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The Radio Talk Jockies
Airdate: Tuesday - December 8, 1964

Last Update: 07-05-2008

Show Description
Have you ever had the fantastic suspicion that Robert Moses has a script? That when he stepped out of the egg they handed him that script and said: "Go, Man!" And when you got out of the egg all they handed you was the IRT timetable. And it's underground all the way , man. - Jean Shepherd If Jean Shepherd didn't exist, the night people would probably have invented him. That's fair all around, because Jean Shepherd invented the night people - or at least was the first to name and collect them. Who are they? Anybody who sits through three double-features on the same night in the 42d St. grind houses so as not to be able to get to his part-time job in a 43d St. bookshop until 5:30 of the following p.m. Anybody who doesn't look breakfast in the face until after two cigarettes, three black coffees, half a hamburger, a Coke, and an extended appraisal of the sports columns of the afternoon newspapers. With a quick flip to the comics, the movie reviews, the gossips. Anybody who would rather spend the far stretch to dawn discussing concupiscence, civic corruption and "Catch-22" instead of bucking for the exam that awaits the new day; or anybody who would rather tool out for midnight steaks in the old Triumph sports-car to the Old Darbyshire Watermill even if he doesn't have an old Triumph sportscar. Anybody who lives in New York City. Anybody who would rather live in Greenwich Village. Anybody spiritually under 35. Well, 40. Anybody who listens to Jean Shepherd. Listen: "It's incredible to realize that stretching here from Sheridan Square to that dark river just a few blocks from here and out beyond, there it all is: America. All full of places like Trenton, Teaneck, and Circleville, Ohio and all of them thinking it's here, New York, a damn rotten plot. Manhattan! The vortex of it all. "And it's Saturday night and we're here in the Limelight. Have you ever thought what Saturday night is? A very special thing all over America. No other country knows this. So it's Saturday night and" - to his live audience, all crewcuts and coeds, there in the Limelight, a Greenwich Village saloon and coffee house - "we go on the air in one minute with an invective that's heard in 27 states. 'Excelsior, you fatheads!' Try it." They do. "Try it again. Remember, you are able to holler to the entire eastern half of the United States what you think of them. And don't forget the comma. It's Excelsior, comma, let it sink in, you fatheads." For insulting and inspiring the fatheads of 27 states, WOR's Jean Shepherd now earns in excess of $25,000 a year, not counting magazine income, etc. He may make a lot more; the show is already syndicated to 12 outlets with others to come. Its costs are minimal, there are no guests, no telephones - "the telephone thing is childish" - and Shepherd takes no cut from its commercials while exercising approval over all commercials. Like most of New York's radio talkers, Jean Shepherd is a New Yorker by self-adoption. He doesn't hide it. Half his material - to a detached eye by far his best half---is based on his background as a simple barefoot Middlewesterner from Comiskey Park, Chicago, and environs. (His birthplace was next door in industrial Hammond, Ind.) For a cynic, Shepherd is something of a hero-worshiper; no heroes before or since shine for him with quite the luster of Luke Appling, Ted Lyons and the ineffable fly-dropping Smead Jolley of the 1930s White Sox of Shepherd's boyhood. Shepherd is a free-associator, and his associations with the White Sox, and the hated, more affluent Chicago Cubs are intermingled with deep personal teenage memories. For instance, he may he talking about - oh, automation or the Broadway theater - when suddenly a word that slips from his own lips, "fear" or "imperceptive" or "gigantism," will cause an instant shift of gears and for the next quarter hour he is rebuilding, brick by brick, with total recall and master craftsmanship, the true story of himself and the beautiful 16-year-old 'girl and her gigantic, terrible-tempered father in the dear dead Booth Tarkington days of youth. Every detail is there: the dress she wore, the trousers Shepherd wore, the streets they walked on, the sodas they downed, the girl's insipidity, her turns of phrase, the bushes behind which Shepherd hid when approaching her formidable domicile, the architecture of that domicile, the sound of porch gliders, of mosquitoes, of screen doors - and the full invidious arrogance of the terrible-tempered father's dedication to the Chicago Cubs. And then the father makes the girl break it off. And the girl breaks it off. And Shepherd - still talking to 27 states - creeps up on the dreaded porch in the dark of night and eases open the door and shouts with all his youthful lungs into the sleeping house: "YAH, AND THE CUBS STINK TOO!" He is 39 now, Jean Shepherd, and still a baseball buff. And he is still against the system: any system. (Incidentally, he is also against the anarchic, or beatnik, system.) Shepherd's subversion as an underground man or outsider is today a little more subtle than it used to be when, early in his turbulent eight-year relationship with WOR, he was fired from the air by the day people for plugging a soap that didn't happen to be sponsoring him ("Radio stations are for selling soap"). During this year's World Series they gave him a 15-minute daily commentary from Yankee Stadium, sent around the world on Armed Forces Network. On his regular evening show (10:15-11 week nights from the studio, 10:30-midnight Saturdays from Limelight) he talked about it: "Once in a while a man gets a little inside into another world." "Today old Shep was standing