Jean Shepherd was a brilliant story teller and best known for his holiday movie classic, “A Christmas Story”.
TBS plays it over and over each Christmas. The one with the famous warning “you’ll shoot your eye out kid”. That Christmas Story.
Shepherd wrote extensively for Playboy and authored a couple of books including “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash.”
He did a nightly 45 minute program on WOR for almost 25 years.
The show was all talk with the exception of Shepherd playing the kazoo. Just Shep, the mike, his engineer and stories of the army, or his childhood in Indiana.
He was different. This was not the Cousin Brucie Show.
This guy talked right to you. He knew you. He understood the problems you were having as a kid, even gave you tips on handling bullies.
Word about the ‘guy on the radio’ spread around Roxbury High School in mostly hushed tones. “Wow you listen to Shep? Cool”.
We didn’t talk about him in the open. Shepherd was a secret known to only a ‘select’ group at school. Us.
‘Shepherd didn’t view himself as a radio man. He was a performer.
Shep’s radio work allowed him the financial freedom to perform for live audiences, usually at small clubs in the Village.
He had a true love hate relationship with radio.
Shep loved radio for its story telling power. As a medium though it was never good enough for him.
He hated that in radio you were only as good as your next program.
A writer could influence people with their work even years later. Television and movies gave you a video to play again and again.
But a radio show was gone for good. No re-runs, and no way to influence an audience in the future.
It bothered him that a Broadway Show could open to 500 people and still get a story in the New York Times.
But a great radio performance heard by thousands of ears got no outside attention.
Radio performers toil in obscurity.
This was the great Shepherd frustration.
Radio is also the content ‘vampire’. It requires fresh, new material in every show.
Forty-five minutes sounds like the easy, dream job. He made it sound so simple, and spontaneous.
But that 45 minute program sometimes took four or five weeks to create.
“I’m this kid see…” the words signaling a story was coming from the Shepherd childhood.
I’m not sure why I mention any of this except to say it is hard to be great on radio. Even harder to be remembered.
The Arbitron Ratings system requires you to be memorable. Until people meters are in every market, radio ratings will be driven by memory.
How memorable is your station?