`I'm Ed Bradley'. Emmy Award-winning reporter on CBS's `60 Minutes' has come a long way since his first job on the air as a radio disc jockey
HARD news, soft jazz. While Ed Bradley hammers out the plans for another report on CBS's ``60 Minutes,'' the quiet sounds of George Shearing fill his New York City office. Surrounded by reminders of a fast-paced, sometimes hectic career as a broadcast journalist, Mr. Bradley recollects his earliest experiences in the field. ``I worked at a radio station [WDAS] in Philadelphia at the same time that I was teaching,'' he says, leaning back in his swivel chair. On a shelf to his right sit the five Emmy Award statuettes the industry has presented to him. One is irreverently crowned with a baseball cap.
``I went on the air as a disc jockey. In fact, I was a jazz disc jockey.'' Biographies of Dizzy Gillespie and Bricktop, as well as a book of jazz photographs among the political and biographical works along one wall, attest to his continuing love of the music.
Back at the beginning of his career, he showed the traits that have served him well. ``He always put in more time than he was required to,'' attests WDAS's AM program director, George Woods, who helped Bradley into the business. Mr. Woods laughs about Bradley's first feature reporting job, covering a musical group called the Monotones. ``His delivery was so straight-on, he was so totally frightened, that because of how he sounded we started calling him one of the Monotones.''
Bradley, now 45, still stops by the station whenever he's in town. Woods is quick to point out that ``he's the same now as he was 25 years ago. He was always a very concerned person, and he was always very easy to work with.''
``I was on the five-year plan,'' Bradley grins, referring to his schooling. ``I went to Cheyney [State College in Pennsylvania] in 1959 and graduated in January 1964.'' With his degree in education, he launched his teaching career and began doing unpaid spots for disc jockeys. With encouragement, he moved over to news, doing still-unpaid hourly newscasts.
``It must have been about 2 o'clock in the morning,'' he says, recalling the first real hard-news story he covered. ``I was coming out of a club and turned on the radio. I used to listen to WCAU radio, which was the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, because I had no journalism background and no journalism professors.'' The local newscasts provided a model. ``I sort of used them as a classroom of the air, listening to the way they delivered the news and covered stories.
``I heard Gary Shepard reporting on this rioting that was going on. He signed off someplace in North Philadelphia.'' Bradley hastened to North Philadelphia and found that ``there was a full-blown riot going on.'' After a quick trip to WCAS, where he hooked up with a tape recorder and an engineer, he was on the air. ``So for the next 48 hours, without sleep, I covered the riots.''
Bradley parlayed his contacts and his enthusiasm into first-rate coverage. ``I was right in the middle of everything. There were efforts to negotiate a settlement between the head of the local branch of the NAACP, Cecil Moore, and the police chief. Cecil Moore did a commentary on our station, so I knew him from there. So while these negotiations were going on, I was in the meeting, because the police assumed I was with Cecil. . . .
``I was getting these great scoops! I was on WNEW in New York, doing feeds. And that kind of hooked me on the idea of doing live stuff, going out and covering the news. I had never done that before.''
After the riots, the station offered him a job. His starting salary, he recalls, was $1.25 an hour.
Putting together a radio documentary on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided an opportunity to develop still-untested skills. ``I had no idea what I was doing -- I just knew I had two hours to fill.''
Bradley took the plunge. ``And I panicked!'' The broadcast was scheduled to air, live, from 7 to 9 p.m. Earlier, he had been with Dr. King and others in his hotel room and saw that, at 6:30, the civil rights leader had not yet begun to eat dinner, virtually ensuring that he would not arrive for the 7 p.m. event on time. ``I remember going back to the church where the broadcast remote was supposed to take place, going downstairs to the bathroom, and thinking I could call the station and tell them I'm sick.'' After a moment, he addressed himself squarely: ``You can't do that. You are here, and you have to go on the air.'' He made a decision that would affect his professional career for the rest of his life.
With the assistance of his girlfriend -- ``she knew all the key people in the civil rights movement in Philadelphia'' -- he lined up people to interview while waiting for Dr. King to arrive. Setting the scene for the radio audience, doing introductions, he eased into it. ``I just started talking, and the nervousness started to ebb away.'' Throughout the evening, sliding back and forth from the podium speakers to the on-the-spot reactions, one ear on the front of the hall and one on the back, Bradley felt his way along, judging when to cut away from an interview to rejoin the podium, when to redirect attention to a comment from someone in the audience. It was to lay the foundation for his coverage of the presidential conventions for CBS News in 1980 and 1984.
