Retiring NPR Host Robert Siegel Reflects On Four-decade Career

Jan 4, 2018

Longtime NPR host Robert Siegel.
Credit Stephen Voss/NPR

Friday marks the end of an era for NPR and millions of listeners, as longtime All Things Considered host Robert Siegel steps away from the microphone in favor of retirement. Siegel joined NPR in 1976 as a newscaster. He later became an editor, opened NPR’s London bureau, and served as chief of NPR News for a time. Siegel took up the afternoon hosting role in 1987. 

Before wrapping things up in the NPR studios, Siegel sat on the ‘other side of the microphone’ in recent weeks, for a flurry of interviews with member stations. Here are some excerpts of Siegel’s conversation with WFAE’s All Things Considered host, Mark Rumsey.

Robert Siegel on his longevity at NPR, including the past 30 years as host of All Things Considered, and how he managed to keep things fresh:

Well, first, the job at NPR of hosting All Things Considered was changed about a year into the time that I was doing it in the 80s, from having two hosts, both of whom would presumably be there every day in the studio, to having three hosts. What it did was, it made hosting something that was forever refreshing. That is, every month or so I would get off and do some reporting somewhere. The freshness of knowing that I was learning new things, new places, new people every year if not every month in this job was something that made it always feel like something rather new and challenging and not stale. If we hadn't made that change, I think I would have stopped doing this many, many years ago.

Siegel on the trait of curiosity, and whether he came by it naturally, or 'cultivated' it:

I think I came by it naturally. And then I think I also have been motivated for decades now for having had a rather, let’s say, disappointing college career. I was a very successful high school student. I was kind of a, you know, guy spending a lot of time at the radio station in college.

I think that when I found myself living at large, I always felt I have to know more, I have to learn more. So in part, it was making up for things I felt were shortcomings in me. But also, I think it's the basic character trait that should attract one to journalism. My learning has been a lifelong project because I'm in journalism and that's been a good fit for a variety of reasons.

Siegel on a highlight of his long hosting career:

9/11 was the great challenge to cover, and I stayed in New York that week. If you walked around the area of the World Trade Center after it had come down, the streets were covered with papers. The basic product of the financial sector, the financial industry in lower Manhattan and Wall Street was paper and documents. They were scattered all over the place.

Instead of just looking at them and noting there was lots of paper on the ground, I began picking them up and reading them. I did a story about, I think, four of them and called up people who were mentioned in the documents. Fortunately they were all alive. One of them had dropped off a resume earlier that week at the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. Another of them had been involved in some litigation that a law firm in the building had documents on.

The little piece that I wrote seemed to have a great impact on people. It was about two and-a-half minutes long and it turned out to be a rather moving little piece.

Siegel on what's next for him:

I know that I don't know what's next for me.  I know that come Monday, I have something I have to do. But I generally have no assignments or deadlines to meet and I want to see what that feels like. 

Robert Siegel discusses 'when and how he knew' that he wanted to be on the radio. 

Siegel talks about the recent national conversation concerning sexual harassment.