Audible — and the listening revolution we were founded to help define more than two decades ago — lost two iconic voices and friends in recent days. During Audible’s early years, both Rick Lewis and Jim Atlas broke away from status quo thinking and from their elite positions as a public radio pioneer and a bona fide literary lion to embrace Audible and the spoken word as key to the future of storytelling.
Even if you didn’t know Rick, you know his voice. To this day, his soulful “This is Audible” signals an oncoming listening experience in a way that resonates for millions of customers around the world. “It's created a sort of Pavlovian response in me,” one customer said recently. “I get excited just hearing ‘This is Audible.’”
Rick Lewis became one of Audible’s first employees when he joined us in 1996 after years as a public radio innovator. He had previously been the executive producer of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and had hired the original voices for “Morning Edition.” In those start-up days, we all did everything. Even I would be ushered into the studio to record intros and messaging, but that stopped when Rick laid down “This is Audible” and “Audible hopes you’ve enjoyed this program.” Rick retired in 2012 to live in the Andes, 10 miles from the equator, and as his blog indicates, he continued to live his days fully with his intellectual curiosity and love of cultural expression front and center. I will miss his ceaseless intellect, his curiosity, his sharp sense of humor and his friendship.
I connected with Jim Atlas, the great biographer, literary critic, publisher and teacher, because of our Chicago childhoods and our passionate appreciation of Saul Bellow — though Jim’s passion was professional-grade as he wrote a monumental biography — and we bonded over our appreciation of Ralph Ellison’s teaching that the music in well-wrought arrangements of words validated listening as a powerful way to enjoy literature. Jim was among the first literati to declare Audible as a powerful and intellectually rich way to experience a book. Jim saw that a great book, refracted through a nuanced performance, can create an artful and complex experience of well-composed words. Over meals at the Antique Café in Manhattan (Jim enjoyed a fuddy-duddy professor affect, though he was really a man of forward-looking vision) or in response to emails from Jim that would generously begin, “Now that you’ve revolutionized the book business,” Jim and I would discuss books, ideas and projects. His recent Audible Original let us in on his decades-long friendship with Philip Roth, whom Jim called “the most charismatic person I’ve ever known, the largest presence, the funniest, the most brilliant, the most profound.”
Rick Lewis and Jim Atlas both saw a new dawn, a time when content owners and creators would recognize that focusing on oral culture and the sound of artfully wrought words could meaningfully enhance our culture. As those of us lucky to know Rick and Jim share our love, admiration and war stories in other ways, I wanted to note for our employees and customers the indelible mark these pioneers made on Audible and me.
—Don Katz, Audible Founder and CEO