NCMPR 2011 - Day 4

I had been looking forward to attending the NCMPR Paragon Awards Banquet, as it is always creatively stimulating to see the great work of our colleagues from across North America and beyond. However, fate dealt a different set of cards for me that night as a number of issues had come up back home putting me into a 5-hour conference call.

In many ways I was surprised that I managed to wake up on the final morning of the conference as it was almost 12:30 am before I put the phone down. But the anticipation of one more keynote and a hearty breakfast must of inspired me to put aside any lingering feelings of exhaustion.

Our guest to cap off a terrific 2011 national conference was Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" program. Diminutive, slight, unassuming, Terry rose from her seat in the audience when introduced and took her seat in an elegant wing chair on the stage.

"I'll bet this isn't what you imagined," she said.

With an incredible voice, articulate, warm, inviting, Gross may be the antithesis of what her fans had been picturing, but for me, seeing and hearing her for the first time her physical appearance seemed completely normal and appropriate.

She shared many interesting moments from a long radio career that stretches way back into the early 1970's. From pressing Lynne Cheney (wife of the former Vice President) on her views on same sex marriage to trying to get beneath the shallow veneer of Gene Simmons (KISS), Gross is not afraid of going nose to nose with anyone who ends up in front of her interview microphone. Sometimes her discussions are funny, often they are disquieting, once in awhile they are quite uncomfortable. Always she is interested in the human being behind the fame, the circumstance, and the story.

"Life is short," she said in closing. "We're all mortal. And for some people, life really hurts," recalling an interview she had with folk musician Vic Chesnutt who had a brilliant songwriting ability and a propensity for trying to kill himself. He succeeded just days after their last on air chat.

She closed out her session with questions from the audience. Eventually, I got my turn.

"I played the NBC interview with Charlie Sheen for my 12-year-old son the other day," I began. "He couldn't believe what he was watching. If you had 5 minutes with Charlie Sheen what would you like to ask him."

"I have no idea why I want to ask him anything," she replied, completely shutting me down.

In a sense, I agree with her quick conclusion. At this point in his life cycle, gaining any proximity to the real Charlie Sheen would be nothing short of a miracle.

For a former teacher who got turfed as an educator, Terry Gross has gone on to a radio career that has given her incredible access into the life of times of some of the most celebrated artists of our time: Philip Roth, James Brown, John Travolta and one of my favourite jazz artists, Sonny Rollins. Her interviews are heard by an estimated audience of 4.5 million people on nearly 500 public radio stations in America. I'll be looking for a podcast of her show as soon as I'm done this blog post.

I wandered around Old Town on my own on the final afternoon of our visit to Philly. Shopping done almost immediately, I found myself being drawn to Independence Hall and the 30-minute tour they provide courtesy of the Park Rangers. Standing there, mere feet from where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed was incredible. Imagining George Washington leaning over his desk to talk with James Madison standing close by with quill in hand, I shivered at the thought of the impact that conversations and debates held in this room had on the world.

We closed out our day enjoying a beautiful meal on the Moshulu, a four-masted steel barque christened in 1904 as the Kurt, now a floating restaurant at Penn's Landing. Our guest was Rick Whipple from Cochise College in Arizona. It was a great meal and a fine way to bring things to a close.

After waking up far too early at 4 am, we checked out of the Hyatt Regency on Penn's Landing and began our long journey back to Fort McMurray. We enjoyed this edition of the NCMPR national conference and look forward to 2012 when we will gather at the Fairmont in San Francisco.


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