Listeners Share The Stories That Stuck With Them Over 50 Years Of NPR
All month long, we've been celebrating 50 years of NPR and how it all started on May 3, 1971 with the first broadcast of All Things Considered.
We asked you, our listeners, what stories have captivated you over the decades. Your responses included stories from each decade that brought you laughter, gave you a chance to connect with your family and made you see the world in a different way. Even NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg shared two of her favorite stories from the show's first two decades.
Here are a few of the stories you remembered, from kids' obsession with Flaming Hot Cheetos to the tragedy of a massive earthquake in China.
Susan Stamberg co-hosted All Things Considered for 14 years, and she's still a special correspondent for the network.
"I may be ATC's longest listener," she says. "I was on the original staff, right, 50 years ago!"
Stamberg was the first woman to anchor a nightly national news program.
"The early years were wild, sometimes brilliant, sometimes not," Stamberg says. "By the time this favorite '70s memory aired, we were having lots of fun."
In July 1979, Ira Flatow was guest hosting with Stamberg and brought in a story about Wint O Green Lifesavers and how they produced sparks of light.
"This intrepid science reporter, Ira, had bought two packs of Wint O Greens and invited me into the closet next to our studio," Stamberg says. "We had long cords on our microphones, and we went into a very dark closet."
And they tried the candy:
"I saw it. I saw it ," said Stamberg, laughing.
"What did you see?" asked Flatow.
"I saw a flash of a kind of greenish light just for a fraction of a second. Oh, I want to do this, too, Ira."
"And that's the way it was — All Things Considered, age 8," Stamberg says.
Stamberg's second memorable story aired in 1986, and focused on beloved All Things Considered commentator Kim Williams of Missoula, Mont.
"She was a naturalist," Stamberg says. "She gave recipes for dandelion wine. She gave advice on when you ought to get married, what you ought to wear. Audiences adored everything she said. And at the age of 62, she called to tell us she had terminal ovarian cancer, that her days were numbered."
In the original tape, Stamberg could be heard saying goodbye to Williams on the phone, and she recalls that producer Neenah Ellis, who edited the tape, left in the sound of the phone hanging up.
"I had to close the program and read the closing credits," Stamberg says. "I began, but the sound of that click got to me. It was so final. "So for the first time and maybe the only time in my radio life, I began crying on the air. But I kept on reading because I had to. We had to get off."
Stamberg says when the show was rebroadcast for the Midwest and the West, the click and the credits were cut out.
"But I hear them still, every time I think about Kim's life and her much too early death," Stambeg says.
Listener Joel Abrams of Lexington, Mass., recalls making dinner one night in 1991 and hearing a story about Haitian cane cutters in the Dominican Republic.
"If you'd asked me, was I interested in farmworkers in Haiti, I would've said no. But I listened to this and it really made me care about them and brought them to life as people for me in a remarkable way," Abrams says.
Independent producers Sandy Tolan and Alan Weisman brought the story to NPR in a 20-minute piece. It featured Haitian cane cutters talking through interpreters about their harsh living conditions in the Dominican Republic and the role of U.S. sugar companies in the country.
Abrams says the story changed him.
"I think it was the storytelling, and the way it brought these people's lives to me and in a way they really, like, brought depth and made me understand them as people in a way that I really wasn't expecting to," he says.
Listener Michael Spikes of Skokie, Ill., told us about a piece from 2006 about an elementary school principal in California banning students from eating Flaming Hot Cheetos.
The story stuck with him so much that he used it to teach in his media production classes. The reporter included a food scientist and a Frito Lay spokesperson, but that's not what made it so memorable for Spikes.
"What captures your attention so much is the sound of the kids in the story," Spikes says. "And that is juxtaposed with the narration that comes from the reporter, who talks about it in ... a little bit more of a-- I don't want to say clinical way, but, you know, talks like an adult would talk about Flaming Hot Cheetos.
Spikes says he used the story for years to teach his students about the importance of voices in audio storytelling.
"I just use that story because they always listen to it, they laugh at it, you know, they get engaged with it; not only just because of the subject, but also because of what they heard in it," he says.
Canice Flanagan has been listening to All Things Considered for 26 years. One story that she'll never forget comes from May 2008 when former host Melissa Block was reporting in Chengdu, China.
As she was recording the interview, Block found herself capturing a major tragedy — an earthquake that killed more than 69,000 people in the Sichuan province.
"To hear Melissa Block go from questions about the business, the environment, the changes; to the ground is moving, the building is moving, the church across the street is falling. The step by step of what she was observing was riveting," Flanagan says.
Flanagan says she still cannot get the reporting of that first moment out of her mind.
"I've lived in San Francisco all my life," she says. "I've been in earthquakes. I was in Loma Prieta. And the ability to stay focused and measured was just astounding. However many years later, I still say to people, 'did you hear that report on NPR?' "
Eddy Parker of Raleigh, N.C., recalled a story that became a memorable part of his relationship with his daughter.
"I was driving in the car with my daughter, and the story came on about a father and daughter who had this long running, epic-length dad joke where they disagreed on the quality of the song 'Werewolves of London'," says Parker.
Christina Pappas, the daughter from that story, endlessly needled her dad about the song, but it eventually became a family joke — to the point that Pappas surprised her dad by playing it at her wedding for their father-daughter dance.
The story stuck with Parker and his teenage daughter Sarah.
"I was listening to Spotify and the radio kept cutting into 'Werewolves of London,'" Parker says. "I saw my daughter the next day, she was going to school, and I said, 'The weirdest thing happened in my radio.' She just started laughing; she goes, 'I know, I was doing that."
That wasn't the last time Sarah tricked her dad.
"She punked me a couple more times when I'd be listening to Spotify, driving down the road, until I finally learned that when 'Werewolves of London' played, it was time for me to call my daughter," he says.
Listener Brooke Frizzell of Milwaukee remembers a 2016 conversation she heard on the show between Jon and Jake Ralston, a journalist and his transgender son. The two were on to the show to talk about the reality of day-to-day life for trans kids and their families.
"The story just really struck a chord with me for how this parent's love transcended gender identity," Frizzell says. "And then it's really stuck with me over the years because about six months after the story aired, I myself became pregnant."
Frizzell's daughter is now three and a half years old. She said she often thinks about Jake's story knowing he was different from a very young age, and Jon's instinct to protect his child.
"I don't know who my child will grow up to be, but I just can't imagine not loving her no matter who she grows up to be," Frizzell says. "I think of that often, and just think about Jon and Jake's relationship and how it's the kind of relationship that I want to foster with my own child."
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