I like NPR. I have a contentious relationship with some of the "star" shows: I often hate This American Life, but every time I want to shoot my radio in hopes that it will blow Ira Glass's shit-eating hipster smile right off his face, David Sedaris does a story and I am sated. And every time Dick Gordon (of The Story) puts on his smarmiest Canada-voice and tries to milk a cry out of a Vietnamese boat person, I realize that the stories he does are actually pretty incredible. I heard one in which he interviewed a woman who had been a comfort woman during World War II. I nearly broke down. The horribly improvised "sketches" on A Prairie Home Companion are nearly unbearable, but "News From Lake Woebegone" can be disarmingly potent, and the show nearly always has an interesting musical selection.
That said, none of the hosts of these shows can compete with my three favorite NPR personalities:
1. Diane Rehm: She's completely smart and unforgiving with her guests. If a guest makes a statement, she'll say "Why?". Today, I heard her let a guest finish a sort of non-committal, boring spiel. After he finished, she chirped "No! No! No! The question was X." She tackles really tough and diverse issues and has an excellent handle on all of them (today's topic was subprime lending and its effect on global markets). She's awesome. I don't even notice her voice when she holds court.
2. Lynne Rossetto Kasper: "Bubbly" would be an easy way to describe Lynne, but I prefer to use "passionate." She really knows her food, and you can hear her love for great cooking, eating, and drinking when you listen to her show, The Splendid Table. She also speaks about food with such a conversational grace that even pretty highbrow stuff seems really accessible.
3. Frank Stasio: He's probably not on a lot of people's lists, as he hosts a niche show about goings-on in North Carolina, but he manages to make what could be a pretty dull subject engage all sorts of rigorous material. He really gets art, especially, and is obviously well-educated. He's an incredibly incisive and fun interviewer. He has a nice voice, too, I won't lie.