Jean Shepherd


Best radio storyteller

When I was growing up as a kid in the 1960s, I listened to legendary storyteller Jean Shepherd spin wild, maniacal yarns every night for forty-five minutes on our local radio station near New York City. Shepherd told outrageous tales from his experiences working in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, of his teenage exploits with hot rod cars, of the crazy boredom of his army life, and of his life as swinger in Greenwich Village. Imagine Walt Whitman as a comedian, or Garrison Keillor as a beatnik, and you might come close, but you’d miss the way Shepherd creatively hacked the medium of radio, doing things with it that would not be commonplace until the talk show era decades later. (Shepherd once got his audience to force a fictional book onto the New York Times’s best seller list.) I kept thinking over the years, “I sure hope someone out there is recording these.” Well, many people were. Jean Shepherd died last year, but now his stories live on via the Web and cassettes.

With thousands of broadcasts, it’s hard to know where to start. Shepherd was at his peak in the mid-1960s, and his “Live at the Limelight” shows are always great, but you can get a feel for what it was like listening to him through the evening static of WOR-AM by clicking on the weekly re-broadcasts of his show on the Web. Check out the fabulous Shepherd fan site, (Web radio), or see the catalog of tapes, which also has a steady stream of other old-time radio shows.

-- KK 06/7/04