After Noah Adams had worked for nearly two decades as co-host of "All Things Considered," it took two men and plane to carry him away from National Public Radio. Yet the flight lasted only 12 seconds.
Adams is leaving for a year to write a book about the Wright brothers, to be published in time for the 100th anniversary of their short but groundbreaking flight on Dec. 17, 1903. He announced that today will be his last on the NPR newsmagazine, and when he returns after his sabbatical, it won't be as co-host of "All Things Considered."
"It seemed to be actually unfair to ask NPR for that. I thought, 'I'll just come back and be a reporter,'" he said, and let the network solidify a new lineup for the show.
The program's lineup had been rock-solid for 13 years, with listeners comfortable hearing Adams, Robert Siegel and Linda Wertheimer every weekday afternoon. But that stability was shaken when NPR officials made Wertheimer a roving reporter in January, saying they wanted to strengthen all of their shows with her pieces from the road rather than confine her to the anchor desk of one program. Now, two-thirds of the hosts have gone in two months.
"It was unfortunate timing. With Linda leaving, it would have been better if I could have stayed around for a year," Adams said.
Bruce Drake, NPR's vice president for news, said he tried to persuade him to stay but realized Adams faced a deadline driven by the flight's anniversary.
"All things go through changes. 'All Things Considered' has been remarkably stable for an awful long time," Drake said, adding that the network encourages its people, when it can spare them, to take time off to work on books because it rejuvenates them.
Adams has written four books, including his most recent, "Far Appalachia," a travelogue of the New River Valley that serves as a microcosm of Appalachia. In an interview after that was published last year, Adams said he had no immediate plans for another book, saying he would "not worry about it and wait until a book demands to be written."
That compulsion came on a recent vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where Adams stood on the dunes, felt the wind and saw the stretch where Orville Wright took that first 12-second flight nearly a century ago.
"I just thought, 'These are my guys.' I know these guys. They're grinning and calling me," Adams said. "The farther I got into it, the more I'm justified by the decision."
Adams said "The Flyers" will be a short, lively book that will take him to Ohio, North Carolina and France.
"I'm going to go where they were and see it from their eyes," he said.
As devoted as many "All Things Considered" fans are, Adams said, he doesn't think they'll be upset about the changes to the show. In fact, he said, the e-mails he's received since he announced Monday that he was leaving have been encouraging. "I always thought you were a good reporter," said one, while another offered the use of some French aviation magazines from the Wright era for research.
NPR officials say they have no regrets about moving Wertheimer at the same time they're losing Adams.
"I think Linda is doing terrific work, and we're excited about the pieces she's doing. It's an exciting opportunity for us to introduce some new voices on 'All Things Considered,'" said Ken Stern, executive vice president of NPR.
Drake added that they hope to have one or both new hosts in place by June, after an aggressive search inside and outside the organization. Meanwhile, NPR hosts and correspondents Jacki Lyden, Susan Stamberg, Liane Hansen, John Ydstie and Lynn Neary will join Siegel and fill in.
"It's never good, undergoing this much change in such a short window. But I'm not worried people will find it so jarring they would leave and not come back," Drake said. "I'm pretty optimistic we're going to uncover some pretty terrific people in the search."
Siegel said he's disappointed about losing two-thirds of a trio that trusted and complemented one other, but hopes that the new, permanent hosts are hired soon so they can start working to create their own chemistry.
"I feel like I've been part of a very strong team, and I feel like the team is breaking up," said Siegel, who added that he's not planning to go anywhere. He's slated to be on the show at least 18 more months and intends to stay beyond that.
Although some critics contend that 13 years may be too long and that a program risks getting stale with the same lineup, Adams noted that the audience for "All Things Considered" has grown steadily throughout its history.
Nearly 10 million listeners a week hear it on more than 500 stations, including KPCC-FM (89.3) and KCRW-FM (89.9) locally. It remains one of the five most-listened-to programs on radio.
Adams said he'll miss the camaraderie of the program, though, and that he's glad he, Siegel and Wertheimer were able to work together the week of Sept. 11.