Melissa Block to Co-Host 'All Things Considered'
Hear a selection of Block's reports.
Award-Winning Reporter to Join Program in February 2003
Sept. 17, 2002 -- Veteran NPR News correspondent Melissa Block has been chosen to join Robert Siegel as a permanent host of All Things Considered. A familiar voice to NPR listeners as a correspondent based in New York, Block will begin hosting the afternoon newsmagazine in February 2003, after returning from maternity leave.
Since joining NPR in 1985, Block has worked as a producer, editor, director and reporter. She was on the staff of All Things Considered for nine years, including three as the show's senior producer. Since moving to New York as a reporter in 1994, she has covered stories ranging from police-brutality and terrorism trials to the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. Her 9/11 reporting was part of coverage that earned NPR a George Foster Peabody Award.
Block also has reported overseas for NPR News. Her 1999 report investigating rape as a weapon of war in Kosovo was cited among stories for which NPR News won an Overseas Press Club Award.
Veteran All Things Considered host Siegel calls Block "a great choice -- someone who knows this program well and who has done great reporting, at home and abroad, in the years since she left the producer's desk at All Things Considered. She is smart, funny, and, thanks to a story idea I had for her a few years ago, a devout Yankees fan. It doesn't get much better than that."
The search for two new All Things Considered hosts began last winter when Linda Wertheimer became NPR's first senior news correspondent for NPR News, and Noah Adams went on hiatus to write a book about the Wright brothers. Through the end of the year, temporary hosts joining Siegel will include NPR’s Lynn Neary, Jacki Lyden and John Ydstie.
"Melissa and Robert will be a superb team," said NPR's vice president of news Bruce Drake, in announcing Block's new assignment. "There are three core values that define the fundamental appeal of public radio's best-known programs: celebration of the mind and intellect, celebration of the heart and spirit and mastery of craft. We chose Melissa because her experience exemplifies all of these."
For NPR Online, Block answers a few questions about herself:
What drew her to journalism: I guess it stems from a love of language and storytelling, and a general curiosity about the world. That, and an aversion to law school.
Why radio? To quote Susan Stamberg: "I'm catching stories with my microphone -- a magic wand, waved against silence." I love the intimacy of radio, its simplicity and flexibility. And at NPR we're given free rein to stitch together multi-layered stories, full of rich sound. It's great fun.
Toughest assignments for NPR: Far too many interviews with family members of people who died terrible deaths -- at the World Trade Center, on TWA flight 800, in the terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. Those who agree to talk do so, I think, to pay tribute to their loved ones. And often, they talk to NPR because they know and trust us. But I always leave these interviews emotionally spent, uncomfortable that I've been poking into people's private grief.
Most memorable people interviewed: I have a particular fondness for some local characters I've met in my years in New York. There's Sal Napolitano, who's run the Central Park carousel since he was 15 years old: "It took me a while to learn how to get on and off... It was so bad that I used to get off at the back of the carousel, because I used to go crashing into the closets." There are Renee and Josephine, two elderly women I met on a park bench in Brooklyn who regaled me with wonderful memories of the old New York they knew: "I thought it was wonderful going to work for a nickel, you know, and come back for a nickel. It was wonderful. Never looking over my shoulder, who's going to rob you, or anything." And there's Larry Doherty, a retired New York City cop who raises racing pigeons on the roof of his house in the Bronx: "Oh, yeah, I'm in my glory here. Well, honestly, in my heart I would love to be a horse owner, a racehorse owner. But in my pocket, it dictates I go to pigeons." Their love of the city, their passion for what they do, and their thick, delicious New York accents are unforgettable.
Thoughts on taking the mic as All Things Considered host: My first job at NPR 17 years ago was setting up interviews for ATC host Noah Adams. I can't imagine better radio teachers than Noah and his then co-host Susan Stamberg; and later, Linda Wertheimer and Robert Siegel. It's a thrill to be joining Robert in hosting ATC. I feel like I'm coming home.
Below, a selection of memorable Block stories, chosen by NPR editors:
Photo: Melissa Block, NPR
From Melissa Block's report for All Things Considered, April 19, 2002:
"In the beach community of the Rockaways, the daffodils (planted after Sept. 11) have taken on added symbolism. Scores of local residents died in the Trade Center; and then in November, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed right in the middle of this neighborhood, Belle Harbor, killing all 260 on board plus five on the ground. Nadia Murphy helped coordinate the volunteers, the firemen, policemen, senior citizens who planted the bulbs here…'We can make it. We will make it. The daffodils were in darkness, and they popped their heads out. So so can we.' "
Melissa Block's work figured prominently in NPR's Peabody Award-winning coverage of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and aftermath. She reported on the destruction and loss at the World Trade Center towers in the first hours after the attacks; and on the city's efforts to rebound, including the planting of fields of daffodils.
Block contributed to NPR's award-winning coverage of the conflict in Kosovo, including a report on how rape was used as a weapon.
Block has been heard on ATC in the past as an interim host. In one of those appearances, she introduced listeners to the online Frank and Fritzy Show, a fictional radio drama using real FBI wiretap tapes of two Mafia wise guys' phone conversations.
For the yearlong series of broadcasts on The NPR 100 -- 100 of the most important American musical works of the 20th century -- Block told the story of a classic love ballad written for Fred Astaire: Cole Porter's Night and Day.
Listeners know Block for her rich evocations of her native New York -- its sights, sounds and tastes, and some of its most colorful inhabitants:
She prepared a mouth-watering report on the opening on French chef Alain Ducasse's new restaurant, then the city's most expensive and one of its most exclusive.
She interviewed a Soho street artist as he gave passersby "electric chaircuts" -- amplified performance haircuts.
She profiled a trio with an unlikely hobby: bag snaggers, who pluck plastic bags out of the city's trees for fun.
And she visited a Brooklyn cottage where an artist's performance consists of making pies and leaving them on a windowsill to be snatched away.
Read Block's online bio.
Read Block's reflection on reporting the story of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.