Despite a petition drive to keep him on the air, as well as tens of thousands of angry e-mails sent to National Public Radio, Bob Edwards signed off on Friday after nearly 25 years as the host of NPR's flagship news program, ''Morning Edition.'' Edwards, 57, had been the program's sole host since it began in 1979, but his fanbase failed to change the decision of NPR management, who had announced last month that it would replace the deliberately paced, gentle-voiced host with a ''fresh'' new correspondent. ''I would have loved to have stayed with 'Morning Edition,''' Edwards told the Washington Post at the time. ''But it's not my candy store.''
NPR executive vice president Ken Stern acknowledged that the network had handled the change clumsily, for example, by not waiting until Edwards achieved his 25th anniversary milestone in seven months. ''Did we handle this right? Did we do anything that did not show our deepest respect for Bob and our listeners?'' Stern said in a Newsday interview. ''I'm sure we didn't handle it perfectly.''
As of Friday, NPR had named no permanent replacement for Edwards, but correspondents Steve Inskeep and Renee Montagne were to serve as interim hosts. Edwards was expected to turn immediately to his new assignment, as a senior correspondent filing occasional reports, with his first dispatch, a story about the new World War II memorial in Washington, due on Monday.
Edwards' final guest on Friday was CBS newsman Charles Osgood, who had been his first guest in 1979. Also on the show was ABC newsman Ted Koppel, whose ''Nightline'' ends about an hour before Edwards usual wake-up time of 1 a.m. to prepare for his 5 a.m. broadcasts. When Koppel asked him what he would do now, Edwards replied: ''I can watch ‘Nightline’!''