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The Silver Age of Radio: 'Fresh Air' Celebrates 25th Anniversary
May 10, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross turns 25 years old this week. The long-running local Philadelphia show’s first national broadcast was on May 11, 1987. And I feel both proud and old to say I was a part of that maiden voyage, providing a piece on the finale, and legacy, of NBC’s Hill Street Blues…

It’s a time-capsule piece, that’s for sure, and taking it out of the time capsule was quite… instructive.

I didn’t even include a clip from the show in that first national review. Instead, I settled or starting and ending with the evocative theme music. And it’s nice, I guess, to listen to how I started on radio, and realize that, over the years, I have actually improved a bit.

Or, at least, relaxed my delivery somewhat.

You can hear all this, and read a bit more about it, by going to one of our regular features on this website, FRESH AIR FAVES, where we’ve just added the original May 11, 1987 review to the roster of featured pieces.

(Others include my reports on TV coverage of 9/11, my original reviews of Twin Peaks and The Singing Detective, and – my favorite piece of all – a tribute to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, on the 40th anniversary of that pivotal rock album’s original 1967 release.)

I encourage you to poke around in FRESH AIR FAVES and let me know what you think. You can visit, and HEAR, by clicking HERE.

What I think, though, is that it’s amazing I have Fresh Air clips, and Fresh Air itself, in my background at all.

I settled on wanting to be a critic early, and a TV critic almost as early, and planned my college and postgraduate studies accordingly. But my plan always was to write for newspapers. Broadcasting never was part of any of my absurdly focused “five-year plans,” even though, by the time I got to Philadelphia, I started chatting about TV weekly on the radio with David Dye, now the grand poohbah of World Café. He was at a commercial Philly station then, and had me swing around to talk about what’s new in television.

But when unions at The Philadelphia Inquirer, the newspaper for which I worked at the time, went on strike in 1985, the city was left without a major daily – and WHYY-FM’s Fresh Air, then a local show, eventually reached out to some of the paper’s critics to provide for listeners what they would have been writing in the papers.

We did that during the strike, and afterward, and when Fresh Air went national, some of us were invited along for the ride. Ken Tucker, who wrote rock criticism for the Inquirer before succeeding me as TV critic, is the only other critic from that first national Fresh Air show to have stayed aboard for the entire ride. (Good for us, Ken! We’re tenured!)

The radio station is hosting a party this weekend, with lots of past and present Fresh Air folks getting together for the occasion. I’m really looking forward to it – but I’m also, at this point, looking backward. And I’m somewhat amazed.

Danny Miller, then and now the executive producer of Fresh Air, was the guy who called me up to book me on the local show all those years ago. He and Terry offered me a job as the program went national, and have yet to take it away from me – allowing me to both learn and grow on the job, eventually doing interviews and even guest hosting.

At Fresh Air, I’m surrounded by people who are very good at what they do, who make me look (or at least sound) better every week, and whom I consider my very dear friends. The producers, directors, engineers – they all make it a joy to emerge from my cave and engage with actual human beings once in a while. And Phyllis Myers, who has produced my TV reviews for the bulk of my tenure and displayed unshaken faith in my TV tastes and passions, has made that part of Fresh Air a special joy.

But it’s all been wonderful – a great association, of which I’m very proud. Danny, Terry, Phyllis, and everyone whose names I read at the end of the Friday shows I guest host. Thank you all.

See you guys at the party. I'll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt...


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If you like Fresh Air you will like this video shown at the This American Life live show last night.

Mike Birbiglia and Terry Gross – “2 Fresh 2 Furious”

May 11, 2012   |  Reply
Ken Tucker
Right on, brother!
May 11, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
See you tomorrow, I hope -- at the old farts' table...
May 11, 2012
David-Thunderous applause to Terry,Danny,Phyllis,Dave Davies and the rest of the folk that make my day everyday,more than anything on TV,print or online.Fresh Air-absolutely the best interviews in any medium!
May 10, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Thanks! It's a great bunch of folks. Truly.
May 15, 2012
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