Been There Before: My NPR Début

Based on my extensive research (which amounts to 20 minutes or so on Google), it was Vince Lombardi who said, “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

Or it might’ve been Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant. Or Darrell K. Royal, head coach at the University of Texas in the 1960s and 70s.

Or, as one online commenter noted, “Probably some high school coach who will never be known.”

Anyway, you get the drift: If and when you accomplish something big, really big, something extraordinary, don’t behave like it’s a fluke or a miracle. Don’t, in other words, flop around in ecstasy for the cameras or whirl like a dervish. Instead, take it in stride – as in, “of course I made a touchdown in an NFL game in front of millions of viewers. Was there really any doubt?!”

I got to thinking about this following a recent segment on NPR’s “Weekend Edition.” Scott Simon, the paragon of public radio mellifluence, gravitas, and geniality, had interviewed an expert on the history of special counsels with respect to the Trump-Russia morass. Here’s the final exchange between Simon and his guest, Stephen Carter:

CARTER: We don’t know if it’s true or not, but we should behave as though we know whether it’s true. But if it does turn out to be true, that’s very, very serious.

SIMON: Stephen Carter of Yale Law School and the esteemed novelist. Thanks so much for being back with us, Stephen.

CARTER: It is always a pleasure. Thanks, Scott.

“Always a pleasure”– almost Chick-fil-A-esque, don’t you think? So calming, so routine. As if talking with Scott Simon to millions of listeners is the most natural thing in the world and “always a pleasure.” And Mr. Carter had also used the phrase earlier in the segment after he was first introduced.

Clearly it’s a pleasure Stephen had enjoyed previously – hence the “always” and the “being back with us.” Consequently, the Lombari/Bryant/high-school-coach recommendation about how to act didn’t apply to him: Carter had been there before, and he was acting accordingly.

But at some point in his radio career, Stephen Carter must’ve made an initial NPR appearance. There was some moment – years ago, decades ago, who knows? – that Stephen Carter was at a microphone and Scott Simon was introducing him for the very first time. And perhaps, back then, Mr. Carter wasn’t famous enough to be assured of a return visit. For all Stephen knew, it might’ve been his lone NPR shot!

So, I wonder: Was his response to Scott Simon’s inaugural introduction a sedate, “It’s my pleasure?”

I bet it was. In fact, I bet all the guests on NPR are prepped along those lines. I bet all the guests – especially the rookies and one-hit-wonders (those whose first NPR cameo really will be their only shot) are advised to act like they’ve been there before. “Be cool,” they’re told. “Pretend like you’re just having a chat with a census taker or a bank clerk. Disregard the monumental impact your words could have on countless people; how your comments might be misconstrued and lampooned in the digital ether forever. It’s all cool. Be cool.”

That’s why they all sound like they’ve been on the radio a million times even if they haven’t. That’s why they all, without exception, come across as erudite and smooth.

Take Jane Kirtley who showed up on “All Things Considered” the other day. Jane is an academic with specialized knowledge pertaining to pink slime, the segment’s focus. Given that pink slime isn’t exactly a hot news item any more, Dr. Kirtley could easily wind up on the NPR one-hit-wonder guest roster. Even so, consider her initial exchange with host Robert Siegel:

SIEGEL: Joining us to talk about this case is Jane Kirtley. She’s the director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota. Welcome to the program.

JANE KIRTLEY: Thank you.

I’m sorry, what? Just…“thank you” – that’s it? And that’s how she took her exit as well: a polite “thank you.” This well might be the only chance in her life – her whole life ­– that she’ll get to speak on NPR, and she goes out with a “thank you?” Probably she was as giddy as I would be to make it to ATC, but the pre-show handlers prepped it out of her.

No, I’m sorry, no. Look, Robert Siegel and Scott Simon and all you NPR guest wranglers, when you get around to needing a pro-life/anti-war former drummer with seven kids who works as a nursing instructor and refuses to carry a cell phone, I’ll be ready. However, know that I will eschew your advice about acting like I’ve been there before – I’ll sneer and scoff; I’ll give with a breathy chortle: “Herh, herh, herh.”  No, I will make good use of my 15 minutes of NPR fame, and it’ll go something like this:

SIMON: For more insight into Van Morrison’s unheralded contributions to healthcare reform and world peace, here’s Rick Becker, husband, father, blogger, and Assistant Professor of Nursing at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. Thanks for being here, Rick.

BECKER: Heck, are you kidding me, Scott – are you kidding me?! Shoot, yeah! Here we are, on NPR – N-P-freaking-R! – and you’re thanking me? I should be thanking you – in fact, I am going to thank you, right now: Thank you, Scott Simon! Thanks, NPR and Weekend Edition! Thanks, all you NPR contributors and underwriters! Thanks, thanks, thanks – this is awesome! Hey, kids! Hey, honey! I’m on NPR, can you believe it? Whooo-hooo! I hope somebody’s recording this!

Anyway, what’s your question, Scott?

SIMON: ….

Since there’s no question I’d be an NPR one-hit-wonder, why not go out in a blaze of glory? Feigning “been-there-before” cool – on NPR or in any part of life – strikes me as both fatuous and futile. Boorishness is underrated. Be awkward and loutish! Be free!

I’ll look forward to hearing from you, Scott.
________________________

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3 Comments

  1. Howard

     /  June 3, 2017

    When I was a student at the University of Alabama, I was told the saying came from Bear Bryant. He also shot down the Roswell saucer and was the real author behind Shakespeare, and it was his behind-the-scenes work that prevented a disastrous end to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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  2. It was Paul Brown. (i.e., “When you get into the endzone …)

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  3. Morrie

     /  June 4, 2017

    It was the professor of proctology at UMass Medical school

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