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Home » Charts » JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (4)

JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (4)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

Consolidation

classic shep image

Why and how he was switched from the more innovative overnights (at the NJ transmitter) to the in-studio, earlier-in-the-evening slot, is unknown. That he seemed to have retained the impetus of the overnights into Sunday evening, is a major victory. He seemed to have retained the slow and easy-going style of the overnights (I’m assuming this, as the following, much shorter broadcasts are of a different kind–still seemingly loose, and definitely improvised, but a bit less free-flowing.) That this schedule gave way to those earlier, 45-minute weekday segments, also represents a change that resulted in a different kind of show with its own very high-quality use of the radio medium.

My chart, shown in the previous post on the subject–as well as in a much earlier post–shows the difference in his career trajectory. Most noticeable in the programs themselves would seem to be the much larger percentage of school-age listeners and what I observe is the absence of contemporary jazz.

Many prefer his more refined and organized, 45-minute improvised radio to his long, Sunday evening, looser style. There is something easier to take, more conventional, more traditional as art and organization in his 45-minute style. He recreated himself, and that is a great accomplishment. The variety from night to night over about seventeen years is a marvel to behold. His commentaries, wit, philosophical bits and pieces, his cuckoo musical interludes with jews harp, nose flute, kazoo, and head-knocking, his stories that seem both improvised and sometimes, somehow well-formed, coming out just right at the end of the show. We revel in the variety, the unexpectedness, the mastery.

Comic strip artist Bill Griffith, in his “Zippy the Pinhead” tribute, expresses it well: HIS WIT WAS LIKE A LIFE RAFT TO ME. I CONFESS…I WAS A CULTIST…AND JEAN SHEPHERD WAS MY GURU. WHO KNOWS WHAT DEEP SUBCONSCIOUS EFFECT HIS LATE-NIGHT LOQUACIOUSNESS HAD ON ME…?

Zippy detail 20005

The large influx of high school and college listeners was a good thing as far as sponsorship was concerned, and Shepherd also enjoyed the adulation. But he did not so much like the intense crowding of his personhood that such cult-like celebrity brought.

As I’ve suggested before, I believe that, despite such masterpieces of his post-1960 WOR days as: Eulogy of JFK; Morse Code and Mark Twain; March on Washington, etc., Jean Shepherd’s creative heights leveled off at the very high standard he maintained for another decade-and-a-half.

 shep portrait

Stay tuned for Part 5 of

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

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4 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have always wondered who Shep wanted for his audience. He seemed annoyed by us young people, he had an arrogance about others that might have been his desired audience. He worked in isolation from the mainstream, made great commentary about the falseness of the mainstream, but seemed to want more than what he got in admiration from the audience he had. It is interesting to see what his audience was over the years as he evolved.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Thanks for both these comments.I doubt that any WOR survey would have tried to find out what his audience was. But he talked on the 45-minute shows so frequently about “semester,” and “will appear on the blue book test” and at other times referred to young listeners, that I feel fairly confident that, through letters he received and other contacts with his public, that there must have been a very high percentage of students–high school and college.

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree- not sure if any survey of listeners would be available- so totally different now. Can you imagine Shep not having to have culpability now for numbers and demographics. Lucky we had him before the honing in of a demographic for marketing was as prevalent as now

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think I tried to post something. i think what I was saying was that I wondered who Shepherd wanted as his audience. He did not seem to like us young people and also did not really seem to have much respect for older,more mainstream people. It is interesting to see how his show evolved in time frame and approach.

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