University of Chicago emeritus psychology professor Milton Rosenberg, PhD, has won a 2008 National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush for his longtime stint as host of the Chicago-based radio talk show "Extension 720."
The Humanities Medal, the country's highest humanities honor, recognizes people whose work broadens people's understanding of the arts and sciences.
"Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg" on WGN broadcasts nationally from Chicago on weeknights and reaches worldwide audiences through the Web. Described as "intellectual talk radio," the show features authors, celebrities, politicians and journalists, from Bill Murray and John Updike to George Will, Betty Friedan and David McCullough.
Rosenberg, a social psychologist well-known for his theory of attitude change, came to the show by way of guest spots on the show in the late '60s. As a young professor at the University of Chicago, he was interested in politics and foreign policy and ran a small radio show from campus where he would moderate conversations between professors and prominent visitors to the university. Soon, he started filling in as a guest host on "Extension 720" and took over the show in 1973.
"I wanted to buy a new car," he remembers. "That car is gone, and I'm still here."
For more than three decades, Rosenberg has led a double life: professor by day, radio host by night. "It's a lot of work, but I enjoy a lot of work," he says.
Blessed with a velvety voice and a natural politeness, Rosenberg also has a reputation among guests as one of the most prepared interviewers in radio, whether the night's topic is neuroscience, astrophysics, religion or politics. "I never think of them as interviews," he says. "They're conversations."
While his approach is always smooth, life on the show can be bumpy. Last summer, he and his producer publicly angered Barack Obama's presidential campaign when they invited University of Chicago professor Stanley Kurtz, PhD, to discuss Obama's connection to William Ayers, EdD.
But the unflappable Rosenberg has far more on-air admirers than enemies. Among his favorite guests was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"We hit it off splendidly," he says.
Another Margaret proved more difficult, however. When interviewing author Margaret Truman, the daughter of former President Harry S. Truman, Rosenberg inquired whether there was more to her father's famous comment that he had no regrets about whether, under the same circumstances, he would bomb Hiroshima again.
"She looked at me with steely eyes and said, 'He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. Any other questions?'" recalls Rosenberg.