake before, so now I know.