One of the most familiar voices on NPR readies for retirement

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Baby boomers have been leaders in virtually every aspect of American life, and today we have a story by BoomerCafé co-founder and publisher David Henderson about a friend of his, one of our more famous boomers, and a leader in the media for more than three decades.

[Update: Jean Cochran’s last day on NPR Morning Edition is Friday, December 20, 2013]

Jean Cochran goes through each morning. As final preparation to do the more noticeable part of her job, she arrives at her second desk of the day five minutes ahead of time, takes a few deep breaths, does some yoga stretches — just to get centered — and then focuses on the task immediately ahead: bringing a roundup of national and international news to millions of Americans listening coast-to-coast. This is the daily pattern for Jean Cochran, before delivering her newscasts on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Before a newscast, Jean Cochran gets into the "zen" of the moment.

Before a newscast, Jean Cochran gets into the “zen” of the moment.

Finally, with just 30 seconds to go, she puts on her headphones and opens her microphone, and at the precise appointed time (30 minutes and 30 seconds past the hour), Cochran says with a crystal clear voice and the perfect diction so many of us have heard weekday mornings for decades, “From NPR News in Washington, I’m Jean Cochran …” Another NPR radio network newscast is underway.

Jean Cochran

Jean Cochran

For millions of fellow baby boomers, Jean Cochran has been one of America’s most familiar voices for 30 years. Her newscasts on Morning Edition air live — seven of them each day, starting at 5:30 Eastern time in the morning — and are heard on more than 790 stations nationwide by more than 40-million listeners each week.

Cochran’s career at NPR began as a segment producer on Morning Edition and fill-in newscaster. Those hours were straight overnight, 1-to-9 A.M. A few years after she started, the opportunity to become a full-time newscaster came up and she grabbed it. The hours? 3 A.M. to Noon. Not much better but at the time, it seemed like a big improvement!

And it was the job Cochran says she always wanted, at the pace she always wanted to work.

“I love my role as newscaster: being the one who lets you know what’s been happening, and doing it in a clear and conversational way. I always imagine we’ve just sat down and I’ve said to you, ‘This is amazing … here’s what’s been going on!’ I love the news because you never know what’s going to happen when you walk into work each day.”

Millions of Americans have heard Jean's voice live on NPR Morning Edition for years.

Millions of Americans have heard Jean’s voice live on NPR Morning Edition for years.

During all those years with the alarm clock going off at 2 o’clock every weekday morning, there have been a few early morning adventures. For one, riding a bike (in good weather) the three miles from her home in northwest Washington, DC, to NPR. You might think that’s a dangerous trip at 3 A.M., but Cochran says, no, not really. It’s the ride home in midday traffic that can be nerve-wracking.

And forget waking up with a cold or feeling poorly and deciding to call in sick. You just can’t do that; it’s nearly impossible to get a replacement at that hour. “I pretty much have to know well in advance when I’m going to be sick … so I can give my boss a heads up to find someone to fill in.”

Jean_Cochran-7

Cochran, who started life in Cincinnati, went to high school in Bethesda, Maryland, and got a degree in Broadcast Journalism at American University. She is the longest serving member of NPR’s Newscast Unit. There have been distinctions along the way, such as a George Foster Peabody Award. And some fun, too. Her voice is featured in a major Hollywood movie starring Clint Eastwood, “In the Line of Fire.”

Cochran has been at NPR since 1981, a long and successful career. But she announced at the end of October that she is taking a buyout offered by NPR and will retire at the end of the year. She’s looking forward to the fun of living a “normal” schedule, with no more middle-of-the-night alarm clocks.

Jean at her desk in the NPR newsroom in Washington, DC.

Jean at her newscast writing desk in the NPR newsroom in Washington, DC.

“Can you imagine!” she exclaims, “I can go out on a weeknight to a movie … or invite friends over for dinner. I can do anything and not worry about having to wake up in the middle of the night! What a revelation that will be.” Time for friends, for travel, for attending more Washington Nationals baseball games and, yes, time for more yoga.

But Jean Cochran is not venturing far from a microphone. You can expect to hear her famous voice on broadcast commercials and television documentaries. Another baby boomer who’s changing what she does … but hardly quitting.

5 Comments

  1. “From NPR News in Washington, I’m Jean Cochran…” I have heard that phrase and that voice over the years and it was a voice I listened to almost daily. I know things change, and I am sure the next person chosen by NPR will do a great job. But, listening to Jean Cochran over the years was something I actually looked forward to. Hard to explain really, I did not know her and we never met, but each morning I would hear her voice and I knew it was time to begin another day. You will be missed. Thank you.

  2. For 1970 graduates of Walt Whitman High School, not hearing M.J.’s (Jean’s) voice every weekday morning on NPR is going to be especially disconcerting, even a little disorienting. M.J., thanks for being there for us for 30 years and enjoy your un-alarm clocked life.

  3. Thanks Henderson for this fascinating look into Jean Cochran’s career – I’m truly impressed by her capacity to get up at 2 am every day, that’s a harrowing work schedule and retirement will certainly provide a much deserved change…to a normal life! But I suspect that someone like Jean will never be able to entirely give up her former life – none of us who retire do. I’ve retired 10 years ago and I have never worked so much in my life!!

    So, good luck Jean in your new upcoming life of freedom from the tyranny of the clock!

  4. I am lost! Say it ain’t so! The reassuring, authoritative voice I always heard each weekday morning at 7:30 as I took the kids to school is gone! At first, I assumed Jean Cochran was simply on vacation, and I would just have to hang on there till she came back-but she never did! What a voice-what a real professional ! I’m a TV newscaster myself and know a little bit about the biz-I’ve been on TV here in my hometown for 40 years-and did radio news before that and I think I know quality when I hear it-and it was she!
    Best of luck, Jean, and know you were the very best at what you did!
    Bill Sharpe, Chas. SC

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