PW: All I Did Was Ask reflects the wide array of people you've had as guests on Fresh Air. What criteria do you use when selecting them for the show?

We're looking for guests that make for good radio: they speak well, they're lively and you want to listen.

Did you find it difficult to translate these audio interviews into print?

The most frustrating part about translating the show to a book was that some of the shows that I really loved were built around music. Like my interview with [Sun Records founder] Sam Phillips—when he died, I was so sorry, but grateful that he had given us an interview. But that interview was so much about listening to hit records with Sam Phillips. Without him commenting about it after you've heard it, it didn't work for a reading experience.

A lot of your personality comes through in both the way you ask questions and the questions you choose to ask or not ask. How did your upbringing figure into your professional development?

I've always been kind of shy, a decent listener, and not the kind of person who interrupts a lot. I've never been a person who is always holding forth. I don't like monologues. I don't mind them onstage; I don't like them in life. I don't like them on the show, either. My mother was always a very good listener. I could have said anything to my own mother, I mean the most boring thing in the whole world, and she was endlessly interested in what her children were doing. Maybe that helped teach me the importance of being listened to and the importance of listening to somebody.

As a shy person, when you first started doing these interviews, did you feel as if they allowed you to manifest a part of your personality that you hadn't developed before?

I still feel that way. As an interviewer, I'm at a point where I don't have fear when I do an interview anymore. But I have the power of the radio show behind me, I have the power of the microphone, I have the power, and the privilege, and the liberty to feel like I can ask anything without being terribly intrusive because I'm there for a reason. Also, when I'm interviewing somebody, I will tell them, "Let me know if I'm asking anything too personal." I don't want to presume to know. In real life, when I don't have the microphone and the show, I'm much more self-conscious, much more shy, and I think I'm less likely to ask the questions I do on the air. If you're sitting down with somebody at dinner, you don't necessarily want to talk about terminal illness, their belief or lack thereof in God, but in an interview, you want to cut right to the heart of the matter.

You've gotten a lot of attention in recent years for your contentious interviews with Gene Simmons and Bill O'Reilly. Is that something you see yourself doing more of on the show?

I don't mind when an interview goes that way. On the other hand, I don't want to go looking for it. I don't want to do it just for the sake of generating controversy or ratings, because I think that's the position commercial radio is in, and that's why I'm on public radio.