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Mindhole Blowers: Facts and Connections You Didn't Know About Your Favorite NPR Personalities

By Dustin Rowles | Mindhole Blowers | September 29, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | Mindhole Blowers | September 29, 2016 |

My favorite things in the world are This American Life and NPR (and yes, I know, TAL is not officially part of NPR, but they are synonymous for most of us). Several years ago, we posted pictures of NPR personalities because I was curious, although none of them matched up to what NPR personalities sound like in our heads.

But beyond their appearances, we don’t really know that much about the lives of our favorite NPR personalities. It’s strange that, for many of us, these people are in our daily lives more than most of our family members, and we know very little about them, despite the fact that — for some of us — they are bigger celebrities than Clooney (Ira Glass was literally in my five freebies this year, and Sarah Koenig belongs on it).

Granted, most NPR personalities, though insanely talented, do not have fun-fact worthy lives. Yesterday, I was listening to an old Sarah Koenig This American Life, and when I found out who her father was, my mind exploded. Then I wondered if there were other NPR and This American Life personalities with interesting connections.

This is what I’ve come up with.

1. Ira Glass’s mother is a sex therapist (as he discussed at length in an episode about adultery), and his cousin (once removed) is composer Philip Glass, who has also appeared on the show. Glass and This American Life have helped launch the careers of, among others, David Sedaris and Mike Birbiglia, but one of my favorite things about This American Life is that this wonderful segment led to the not-so great Paul Feig film, Unnoccompanied Minors, based on that TAL story.

2. Sarah Koenig is literally my favorite person on the radio. I am a minor Koenig devotee. Not only does she have a delightfully eccentric mother whose rules of conversation everyone should live by, her father was Julian Koenig, one of the most notable people in the history of advertising. He came up with the “Think Small,” tagline and is also responsible for Earth Day (which is on his own birthday) (Koenig is mentioned in an episode of Mad Men).

3. Thomas and Raymond F. Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers and the hosts of Car Talk, went to effing MIT, where they delivered the commencement speech in 1999. They were actually science teachers/professors, and the do-it-yourself car shop they opened in the 1970s as a side project was financially unsuccessful, but it did lead to Car Talk (which apparently will air in reruns for perpetuity).

4. Margot Adler, who was long-time voice on Morning Edition and All Things Considered until she passed away this summer from cancer, was the granddaughter of Alfred Adler, Jewish psychotherapist and collaborator with Sigmund Freud. Adler was also one of the nation’s leading authorities in Neopaganism, as well as a Wiccan princess.

5. Bob Edwards, the first and longtime voice of Morning Edition, was pushed out in 2004 because NPR wanted to “freshen up” Morning Edition by bringing in younger voices. I find it ironic only because, a few years later, Bob Edwards married Windsor Johnston, another NPR reporter, who Edwards met when he was 57 and she was 27. That’s how you freshen up, NPR!


6. Carl Kassell, the announcer and scorekeeper on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! until he retired in May, was a student of Andy Griffith’s when Griffith taught drama in high school. Later on, he also launched the career of Katie Couric when — as news director in Virginia — he hired Couric as an intern (her first job in the profession).

You Have a Face For Radio! The Faces Behind Your Favorite National Public Radio (NPR) Personalities

7. In 2002, Fresh Air host Terry Gross conducted an interview with KISS guitarist Gene Simmons that Simmons still has not granted permission to re-air on the Internet. In the interview, Simmons basically propositioned Gross after she began asking him about his storied sex life. “If you want to welcome me with open arms, I’m afraid you’re also going to have to welcome me with open legs,” Simmons had said. Gross responded by saying, “That’s a really obnoxious thing to say.” Indeed.

8. For the longest time, I thought Diane Rehm talked the way she did because she was a lifelong smoker (in fact, I liked to picture her at a microphone holding a cigarette butt while she voiced disapproval at conservatives). In fact, however, she has Spasmodic dysphonia, which is not related to smoking. Also, Rehm has stated that, when she was nine, she was molested by a Congressman, though she will not reveal who it was (she won’t even tell her husband).

9. Peter Sagal, host of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, co-wrote the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. NO I AM NOT KIDDING.

10. Will Shortz is the only known person to have a college degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He also wrote the the puzzle clues that The Riddler (Jim Carrey) left for Batman (Val Kilmer) in Batman Forever.

11. Nina Totenberg, who is the legal affairs correspondent for NPR, is the daughter of Roman Totenberg, a child prodigy of the violin who was playing solo at the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra by the time he was eleven. Totenberg, by the way, literally wished AIDS on Senator Jesse Helms in 1995. She also once told Senator Alan Simpson to “shut the f**k up.” Totenberg is amazing.

12. Susan Stamberg, who is a NRP special correspondent and sometimes guest host of Weekend Edition, is the mother of familiar character actor, Josh Stamberg, most recently seen in Parenthood.


13. Neal Conan, former host of Talk of the Nation (which was pulled in 2013 despite his objections) was married until 2011 to Liane Hansen, host of Weekend Edition until she left NPR in 2011. (I don’t know if her decision and their divorce were related).


14. Garrison Keillor, an elitist bore, is a proponent of monogamous, heterosexual marriages, despite the fact that he’s been married THREE times (and

I grew up the child of a mixed-gender marriage that lasted until death parted them…. Back in the day, that was the standard arrangement. Everyone had a yard, a garage, a female mom, a male dad, and a refrigerator with leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids….

Under the old monogamous system, we didn’t have the problem of apportioning Thanksgiving and Christmas among your mother and stepdad, your dad and his third wife, your mother-in-law and her boyfriend Hal, and your father-in-law and his boyfriend Chuck. Today, serial monogamy has stretched the extended family to the breaking point. A child can now grow up with eight or nine or 10 grandparents—Gampa, Gammy, Goopa, Gumby, Papa, Poopsy, Goofy, Gaga and Chuck—and need a program to keep track of the actors.

Ugh. Garrison Keillor is the worst.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.