Robert Conley, the first host of NPR’s All Things Considered, died over the weekend.
It was Conley who on May 3, 1971, set the tone for NPR’s flagship newsmagazine. As one of the show’s current hosts Robert Siegel explains, Conley established that the program would be different.
To begin that first broadcast, for example, Conley launched into an unscripted, five-minute riff that introduced a 23-minute piece covering a massive anti-war protest in Washington.
NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg, who was a producer in 1971, shared this remembrance of Conley:
“Bob was a seasoned newsman with a deep-barreled voice that was made for radio. But he didn’t much like some of radio’s requirements — like working within the program’s time constraints. So he ad-libbed his introductions to reporters’ pieces, rather than reading from a pre-timed script. He was marvelously articulate but drove the director crazy when his ad-libbing put a news segment into overtime.
“His writing was superb. I remember, 40-plus years later, his description of the status of Vietnam peace talks in Paris: “Trying to follow the Paris negotiations is like trying to keep track of a kitten, playing under a rug.”
“Robert Conley didn’t always broadcast with stopwatch precision, but he made a grander contribution. He got us off to a start, and helped put in place the radio program you listen to now.”
Conley came to NPR after stints at NBC News and The New York Times, where he served as a correspondent and bureau chief in places including London, Rome, the Middle East and Africa.
Conley died Saturday surrounded by his family at his home in Virginia.
He was 85 years old.