The idea came from former Morning Edition director Sean Collins, who remembered seeing the declaration and its "very powerful writing" printed on the front page of his grandmother's small-town newspaper.
NPR staffers clamor to be included in the annual reading.
"It's considered an honor," says Morning Edition Senior Producer Barry Gordemer, who assembled audio clips of the 29 individuals reading.
It's not an easy assignment: some words that sounded natural two centuries ago don't roll off the tongue today. The NPR staff is often reminded to resist the urge to edit Thomas Jefferson's original material.
The segment gets no special introduction on the air: "We wanted Jefferson's words to speak for themselves," Collins said. And the music behind the words — another NPR tradition — is "On the Threshold of Liberty" by Mark Isham.