Public radio innovator reflects on his historic career ahead of Hall of Fame induction

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Bill Siemering sits at a desk

Bill Siemering is pictured in a file photo. (Courtesy of Wanyu Zhang/NPR)

Congratulations are in order for the man who authored NPR’s original mission statement in 1970.

Radio innovator and advocate Bill Siemering, who lives in the Philadelphia region, is being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame on Thursday.

He told “Morning Edition” host Jennifer Lynn the meaning behind the guiding principles of NPR.

“I wanted to differentiate it from the educational radio, from commercial radio and really make a case for public and for radio,” he said. “And that’s why I wrote it would speak with many voices and many dialects. It would really represent America.”

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Early in Siemering’s career at student radio station WBFO, in Buffalo, he handed the mic to people who had never been on the radio before: student protesters during the Vietnam War, people in Buffalo’s African American community, and others.

“When I first went to Buffalo, I did a series with the Tuscarora Native Americans and called it ‘Nation within a Nation.’” he said. “They really were a separate nation within our nation. No one had ever heard their voices before. It just felt there were a lot of things that were never covered on commercial radio. That’s one of the things that public radio can do, you know.”

Siemering was a founding member of the board of directors at NPR.

He helped develop public media programs, like “All Things Considered” 50 years ago, followed by “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross and “Radio Times” with Marty Moss-Coane. He was station manager at WHYY when it had the call letters WUHY.

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Not only has Siemering made a significant impact on public radio in the U.S., he’s helped cultivate independent radio in the developing world.

When asked about being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame, Siemering revealed his sense of humor:

“When I started my work in radio, at University of Wisconsin as a freshman, the studios were located in a thing called ‘Radio Hall,’” he said. “So I started in Radio Hall. Now I’m going into the Radio Hall of Fame!”

Siemering’s fellow 2021 Radio Hall of Fame inductees include Dan Patrick and Philadelphia’s own Preston and Steve.

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