Behind The Stories

'Talk of the Nation' Memories: Working With Neal Was A True Highlight

All this week, we are remembering our favorite moments from the 21-year-run of Talk of the Nation. With so many driveway moment-inducing interviews, hours of live breaking news, segments with familiar voices, and insights from audience members, it's hard to know where to start. So we asked a few of those who worked on Talk of the Nation over the years to share a story or two.

From 2005-2011, Weekend Edition's Barrie Hardymon worked at Talk of the Nation, ultimately as in the role of an editor for the program. She has fond memories of working with Host Neal Conan, and has always been impressed with his ability to say the perfect thing. Here are two of her favorite examples:

"Besides the show and the ability to take calls, working with Neal was a true highlight for me. I did the show that was an exploration of deaf culture. We went back seven years later to a family that had been the subject of a documentary about their debate to give cochlear implants to a young daughter. As part of the show, Neal talked to that daughter who was at the time 13.

"That segment finished and we moved on to the next portion of the show. I was in the control room screening calls when the daughter's best friend called. Even though we had already moved on, we decided to have Neal talk with the best friend as well. She was also 13, and I knew she'd say something awesome. And she did."

CONAN: Now, let's see if we can get last caller in. This is Erin. Erin, calling from Glen Cove in New York.

ERIN (Caller): Yeah, hello.

CONAN: Hi, Erin.

ERIN: Hi, this is Erin. I'm actually Heather Artinian's best friend.

CONAN: Oh, that's great.

ERIN: We're like practically sisters.

Mr. CHOROST: Wow. That's amazing.

CONAN: You were listening to her on the radio today?

ERIN: Yes. She was so excited to come and she told me all about it. And I went on your Web site, I e-mailed you four times and called like a million times, and I finally got through.

CONAN: Well, Erin, tell Heather that she was awesome. Okay.

ERIN: Yeah, I definitely will. I just wanted to say that the cochlear implant is a very good invention in my opinion. Because without that, Heather and I would've never have met. And she fits in with the hearing kids and so many kids in our school. Everyone loves her. She fits in perfectly. It's just an amazing invention, and I really think it like totally affected her life in a great way.

CONAN: Erin, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

ERIN: Thank you.

Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan talks with Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan on October 12, 2006. i i

hide captionTalk of the Nation Host Neal Conan talks with Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan on October 12, 2006.

Jacques Coughlin/NPR
Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan talks with Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan on October 12, 2006.

Talk of the Nation Host Neal Conan talks with Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan on October 12, 2006.

Jacques Coughlin/NPR

"But the thing I love the most about this conversation is Neal knew just what to say to her. She made a profound statement. And he was able to give it back to her in her own language. It was a very sweet, darling and lovely moment.

"A few years ago I was working on the Christmas day show and we had an entire hour on Scrooge. I had booked an actor who played Scrooge and a professor of philosophy. It was a topic everybody knows. Sometimes we got to wallow in a topic that was pure pleasure; those shows were my favorite. It was snowing outside. A real quintessential day.

"Neal is so quick. He is a real brain. He was talking to the philosopher who was defending Scrooge. And Neal's ability to summarize quickly and smartly is an ability that not everyone has."

PROFESSOR MICHAEL LEVIN: Well, once again, if Cratchit really can't the stand the cold, and there was somebody who would be willing to give him two lumps of coal, Cratchit would leave for a better situation, as Scrooge calls it. But that doesn't happen. So I guess that's as good as Cratchit can do. He should be thankful to Scrooge for paying him at his - as the economists say - marginal productivity.

NEAL CONAN: But what about Scrooge's customers? The only ones we read about in the story are - I think there's a woman named Carol and an unnamed, her unnamed husband who celebrate in the story of "The Ghost to Christmas to Come" at the death of the old miser.

LEVIN: I know, that really sounds terrible. But look, you have to think about what the money that they didn't pay him would have done. I mean they - first of all, the contract they signed with him was voluntary. They knew what they were getting into. But there were people waiting on line for the money that they owe Scrooge. Let's imagine - to be very unfair - that Tiny Tim needs an operation that is going to be funded by money lended, lent by Scrooge to Cratchit that he collects from Caroline and her husband. And now if suddenly Scrooge has a change of heart and says you don't have to pay me, what's he supposed to tell Tiny Tim and Cratchit? That Tiny Tim has to die or Sickly Sid, who we never read about in the story but is waiting for a loan from Scrooge?

CONAN: So a noble entrepreneur ruined at the hands of a propagandist named Dickens?

LEVIN: Precisely. Precisely.

What is the best thing you've heard Neal Conan say? Share your favorite Neal moments in the comments.

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