Jean Shepherd – WOR-AM/FM – December 24, 1963 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Jean Shepherd; a regular fixture for the holiday season going back several decades, and with his immortal Christmas Story making the yearly pilgrimage to every TV and Streaming service in the world – a name that has become synonymous with the holidays, with the celebration and with the foibles of human beings on the planet.
This week it’s a broadcast from Christmas Eve 1963 and Shepherd is in top form, discussing the awkward art of gift-giving and the dubious ritual of Christmas cards.
Jean Shepherd was brilliant – a monologist who would go off on journeys of rapid observation, all without a script – how his Christmas programs are only a tiny fraction of what he would devote a little less than an hour each day, yet amass legions of fans.
Shepherd’s oral narrative style was a precursor to that used by Spalding Gray and Garrison Keillor. Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media wrote that Shepherd “regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly.” In the Seinfeld season-six DVD set, commenting on the episode titled “The Gymnast”, Jerry Seinfeld said, “He really formed my entire comedic sensibility—I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd.” Furthermore, the first name of Seinfeld’s third child is “Shepherd.” On January 23, 2012 the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio) presented a tribute to Shepherd. Seinfeld was interviewed for the hour and discussed how Shepherd and he had similar ways of humorously discussing minor incidents in life. He confirmed the importance of Shepherd on his career.
Shepherd’s life and multimedia career are examined in the 2005 book Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd by Eugene B. Bergmann.
Shepherd was an influence on Bill Griffith’s Zippy comic strip, as Griffith noted in his strip for January 9, 2000. Griffith explained, “The inspiration—just plucking random memories from my childhood, as I’m wont to do in my Sunday strip (also a way to expand beyond Zippy)—and Shep was a big part of them”.
In an interview with New York magazine, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen says that the eponymous figure from his solo album The Nightfly was based on Jean Shepherd.
Though he primarily spent his radio career playing music, New York Top-40 DJ Dan Ingram has acknowledged Shepherd’s style as an influence.
An article he wrote for the March–April 1957 issue of MAD, “The Night People vs Creeping Meatballism”, described the differences between what he considered to be “day people” (conformists) and “night people” (nonconformists). The opening credits of John Cassavetes’ 1959 film Shadows include “Presented by Jean Shepherd’s Night People”.
In 2005, Shepherd was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, and in November 2013, he was posthumously inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame.
Grab an eggnog and Have a listen. Enjoy the holidays – be safe, and moderately sane.