Monday, February 19, 2007

Harry Shearer's "A Tribute to Jean Shepherd"

Click here to listen in Streaming Real Audio Likened to a jazz musician, compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, and hailed by Marshall McLuhan as “the first radio novelist,” radio storyteller JEAN SHEPHERD had the ability to tap into the American psyche by drawing on his own often bizarre life experiences and sharing them with an audience of devoted fans and listeners.

On radio stations across the country, one master of the radio medium pays homage to another, as satirist HARRY SHEARER, host of Le Show (Sundays, 10 am, 6 pm) produces and hosts a special, “VOICE IN THE NIGHT: A TRIBUTE TO JEAN SHEPHERD”. Shearer will present vintage excerpts from Shepherd’s broadcasts, his own interview of Shepherd (conducted with “Brazil” director, Terry Gilliam), and reminiscences from people who knew Shepherd and were influenced by his unique storytelling style. (Shepherd died on October 16, 1999.)

Shepherd is perhaps most widely known for the quirky film, “A Christmas Story” about Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun he hopes Santa will bring him which he wrote and narrated, and which is trotted out on television during the holiday season. He wrote articles for magazines as diverse as MAD, Playboy, Car and Driver and Field and Stream. Several collections of his stories were published (“In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories”). And he created the intellectual equivalent to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” scare with his “I, Libertine” book hoax, in which he and his listeners created a national furor over a totally non-existent book…which nevertheless managed to get itself banned in Boston. Later in his life Shepherd appeared as a commentator on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” as well as a series of PBS television programs.

But Shep, as fans and friends called him, began his career and established his reputation on radio. Beginning in Cincinnati on WSAI-AM in the early 1950s, he later moved to Philadelphia and then to New York, enrapturing listeners for more than two decades in his late-night slot on 50,000 watt clear-channel station WOR-AM. For a time he even broadcast live on Saturday nights from The Limelight in Greenwich Village, spinning tales for two hours at a stretch.

From Dave Addis of The Virginian-Pilot comes this description: “His work was unfailingly funny, but there often was a darkness churning not far beneath the surface of things.”

Bill Straub of the Cincinnati Post remembered: “He was really more like a jazz musician, sidling up to the microphone to offer verbal riffs on whatever inspired him at the moment, whether it be his tenure in the Army with a mess kit repair battalion or hanging on the street corner with his pre-teen menagerie of Flick, Schwartz and Brunner, and following the muse wherever it led. The rap would start, meander through dozens of bars and conclude just as the lights dimmed, with occasional detours to provide the artist with an opportunity to perform a kazoo solo on ‘Yellow Dog Blues.’ ”

Says producer/host Harry Shearer, “Jean Shepherd invented a form of radio storytelling to which all of us still on the air are indebted.”

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