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One of my great loves is to sit in front of an easel and paint. One of my favorite ways to do this, is with NPR playing in the background, specifically Talk Of The Nation with Neal Conan. In March, NPR announced Conan would be retiring and they would be cutting the show. I’m still not sure which came first, but I’ve been in denial about it – until Thursday, when the final show aired. Given the roller-coaster ride of the week’s Supreme Court historic decisions, and the Senator Wendy Davis Filibuster, experiencing Conan’s last show felt like breaking up with a boyfriend, not because we didn’t love each other, but because of logistics.

I’m not sure when I started listening to the call-in talk show. It was sometime after discovering the ridiculously  hilarious, Car Talk, and the robust, All Things Considered. The first time I tuned into the middle of Talk Of The Nation, I listened closely, not only to the story, but to see if it was Norm MacDonald from SNL’s Weekend Update. No, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t. But the similarities in their voices did give me an instant  affinity to Conan.

Here is a brief bio from Alaska Public Media:

Talk Of The Nation reached 3.4 million listeners a week. Award-winning journalist Neal Conan is the host of Talk of the Nation, the national news-talk call-in show from NPR News. Conan brings three decades of news and radio experience to the show, which reaches 3.4 million listeners a week on more than 300 NPR member stations.

A familiar voice on NPR for the past quarter century, Conan has worked as a reporter based in New York, Washington, and London-he served as NPR’s Bureau Chief in both New York and London-and anchored NPR live coverage of events including national political conventions, inaugurations, and an impeachment. For five years, he hosted Weekly Edition: The Best of NPR News. Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Conan played a major role anchoring NPR’s continuous live coverage, a part he reprised during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, in Des Moines, Iowa, he hosted the first radio-only presidential candidates’ debate since 1948.

On the other side of the microphone, Conan has also served as editor, producer, and executive producer of NPR’s flagship evening newsmagazine, All Things Consideredand, at various times, acted as NPR’s foreign editor, managing editor, and news director.
Conan’s awards include a Major Armstrong award for his coverage of the Iran-Iraq War, a prestigious Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award as part of NPR’s coverage of the Gulf War, another DuPont and a George Foster Peabody Award for his part in NPR’s Coverage of Sept. 11 and yet another DuPont for NPR’s coverage of the war in Iraq. During his time at All Things Considered, the program won numerous awards, including the Washington Journalism Review‘s Best in the Business award.

During the 2001 baseball season, Conan took a leave of absence from NPR News to work as the play-by-play announcer for the Aberdeen Arsenal of the independent Atlantic League. He filed a series of commentaries about life on the fringe of professional sports for Morning Edition and later wrote a book about his experiences,Play By Play: Baseball, Radio and Life in the Last Chance League.

Conan tours nationally with Ensemble Galieli as the narrator and host of theNational Geographic production “First Person: Stories from the Edge of the World,” and “A Universe of Dreams,” produced in co-operation with the Space Telescope Institute.

Conan was born in Beirut, Lebanon.

NPR’s Michael Martin, in an interview with Conan on the last day of Talk Of The Nation, brings up Conan’s coverage of 911:
MARTIN:Well, you’ve had quite a run. I mean, you’ve won three DuPont Awards, you’ve won a Peabody for your work, you got one of those DuPont Awards for your coverage of the terror attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001. You were on the air for six hours that day.

CONAN: I had friends in that building. And I’m not sure how I managed to step back enough to just keep the head clear. But the fact is, our business, our training teaches us to do that. And I was on the air a very long time that day, and I guess for the next couple of weeks, but I remember finally getting a day off, and it was a Saturday and I was standing in my kitchen with a cup of coffee, and I was hearing Scott Simon doing a story from Ground Zero, as we, by then, were calling it. And that was the moment it hit me and I just stood there, and spilling this cup of coffee and sobbing in my kitchen, ’cause it was – well, everybody has that story about 9/11.

MARTIN: Do you have someone in your mind when you’re on the air like that, talking about a story like that or any story really? Is there somebody that you’re talking to?

CONAN: I don’t mean to be officious about this, my standard has always been, would I listen to this? If I was home, would I listen to this? And that’s the standard I’ve used for Talk of the Nation and everything I’ve done.

NPR Staff Says Goodbye To Neal Conan/Photo: LA Observed

On the final show, Neal interviewed former NightLine anchor, Ted Koppel. Actually they interviewed each other, joking and interjecting  memorable career moments, while taking calls about what news, keeps people up at night. Each caller bestowed lovely praises and farewells to  Conan who responded with, what seemed to be, mixed emotions. You could hear a beautiful sadness in Neal’s voice, and that of his callers and guests.  How does one to let go…

“From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I’m Neal Conan and this is Talk of the Nation.”
Now how am  I supposed to paint? Wishing Mr. Conan the very best, and hope to see him on another newsworthy show. When he's ready, we'll be listening.
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