on 'the grass of Yankee Stadium 10 minutes before the game, right next to Roger Maris, yeah, big old Rog; you can see why they hate him. You know, the way these ballplayers wear their caps shows why the fans either love him or fear him. Mickey Mantle wears his like this - " Still talking to his radio audience over a traveling mike at his chest, Shepherd demonstrated to the live audience how Mantle wears his cap: down over one side of the head, jauntily. His body took on Mantle's stance. He looked like Mantle - with a beard. Formerly a full beard - and formerly no beard at all - it is now trimmed to a snappy Mephistophelean pointed spade. His baseball imitations are good acting, at least as good as some of Shepherd's short-lived adventures onto the off-Broadway stage a few years back. "Now Roger Maris wears his cap like this" - straight and cold and down over his eyes - "so finally you only see these two little slits of eyes; he's a wedge-shaped piece of gristle with a thin line of anger running down it." A voice from the Princeton-type live audience interjected: "The hell with baseball." Shepherd shot back, hardly interrupting his narrative: "Aw, come on, shut up, willya? They got your game going on over there at ------ , fella," naming a nearby homosexual hangout. There was a roar of laughter from that portion of the live audience that understood the reference; how many might have understood it among the remote listening thousands cannot be known. From the World Series and a funny story about Yogi Berra and a sad one about Roy Campa-nella ('Then I went up in the stands; there I was right behind him, right behind him, and he didn't know who I was and I said: 'How is it, Campy?' and he said, he didn't even turn his head, he just said: 'Man, it's the World Series'"). Shepherd suddenly veered off on another tack and spent the remaining hour talking about the time he was up on court-martial for slugging his first sergeant. A time 20 years ago. And as vivid as today, though more innocent. Hardly anyone in the room and perhaps not too many out there attached to their radios could have been of Shepherd's World War II military vintage or at one with his precise sense-memory of 1940's GI ways and parlance. Nor is it to be thought that too many of them completely caught the metaphysic of the anecdote, which had to do with "that sense of creeping guilt" and Shepherd's ironic pity for the first sergeant who, it turns out, had blown his cool a la Captain Queeg and slugged Shepherd back, thereby netting a demotion to private. But they listened, for there was truth in it: the truth of novelistic fact if not, maybe, of profound philosophy. Shepherd does a lot of philosophizing in a jaundiced vein. "That cornice is waiting for you. Friend, irregardless of race, creed or color." Or: "Let's practice anger; it doesn't come easy in this day of the nice guy." Or: "Remember what you are applauding; you are applauding your own magnificent life." The younger, soul-hungrier Shepherd fanatics are doubtless more hypnotized by his random observations on men, women, machines, more than by his expeditions into Shepherd past. His memories, being expressions of a kind of love, are rich in fabric, warm in shading. Far more wry, bitter, occasionally even vengeful, are the anti-societal speculations of Shepherd present, a mood much in accord with that of his newest generation of auditors. Hundreds of them will do anything he suggests, like milling around in a public place at a certain appointed hour just because it confuses the authorities to have people milling around. Shepherd, however, is more complicated and many-directed than a lot of his listeners realize. When Castro was still an early hero to the young and leftish here, Shepherd spotted the potential tyrant in the man. To this day Shepherd firmly believes that the far-out professional intellectual dissenters bear much responsibility in setting the climate for the assassination of JFK. In a minor mode, Shepherd can be ferociously sardonic about such leftstream tribal customs as urban folk-singing. Shepherd's problems are those of a man who is both multi-talented and intangibly talented. He is a fine photographer. His drawings have illustrated books. He is an amusing writer. He has a wealth of knowledge about a thousand fields and total knowledge about gadgets and inventions from hi-fi to altimeters to what have you. Last but hardly least, he can still sing every word of every verse of the theme songs of "Little Orphan Annie," "Jack Armstrong" and all the other juvenile radio serials of the 1930s. He was in fact himself once the Billy Fairfield of the "Jack Armstrong" program, emanating from Chicagohis first radio job. The son of a Midwest cartoonist and "a real mother," he has been a lone wolf most of his life despite two marriage's about which he is willing to say very little. What followed the Army was helter-skelter: some college (Indiana University), some drama school (Goodman Theater School, Chicago), some sportscar salesmanship (Volkswagen), some domesticity, some divorce, and the ultimate marriage with WOR, starting with the 1956 all-night show from the mudflats of New Jersey that brought him to the attention of Manhattan's sleepless disciples of deep thought and nonconformity. To many of them as to many of his competitors, he is the most brilliant innovation in radio in recent times. Others are perhaps beginning to get wearied. For all that, somewhere in every performance Shepherd can be counted on to knock you out of your seat with flights of fancy that are his alone.
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December 08,1964
New York Post

Courtesy: Pete Delaney

Airdate History ' - Original' date is earliest known broadcast)
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