Friday, February 4, 2022

Working Jean Shepherd

Jean Parker Shepherd, Jr. (1921-1999), often referred to by the nickname Shep, was an American storyteller, humorist, radio and TV personality, writer, and actor. With a career that spanned decades, Jean was best known for the film A Christmas Story (1983), which he narrated and co-scripted. It was based on stories from his youth, growing up in Hammond, Indiana, in the 1930s.

Perhaps lesser known, Jean was a lifelong radio enthusiast and ham operator. In his middle years, he regaled his nightly WOR-710 radio audience with quirky social commentary, stories of post-depression life, of early radio, and his Army years.

I grew up listening to the Jean Shepherd radio show from about 1960 till 1966 when I went into the service. His show was carried by WOR-710 in New York. It was on every night, Monday to Friday, from 10 PM till 11. I was a kid and lived in the Philadelphia area, only 90 miles from NYC. I would lie in bed cuddled up to a 5 tube superhet and then later a transistor radio. In between I would DX. Wolfman Jack would boom in from the Texas/Mexico border.

I got my ham license in 1963, and Jean's previous night's monolog was always the talk of the high school radio club every day. He was idolized among the young ham radio crowd because Jean was also a ham. His call was K2ORS.

I had the privilege of working Jean on 15 meter SSB one day in the early 1980s. I was out of the service and married and lived in the Denver, Colorado area. My call was W0OHF at the time. The band was seemingly dead. I called CQ and this voice came back: "W0OHF, this is K2ORS". It took a few seconds to register. I hadn't thought of Jean in quite a few years. Could it be??

It indeed was. He was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, enjoying a respite of sorts. He was operating portable from the top floor of a condo building with a short stick vertical clamped to the porch railing. We chatted for 45 minutes.

I related the story of my youth to him and how much his radio shows meant to me as a teenager. And I thanked him for that. It was one of the greatest thrills of my radio-life.

His stories of early radio and Army life set the stage for my own life. He was one of my heroes.

If you remember the famed "brass figlagee with bronze oak-leaf palm" or "watch out for live wires", you know of Jean Shepherd.

In 2005, Shepherd was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

"Excelsior, you fathead!!!", he would exclaim.

Thank you, Shep, for all the wonderful memories.

Bill, WE7W

Jean Shepherd, 1921-1999