I love NPR the way I used to love Big East Basketball. Growing up in a Syracuse family, going to countless Big East tournaments with my dad and brother (we all attended SU,) March and her promise of cutting down the nets in April was everything we lived for. Over the years, as the NCAA has become more about big money, conference realignments and one-and-done players, my interest in college basketball waned. I could say the same for most sports - both collegiate and professional; the bigger the money becomes, the less I care.
Enter NPR. I moved to Los Angeles in 2002, started spending more time in the car (a lot more time in the car,) and passed most of that time listening to KCRW and falling in love with public radio. The proliferation of streaming programming and apps only helped fuel my new listening habits. Flash forward to 2018. I’m a straight up NPR junkie and now follow sports in an inverse proportion; even college basketball.
That said, I’m still a sucker for a good old office pool. So, I present to you the first annual NPR “March Micness” pool in which you pick your favorite NPR personality. The at-large field was selected from the “People at NPR” list on the NPR website. From that list of over 300 names, the field was whittled down to 66. (Getting to 64 was tough, so there are 2 “play-ins.”) I used an NCAA-style “power ranking” to get the seeds.
The #1 overall seed is Terry Gross. I was surprised to see her name here as “Fresh Air” originates from WHYY and not from NPR news. I debated not even including her as I didn’t see Ira Glass (a veritable kingpin of NPR programming) on the list, but it did include other “podcast" hosts, so Terry is in and in a very big way. Morning Edition and All Things Considered (and their weekend counterparts) hosts got the weight of their prime time slots, so Steve Inskeep, Ari Shapiro and Rachel Martin got the remaining top seeds. Those were followed by reporting giants like Nina Totenberg, Ron Elving and Mara Liasson; National newscasters (Lakshmi Singh, Jack Speer, etc.) whom you’ll hear several times a day, and then regional and international correspondents (Wade Goodyn, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, Eleanor Beardsley.) The rest of the field is filled out by regular contributors in the fields of science (Shankar Vedantam,) politics (Tamara Keith,) media (David Folkenflik) and pop culture (Sam Sanders, Eric Deggans, etc.)
And, as with every tournament selection, there were those on the bubble who did not make it this year. The legendary Robert Siegel, who’s public radio broadcasting career compares to the John Wooden UCLA dynasty of the 60s and 70s, retired earlier this year; otherwise he would have been the #1 overall seed and my selection to win it all. Noah Adams is another hall-of-famer, but is rarely heard these days, so didn’t make it. On the news side, Jason Beaubien and Martin Kaste are a few of those sitting this one out. And there are some pop culture gems (Bob Boilen, Ann Powers, Bob Mondello) that also missed the cut.
Lastly, here’s my analysis of the bracket. (You can find the completed one below.)
My first round upset special is the 15-seed Will Shortz taking down #2 Mary Louise Kelly. Think of Will as Princeton wearing you down with defense and lulling you into a devastating loss.
My cinderella is Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. As a 7-seed, I’ve got her in my final four. She’s got the voice, an amazing name and kills me every time with the r-rolled “Dakarrrrr” sign off.
To round out my final four, there’s Terry Gross, Steve Inskeep and Audie Cornish (who’ll need to get by a very strong Ari Shapiro.)
Ultimately it’s Terry Gross cutting down the nets after a convincing victory over Steve Inskeep.
And, since every office pool is about $$$, I encourage everyone reading this to donate to NPR or to your local station.
(Right-click the blank bracket if you'd like to fill out your own! Happy listening!)