Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, will speak in Sonoma Aug. 13
Scott Simon has one of the most recognizable voices in radio, probably because he’s occupied the same Saturday morning slot on National Public Radio for 30 years.
As host of “Weekend Edition Saturday,” he helms the two-hour news and information program that carries over the week’s top stories – but includes gentler lifestyle and sports stories as well, to help ease the audience into the weekend.
The radio program is only part of his very busy life. He’s also a television correspondent on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and author of several books including the most recent, “My Cubs: A Love Story,” about his lifelong affection for his hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.
Less well known is that Simon has a close family connection with the wine country, and is a frequent visitor to Calistoga and Santa Rosa: His stepsister owns a horse ranch that almost straddles Sonoma and Napa counties.
Next Monday, Aug. 13, Simon becomes the latest guest in the ongoing Sonoma Speaker Series, fulfilling a commitment made to the series’ cofounder, the late John McChesney, who died in June. In a telephone conversation recently – conducted moments after Simon concluded his Saturday morning broadcast – we talked journalism, social media and baseball. But we began by talking with Simon about his long acquaintance with John McChesney.
The passing of John McChesney hit a lot of locals hard, whether they knew him personally or simply through his work on NPR and, more recently, with the Speaker Series. Were you aware of his illness?
We had dinner with John when we went out there in April. He told me, very bluntly, about his illness. Although he thought he would be with us until the end of the year. And, he said, “Would you come out and let me interview you on stage?” And I said, “Of course.” And then things happened just, as I don’t need to tell you, a lot more quickly than I, at least, thought they would. (McChesney succumbed to leukemia on June 5.)
He didn’t live in Sonoma that long, but he certainly had an impact.
Well, he was a singular personality. There’s no doubt about it. He was gruff and loving and kind and tough, but mostly on himself. Fierce. You know, a man of real convictions.
Did you have a chance to work with him at NPR?
Yes, absolutely. He was my editor when I was on the foreign desk. He was my editor when I was in El Salvador. He was my editor, for a certain period of time, when I was in Chicago too.
You said you had dinner with him. Was that in Sonoma?
It was in Calistoga. At the Sam’s Club. We’re out there a couple of times a year. Our family owns the Mark West Stables in Santa Rosa. I don’t know if I’ll be there for the Sonoma County Fair, but our children love that every year when we go there.
It’s one of our famous family stories, that the first time I went to the Sonoma County Fair, I had one of the huge dill pickles they have there. And my wife, who is French, said, “Oh, they are so good because they are fermented in chardonnay.” And I said, “Really?” And, I believed that for, like, 15 years.
I can see why you believed it, that sounds delicious.
It wasn’t until two or three years ago, my wife said to me, “I can’t believe that you believe that. Oh my God, it was such a joke!”
Let’s turn to another of your favorite topics, baseball. You’re enthusiastic about the sport on your radio program, and even wrote a couple books on the subject. Did you ever have the opportunity to play the game?
Well, not in any serious way. I mean, I was in little league. And I played in grammar school. Didn’t in high school because I was trying to overthrow the government. I always loved baseball, but I was never good enough. I think you conclude, by the age of 12 or 13, whether or not you can fulfill these childhood fantasies. And I understood that I wasn’t. Loving baseball as I do, every now and then I do regret that I didn’t decide to try and get into the office aspect of it. I think my wife and I have agreed that if I were to win the lottery, I would try and, at least, buy a minor league baseball team.
Well, Sonoma has a baseball team, the Stompers.
I know, I’ve been to a couple of games!
Some of the Stompers might take issue with the statement, “You should know by 12 or 13 if you’re good enough…”
Well, if they at least get into the Pacific Association, they’re better than I. I couldn’t even have the talent to be a minor leaguer. I remember, years ago, when I was still in my 20s, doing a story with the Clinton Iowa Dodgers. Because I was still relatively young and, I guess, looked fit and all that sort of thing, they would invite me just to play catch with them. And, even just to play catch, you saw there was a difference between these kids, there was just a certain smartness in the way they threw the ball. A certain zip that I just didn’t have. Even to play at the minor league level, you have talents at an entirely different dimension from the rest of us.