NPR has lost one of its unique and most iconic voices. Wade Goodwyn, a longtime national journalist, died of cancer on Thursday. He is 63 years old.
For more than 25 years, Wade has covered his home state of Texas and the American Southwest, covering the Oklahoma City bombing, school shootings, hurricanes, the murder trial of America’s elite gunmen and the Boy Scout sex abuse scandal. Wait for the headlines.
“For generations of public radio listeners, including myself, he was one of NPR’s iconic voices,” NPR CEO John Lansing said in an email to employees. “Beyond that instantly recognizable voice, Wade is an extremely talented storyteller and an excellent journalist. From the first sentence of one of his stories, you know you’re being watched by us. He goes on a journey with his masters of his trade. Whatever the theme, it’s a real treat.
Wade’s soothing bass brings the listener closer to the radio. A profile once described his voice as “hot melting butter on toasted sweet corn.” But Goodwin believes it’s her work that really matters. He is correct. Although his voice is touching, his way of listening allows him to listen with words. Take, for example, this memorable line from his 2005 coverage of Hurricane Rita:
“In Louisiana, even if you’re a big-chested National Guardsman, when the big hit comes, you hug your NASCAR teddy bear.”
“You know Wade is a poet,” said NPR editor Steve Drummond. “It’s the little detail, the little color or the little sound that he sees on the field that makes what he says shine.”
Radio storytelling launched Wade Goodwyn into journalism. He studied history at the University of Texas, a natural subject for the son of eminent historian Lawrence Goodwin, who was active in the civil rights movement and wrote books on grassroots populism in the United States.
After college, Wade left Austin to work as a political organizer in New York. There he became hooked on NPR member station WNYC. He told Current in 2016 that he was so captivated by the voices and stories he heard that he decided to freelance for public radio in his home state of Texas, where rent is cheaper.
He began writing freelance for NPR and was hired in 1993 to cover a high-profile story on the federal government and cult leader David Koresh in Texas. The Waco cul-de-sac.
“On February 28, as a chilly dawn settled over rural central Texas, BATFA agents rushed to attack David Koresh and his followers at the Branch Davidian compound,” reports Goo DeWine in The Morning Edition. “A few hundred meters away, heavily armed sect members were waiting for them.”