After joining CBS News as a stringer in 1971 in its Paris bureau, Bradley was sent on to log three years in Saigon before moving to the Washington bureau in 1974. He takes the responsibilities of being a news person very seriously. ``However people feel about the press, there's still two things that are paramount,'' he says. ``One is that most people in this country trust the press. They might not like some of the things we do, or the way we do some things, but they trust the press. And most people in this country value a free press. They can see the difference in the kind of reporting that takes place in this country and the kind of reporting that takes place in the Soviet Union, for example.''
Bradley's dedication to informing the public pervades every aspect of his work. But on occasion, some development causes conflicts; doubts are raised about what is and is not appropriate.
One such instance was the use by NBC of a secret interview with a Middle East terrorist, the location of which was not disclosed to the United States State Department. Bradley admits to mixed feelings about the role he might choose in similar circumstances.
``I don't know. I've wrestled with that and I honestly have not been able to come up with an answer.'' He thinks a moment, then adds: ``You look at what terrorists are responsible for, and you think it's your responsibility to do whatever you can to put a halt to it. But you also know that you have a special responsibility, as a reporter, to inform the public. And if talking with this person leads to a more informed public, then that's your responsibility.'' After another pause, he says: ``It's not your responsibility to say to the CIA or the State Department that I talked to the guy in Algeria, or I talked to him here or there. But it's a difficult area, because we are under attack, so there's a certain element of patriotism involved.''
When pressed to conclude how he would react if he found himself, as a reporter, in the same situation, he sighs, settles back in his chair, and says softly, ``Probably would do the same thing they [NBC] did. I don't think I'd feel too good about it, but I'd probably do it.''
Across West 57th Street, the ``60 Minutes'' production crew prepares for the weekly shooting of introductions and lead-ins for Sunday's program. Great expanses of heavy black electrical cable hang neatly in large, sturdy loops from the walls of the huge studio, as orderly as a Navy warship deck. To the right, the familiar gray rug and orange/gold chair rest expectantly before a 10-foot-tall, deep blue backdrop, blank, the surface which, when combined with the special-effects process, reflects the ``book pages'' look of each ``story'' on the broadcast.
Bradley settles into the set chair, reaches behind for his lapel mike, and readies himself for a first take. This part of the job requires more acting than reporting skills, as he opens a segment that's coming up with a brief overview of the story. An invisible voice from the control room finds a few things wrong with his inflection. He tries it again.
To Bradley, the most common misconception about his work, the aspect people understand the least about the gathering and reporting of the news, is the sometimes-unwelcome presence of news people.
``The intrusiveness. Why do you have to be there? Why do you have to do that?'' Bradley wrestles with those issues, realizing that grieving families have a right to privacy at a time of great loss. Previously, he states, families in those stark moments of confusion and anguish only had a handful of press respresentatives to confront. ``Today, you've got four networks, plus two or three wire services, a half a dozen magazines, plus a hundred local television and radio stations, and a hundred local papers who pick up the phone and do their own interviews,'' so their newscast can say, ``Our reporter talked to the father of . . . .''
But does the public need to hear the answers to those same questions about ``how does it feel?'' when the answers may be all too obvious?
``Yeah,'' he replies, ``because they're not always obvious. We all have to deal with death, the death of loved ones. . . . And I think you learn something seeing how other people cope with things. I think it makes you realize that we are all part of this one world, that we're all human beings and we all have similar reactions.''
In the far corner, Frannie Arvold, the show's veteran makeup woman, confides that she has a true respect for Bradley, one that grew recently when the reporter accompanied his mother, who still lives in Philadelphia, on a tour of CBS and the ``60 Minutes'' set. ``He was so kind and thoughtful of his mother. You can tell a lot about a person in a situation like that.''
Sunday night, millions of Americans will settle into the weekly ritual, with investigative reports and interviews presented in the industry's most watched newsmagazine. At the top of the show, along with Harry Reasoner, Mike Wallace, Diane Sawyer, and Morley Safer, ``little Butch'' from west Philly joins the lineup when he looks head on into the camera, long past the fear he conquered that turned him into a monotone, long past the uncertainty that gripped him the night of the Dr. King documentary. He looks head on into the camera and states, ``I'm Ed Bradley.''