EDIT 2PM ET: Thanks everybody! Got to sign off! Catch you on the air! --Tom

I wake up at 4:58 a.m. Monday through Friday to get ready for my show. On Point is a national live call-in show, and we’re on the air from 10AM to 12PM ET. We produce the show at WBUR in Boston.

A few things you may not know about me? I was a dynamiter in Alaska’s oil fields back in the day. I produced Chinese kung fu films out of Hong Kong. And my current job with NPR started as emergency coverage of the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Before On Point, I was a foreign correspondent, newspaper editor, and writer. I spent 10 years in Asia —India, Hong Kong and Japan — starting at the South China Morning Post, then as a correspondent for the Boston Globe. I started my reporting career covering the refugee exodus from Vietnam and the post-Mao opening of China.

What else? I was raised on a farm in Illinois. I studied American history at Yale and Gandhi’s independence movement at Andhra University, India. I love rhubarb.

Here's a link to On Point: http://www.wbur.org/onpoint

A few of my favorite guests: Annie Leibovitz: http://onpoint.legacy.wbur.org/2007/05/28/photographer-annie-leibovitz Peter Drucker: http://onpoint.legacy.wbur.org/2004/12/08/management-guru-peter-drucker Jewel: http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2015/09/22/jewel-2015-new-album-live-performance Bill Russell: http://onpoint.legacy.wbur.org/2009/05/22/hoops-with-bill-russell

My Proof: https://twitter.com/tomashbrooknpr/status/775308546015653889

Comments: 143 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

lameiniowa60 karma

I love your show and one of my favorite things about it is how you politely cut off people when they are being crazy. How did you hone that skill? Is it something you are aware of while you do it? Does it come in handy during family gatherings?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR66 karma

Radio techniques do not work for family gatherings! Trust me! On air, I'm always looking to get the value a caller brings. When we've got it, we're done. On Point is not about chit chat. We've got big stuff to wrestle with. But I always try to extend respect, and look for the value, the insight that's there.

original_greaser_bob27 karma

All things considered, think you could take Ira Glass in a one on one fight?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR38 karma

Yeah, no doubt. Unless he had Sarah Vowell with him. Or did that death stare thing. Then I'd be in trouble.

BW418 karma

I enjoy all your shows, but the Friday morning "Week in the News" episode is always an extra treat at the end of the week.

Is it your favorite too or do you prefer the deep dive episodes on a single topic? Quality time with Jack has to tip the scales!!

Thanks for the great work.

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR24 karma

The cool thing about the Friday news round-up is the way we can flay all over the news horizon with smart journalists on our panel. We choose them for their familiarity with the top stories of the week. And in a single hour, we frame up the week. It's excitign to move and groove over a bunch of issues. And Jack Beatty's there! My soul man. Single-subject hours go deeper, but for verve and range, Fridays are great.

teethteetheat16 karma

Hi Tom, I've been listening to you for quite a few years now. I'm from Madison, WI and I think you are one of the most sincere and thoughtful hosts on NPR. How do you think you developed your interview style? Did it come naturally, or was it more of an evolution? Thank you for your time, I hope you are well.

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR22 karma

I love Madison! Studied Telugu at the University of Wisconsin there before spending a year in India. Great town! Say hi to my old friend Joe Elder. Sincere and thoughtful? Well, shouldn't we be sincere and thoughtful? I mean, not stupidly sincere and not without some sass, but I think public radio listeners want and deserve genuine, thoughtful inquiry. My intereview style was fist shaped in newspapering, I guess. I was a reporter, starting at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. But the sincereity is probably a midwest thing too. Illinois born and bred. On a now seventh generation family farm south of Bloomington. Very sincere, beautiful people.

BicDic6915 karma

Tom, where do you go all the time? I always end up listening to On Point but sometimes when you're not there, it's not the same!

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR18 karma

Where do I go all the time?!? Geez, I'm in here on the mic week after week after week. But sometimes, yeah, I jump out for R&R. I love getting back to the family farm in Illinois. I've got beloveds in California and try to get out there whenever I can. Sometimes I'm just down on Cape Cod. But overwhelmingly I'm right here, on the job.

gobstoppers9614 karma

Hi Tom! I was listening to NPR 45 minutes ago! Since I'm the first one to comment... Would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or 100 duck sized horses?

