||Here is my interview with Bob Fuss, author of Kidnapped by Nuns: And Other Stories of a Life on the Radio.
Q: For someone interested in a career in broadcasting, is radio still a viable choice? What kind of advice would you give them?
Well though people have been saying that radio is dying ever since the first television was invented, the fact is it is alive and well and large numbers of people still get their news on the radio driving to and from work. At CBS Radio we had about 20 million listeners and NPR has closer to 25 million. That is orders of magnitude more than the numbers who watch cable news.
That said, there are far fewer radio reporting jobs now than there were when I started out. Fewer local stations are doing news (basically only the news and news/talk stations) and through consolidation the number of radio networks has shrunk. Though there are new opportunities opening up in podcasts.
As a reporter I loved radio because unlike print or television you have pretty much complete creative control and a radio reporter covers the story, writes it and voices it without other people involved. That means more responsibility but also more freedom.
As for young people interested in journalism, besides the obvious need to learn all the new technologies and how to use them, I would advise taking lots of courses in college in anything other than journalism. Learn history and economics and science and math and all those things will help you to understand and cover stories better and make you more valuable as a reporter.
Q: You managed to overcome a significant handicap, and go to the top of your field in spite of it. What advice would you give someone who is facing a physical difficulty like that?
That’s a hard question since everyone with a disability (and without one) is so different. Personally I never saw myself as a disabled person. I had always walked on crutches and so that was normal for me. I know it can be much harder for someone who becomes disabled later in life.
But I guess the best advice I can give to anyone facing a challenge is to focus on the things you can do and not the things you can’t. There isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t face challenges. Everyone is better at some things than others and focus on those. And don’t ever let anyone else decide what you are and aren’t capable of doing. When in doubt, try!
Q: In your book, you mention that you had a lot of contacts, including phone numbers of very famous people, such as Jimmy Stewart. In your field, how important is networking with people?
It is absolutely critical. A reporter’s rolodex (now electronic of course) is among his most valuable assets. Your job is to find out information and so the most important thing is to be able to quickly find the people with the information you need. Certainly covering Congress it was important to get to know as many people as possible, members of course, but also their staff and committee staff and lobbyists and everyone else who might be involved in a story. And sources can be everywhere — good reporters at the Capitol know the omnipresent police officers often know more than anyone about exactly what is going on.
Q: What stories are you most proud of?
That is a hard question. Exclusive stories were always a source of pride, of course, but I guess I felt most satisfied when I was able to explain a complicated and important story to people.
Democracy is based on having an informed electorate and it can be an immense challenge to try to explain to people what a new tax law will do or how the Affordable Care Act (so widely misunderstood) really works and I like to think that I helped my listeners better understand what their government and leaders were doing and thus helped them make better choices when they went to the ballot box.
Thank you, Bob for taking the time to give us some insight into your career!