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NPR Weekend Anchor Plans to Exit

Radio* Seeking more free time and more varied projects, the journalist asks to leave her post, but she'll continue reporting.

January 11, 2002|DAVID FOLKENFLIK | BALTIMORE SUN

BALTIMORE — Lisa Simeone plans to leave her job as anchor of "Weekend All Things Considered," saying her duties for the National Public Radio program robbed her of too much free time and the chance to do other projects.

In an interview, Simeone said she looked forward to reclaiming her weekends and escaping the shackles of a full-time job. Instead, she said, she intends to execute freelance stories on Baltimore for NPR and other outlets.

"I miss the freedom of my former life," Simeone said. "I have other fish to fry. It's my mission to bring all of Baltimore's wonderful wackiness to a national audience."

Simeone is a longtime Baltimore resident who previously had been the host of classical music shows on NPR and a public affairs show on WJHU-FM (88.1), which still carries "Weekend All Things Considered." She joined NPR permanently in October 2000.

"Now, I'll be able to do all of the things normal people get to do on weekends," Simeone said. "I want to go out to dinner, go to the opera." Later, she added: "I'm a free spirit, let's face it."

The split, effective in March, appears amicable. Both Simeone and NPR managing editor Barbara Rehm said she would continue to file stories for the radio network after she leaves her position.

"She has been wonderful, magnificent," Rehm said. "She lights up the air."

Rehm attributed Simeone's decision to the constraints of being an anchor. "I think she didn't like the confines of being a show host as much as she did going in," Rehm said. "She's always been this whirlwind of an operation. From the moment she had an idea to a piece going on the air, she was involved in every aspect of the production."

On a program like Simeone's, anchors tend to rely more heavily on a team of colleagues to produce the show.

As well as her freelance work, Simeone said she is the anchor for a pilot television program about military affairs that will be offered to public television stations.

Elsewhere at National Public Radio, Tavis Smiley launched a new weekday morning program in style this week.

Smiley's debut show Monday featured a lengthy interview with Cornel West, the distinguished Harvard University professor who is in a public tangle with the university's new president.

After Harvard President Lawrence Summers' pointed inquiries about West's political activities, West and several of his colleagues issued a statement saying they would consider leaving the Cambridge, Mass., campus.

Smiley was the first to interview West, and his remarks were excerpted on NPR's main newscasts and quoted widely elsewhere.

"This was not just a story that interested Cornel's fans--the legions of them--in the African American community," Smiley said. "This was reported on the front pages of many of the nation's most notable newspapers. It was an exclusive that bridged both worlds."

The program airs in the Baltimore area on WEAA-FM, the public radio station of Morgan State University. The station's general manager, Maxie C. Jackson III, was a key mover in the drive to create the show by a consortium of public radio stations that primarily serve black listeners. The program does not yet have an outlet in the Southern California area.

"What Tavis brings to the table is a national African American perspective," Jackson said. "He alone has the contacts and the persona to bring all these voices to the table." WEAA-FM draws one of the largest audiences of any black-oriented public radio station in the country, and its preeminence in jazz led it to be crowned as the nation's top jazz station in 1999 by a trade publication. But Jackson said he wants to do more, particularly in the morning hours, to appeal to potential listeners.

"It's sort of a spotlight on the African American intelligentsia," he said. Along with interviews of newsmakers, entertainers and business executives, the show will broadcast commentaries by leading academics such as West, Michael Eric Dyson of DePaul University, Harvard Law School's Charles Ogletree, former Spelman College President Johnetta Cole and Kimberly Crenshaw of UCLA.

Last March, Smiley was fired from his job as a host of a public affairs show at cable television channel BET after airing an exclusive interview on ABC. The move raised such an outcry that BET founder Robert Johnson appeared on the air live to defend the decision.

Smiley will continue his own work for CNN and ABC News, as well as his regular commentaries on Tom Joyner's program for ABC radio. But Smiley says his show is important for NPR.

"We have the opportunity to do for NPR what Arsenio Hall did in late-night television," Smiley said. "He brought his blackness with him every night. We are showcasing the kinds of voices that you do not hear routinely on NPR."

David Folkenflik covers radio and television for the Baltimore Sun, a Tribune company.

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