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JEAN SHEPHERD –April Fool

PRELUDE

Jean Shepherd on the air, pre-April 1977 describing WOR:

“And we want to salute all those monsters past and present. Including the present program directorship here at WOR.”

“Speaking of intimations of disaster, this is WOR AM and FM.”

“Speaking of evil ideas, this is WOR, New York.”

“Speaking of death, this is WOR AM and FM, New York.””

Herb Saltzman, WOR General Manager: “[A new general Manager] came in to ‘youthify’ the station and one of the first things he did–he got rid of the whole nighttime block…of talk show hosts [and some of the announcers].”

The New York Times, March 28, 1977: “”John Wingate, WOR reporter for 30 years…Stan Lomax, a sports commentator for 43 years; Henry Gladstone, a newscaster for 32 years; and Jean Shepherd, famous for his impressionistic nostalgic monologues, which have been heard for 20 years, all resigned and will leave within two weeks.”

THE DASTARDLY DEED

Could April Fool’s Day be a parable

for something important?

Sometimes a taped show is rebroadcast at a later date—maybe when he is out of town or for some other just cause. At least once, a significant tape is chosen to fit an occasion. Most dramatically and sadly, he chooses his broadcast of April 1, 1968—April Fool’s Day in sixth grade—to stand in metaphorically for his final broadcast on WOR after twenty-two years, on April Fool’s Day of 1977. Shepherd and several other long-time radio talkers on WOR were asked to leave because of a change in programming philosophy. The week before he tells his listeners of his imminent departure and claims that he has chosen to devote more time to his many other creative projects, saying that the decision is his alone, not connected to WOR’s new policy. Somewhat of an obfuscation regarding the whole truth—surely he would have preferred to choose his departure totally on his own terms. We’re told that he is furious about being dismissed—

WOR has been cruel

to this broadcaster considered to be both

supreme in his field

and one of America’s great humorists.

Instead of the anguish of having to improvise for forty-five minutes and say goodbye on his last day, he chooses the old tape from 1968. Surely he chooses it because of the description of cruelty perpetrated on him in sixth grade—the ending a powerful metaphor for his present situation. Terminating his creative life on WOR, he rebroadcasts his kid story about being April-fooled by his cruel friends. They fake some notes from a girl in class, suggesting that she wants him to come to her house to make fudge–like on a date. When he goes to the house he is rejected, and sadly starts back home. His cruel friends, in hiding, make fun of him–“April fool!” The story ends:

“Humiliated before the entire world. They heard! I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me. Why did they do this to me? [He pauses] And we walked our separate ways.”

[A longer pause before that previously recorded voice of Jean Shepherd ends his last broadcast on WOR]:

“April Fool’s Day”

_____________________

Jean Shepherd and WOR walked their separate ways.

AFTERWORD

Regarding the details of Shepherd’s last show, of 4/1/1977 (the earlier broadcast, April Fool’s show of 1968) Laurie Squire, Shep’s friend and his radio producer for his final year at WOR, sends me these details of her remembrance:

Hi Gene,
Mea culpa  [pause]…here goes…in the last couple of months of Jean’s time at ‘OR he did very few live shows and left it up to me to pick any show for air. I would listen through a tape for any glaring problems, have the old spots edited out and new ones inserted. I tried to choose shows that aired around the same time of the month so the April Fool’s tape was chosen for that reason (I know, sounds bad but…). As to why he didn’t do a last live show, that decision also was not up to him (but, for the record, he had no desire to do an “official” final live one): typically (not always but often) when an on-air talent was removed, the ‘OR management at the time did not want anyone’s final show to be live out of fear that something untoward might happen or be said.

Despite Laurie’s exacting memories, I still imagine that Shep must have been aware of the supreme irony and significance of the final words in the 1968 program as broadcast on April 1, 1977, as I posted above.–eb

___________________________________________________

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3 Comments

  1. mygingerpig says:

    Never knew the history of his last program. Poignant.

  2. mygingerpig says:

    Ranks with The Boston Red Sox trading the Babe.
    Joel

  3. Anonymous says:

    The same thing happened to Howard Stern, didn’t it? New program manager with the brains of a melon comes in, wants to shake things up and make his mark, fires the top talent, ruins the station.

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