Also, what has been your favorite story to cover?

Audio responses are more than welcome!

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR25 karma

Oh, one horse sized duck for sure. I am not afraid of big ducks. You can quote me on that. But little ducky horses really freak me out. Crowds in general, not my fave. And as a tall guy, lots of little stuff underfoot is unsettling. Especially tiny horses. Do they whinny or quack?

s3thcom12 karma

Hi Tom! Recently NPR removed all comments and commenting from their website. How does On Point develop a community around the show, and what do you think the future of engagement with your audience looks like?

Do you think closing down comment communities is the best way for everyone?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR12 karma

I like comment and comment sections, but we do all know they can turn into crazytown. We've always had a very active comment community around On Point, on the web site and Facebook and Twitter. Some people abuse the community occasionally, but overall it's good. We want to engage every way we can.

MrInRageous12 karma

Hi Tom, I really enjoy your show and listen regularly. I'm always amazed at how informed you are given the range of topics you present. Perhaps this comes naturally given your diverse background.

My question is, can you comment on your routine for preparation for the show? Are you actually reading the books you talk about? How much of your shows are prepped by producers? (I've often thought producing talk shows similar to yours must be one of the more fascinating jobs.)

Thanks for your time!

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR36 karma

It's an awesome job. No question about it. But it takes a ton of work off-air. My producers are terrific at doing the research putting together background material for every show. But I have absorb all that, plus the books! I typically spend a couple of hours every night cramming for the next day's shows. I read deeply into every book, and have become a wicked speed reader. And then, knowledge is cumulative. After fifteen years now of doing this show, my brain is loaded for bear! Life experience helps too, right? I've lived all over the world, known the US from the middle and the coasts, and am lucky enough to have friends in high and low places. Low's more fun! And it all counts.

Gjallarhorn1512 karma

Hi Tom, I was just listening to WBUR during my lunch break!

Of the numerous guests you've had on the show, who do you think has had the most impact on you, or been the most interesting to you personally?

On the flip-side of that, have you ever had a guest that has made you particularly uncomfortable on the show, or otherwise been spoken or behaved in such a way that they would not be invited back?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR27 karma

I've been deeply moved so many times on the show. From surprising angles. Peter Drucker was great. He was 90+ when we spoke, and stone deaf. But he read the questions and answered with such zest. Inspiring. Annie Leibovitz, the photographer was amazing, talking about her love for Susan Sontag - the great philosopher of photography. Ted Kooser, the poet laureate out of Indiana, brought me to tears with his poetic memories. On the other had, Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original Sex and the City... I thought I'd love her, and did not. Seemed mutual. don't know why!

lameiniowa11 karma

Does Jack Beatty have dirt on you that he uses to keep his hold on his weekly spot?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR19 karma

Ha! Yeah, Jack has alllll the dirt. He was in the room three days after 9/11 had called us in to ask for emergency help after the terror attacks. I had never met Jack. So, we shared that foxhole of being birth in crisis. I've come to really value his candor, the way Jack calls it as he sees it. And it gives a continuity of voice to those shows. As long as Jacks famous big hounds don't knock him off his microphone, his chair, up in his place in New Hampshire, he's a stand-up guy. And we've gone through a lot together.

janetar8 karma

Hi Tom! I really enjoy your show. What books are on your bedside table right now?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR8 karma

About twenty! Top of my pile right now: John McWhorter's "Words on the Move" about the way language changes over time. He's on the show tomorrow. Last phrase I recall from his book: "bees in your mouth."

Fitzch6 karma

Hi Tom. I've noticed you do a really good job of keeping things civil on your show compared to hosts of other similar shows and even than your guest hosts. This includes between guests that have very different and often passionate view points? What's your secret? I've got to say, sometimes I wonder if it's just judicious use of the mute button :-)

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR17 karma

Really don't use the mute button. I just try to keep politely powering toward insight. You can find verbal fisticuffs all over these days. They're not special. Understanding and insight are special. If I have to fight to get them, I will. But if we can keep it civil and gripping for delivering insight, that's our sweet spot.

geordilaforge6 karma

I think NPR is pretty non-partisan, but what do you say to people claiming you have a liberal bias?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR12 karma

I'm just trying to call 'em as I see 'em, to ask the honest questions, to keep the facts fully in mind. God help me!

