Presidents come and go. And so do most reporters assigned to them. But one constant in the White House press room for exactly 25 years has been the voice of CBS Radio reporter Peter Maer.
"When I walk in at shortly before 6 a.m., I do look up at the place and say that it is a thrill to come in here every day," says Maer, who's covered every president since Jimmy Carter.
Maer anchors a CBS booth filled with the most combined experience of White House coverage possibly ever with fellow long-time radio journalist Mark Knoller and CBS TV's Bill Plante. Between the three, they have over 75 years of White House time.
"I never thought I'd cover an impeachment. I never thought I'd cover the son of a president, the modern day version of the Adams, And I never thought I'd cover a black president," says Maer, 62. "And I'm still going strong."
News has always been in his blood, even as a kid growing up across the Mississippi from St. Louis in Granite City, Ill. "I wanted to be a newspaper reporter when I was eight," he says, but instead got his first radio gig in his native city during high school. He quickly moved up the ladder, even getting a job as a jock on KSHE in St. Louis when it was the hot rock station in the 1970s.
Maer got his big news break when he was assigned to cover Jimmy Carter's presidential transition after the 1976 election and he flew into Washington with Carter for the Inauguration in 1977.
He's seen a lot of changes on the beat.
When he arrived, typewriters and dial telephones were the standard tools, not iPads and cellular phones. He jokes of listening to two young White House reporters talking about how reporters did their jobs before cell phones. "We all traveled with rolls of dimes," he said. For what, they asked. "Pay phones," said Maer. And when he recently pulled out a transistor radio during a trip, a young presidential aide asked him what it was.
He won't talk about the president he is covering at the time, but Maer said that he does have some past favorites: Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, mostly because they all liked radio and radio reporters. "Reagan had a love for radio because of his own personal experience" as a radio host and Hollywood star, says Maer. Recalling Clinton's autobiography, he says that Clinton "used to love to go during campaigns to the local stations in Arkansas and record commercials and pick up political information while he was in those local areas," he adds. And Bush simply understood the role of the media and radio.
And while many former reporters on the beat complain about burnout, Maer explains what keeps him going: "Love of politics, love of history, love of just the institution and really just the challenge of doing something." One big challenge is just trying to make sense of a big story for a short radio spot. "Trying to bring the [federal] budget down to a 35 second radio piece is just fun to me even after all these years," he says, adding: "I ask myself basically every morning ... what would the people back in Granite City, Ill. want to know about this? Let's not talk about budget assumptions and continuing resolutions and all of that stuff. What hits home to the guy driving his car?"
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