Nevuk5 karma

I've always wondered whether your voice was something that you've developed with practice or if it is purely natural?

One of the most interesting segments I can recall hearing on your show was a few months ago and was about an issue with design philosophy and was presented discussing the flaws with making seats for aircraft pilots that were made for the average of all the pilots and wound up being good for none of them, while designing for the extremes was a more effective method. I believe you mentioned something about a disability which took me by surprise, as I hadn't heard you reference it before. (I've only been listening on a fairly consistent basis for the past year)

For my job I drive much of the day and your show has always been very reliable as a source of news and interesting info, thank you for that.

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR5 karma

I never thought twice about my voice until I got thrown onto radio after 9/11. Once you're on radio, people pay a lot of attention to your voice and comment on it. It's still kind of invisible to me. In my family, it's quite an ordinary voice. I'm just glad if it works. On disability, I've got none. Well, I did lose a little of edge of hearing in one ear when a crazy colleague fired his huge pistol next to my ear in the cab of an earth mover up north of the Yukon. But that's about it. Glad we earn your ears when you're on the road!

ckk5244 karma

Hey Tom,

Love the show! Thinking about starting a podcast. Any tips for those new to recorded voice?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR17 karma

Keep it real, baby!

gabeasl4 karma

A few years ago you had Russel Brand on to discuss his new political movement and several times you had to reel him in from becoming too intense, but it seemed like you really had a good time with him. Would you be able to expand on what that experience was like?

Big fan Tom. Was excited to hear about this on the show this morning.

Ninja Edit: I accidentally a word.

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR15 karma

I loved talking with Russell Brand. He's my crack. Wild, free mind and really smart. You don't want to reel someone like Russell in too much. The joy is in watching him run, and running alongside.

itsmeganesh3 karma

Hi Tom - great show!

Following the news can be quite depressing these days, especially considering the state of presidential elections… can you tell us about some of the people and things who are most inspiring you lately?


Tom_Ashbrook_NPR19 karma

Every person who keeps their chin up and won't stop trying inspires me. Every person who cuts through the crap and speaks truth to power or to ignorance. This life ain't beanbag. It takes spine.

12yearoldAOLer3 karma

Hey Tom,

Was listening to the show a couple weeks ago, when you had Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on back to back.

From your perspective, what happened at the end of the Gary Johnson interview, when he refused to acknowledge a caller's question (can't remember what it was about- supreme court appointments I think?), and got his feathers ruffled when you pressed him for an answer?

It was a weird moment at the end of an otherwise insightful interview and it's been stuck in my head ever since.

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR6 karma

Yeah, that was a weird moment. I'm note sure why he balked so hard right there. I thought all hte question were reasonable. But politicians have to just go and go and sometimes they must just lose it. I thought most of his anwers were realy refreshing.

pelagico3 karma

Hey Tom! Young newspaper reporter here. I listen a lot, and notice you have a knack for diplomatically, but quickly, steering callers away from digressions.

So how'd you master those skills? Any tips on how to achieve this type of efficiency in interviews with wandering sources?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR9 karma

I think the origin of that is cultural. I grew up in an old-fashioned, rural farming community - almost Amish, I like to joke - where good manners were important. Not to be stuffy, but to show respect and let everybody's light shine. There was lots of humor and hard work and people disagreed too. But those farmers counted on each other for so much, and the awareness of that infused their exchanges. I see the whole country that way. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we ultimately depend on each other. I always try to keep that in mind. Glad you're jumping into reporting! Good luck!

gococks3 karma

Hi Tom, big fan of the show from Oregon. Unfortunately, it's always via podcast instead of live. I follow you on Twitter and see you often post shots of the outdoors, concerts, drinks, etc in the midwest when you're home. My question is: where is your favorite spot in the US? And in the world?

Tom_Ashbrook_NPR4 karma

Favorite spot in the US is a little curve in Kickapoo Creek where I grew up chasing tadpoles. Favorite spot in the world? That's tough. I lived in India, Hong Kong, Japan. Spent ten years all over Asia. Love the Himalayas. Loved Bali back in the day. Loved Ajanta and Ellora, the cave temples in India. Loved Afghanistan before it got wrecked. And Italy. Who doesn't love a good spot in Italy?