How to Hear Online America’s Greatest Live Story-Teller Ever: Jean Shepherd

Anyone who loves great humorous story-telling and wants to be inspired to do more of their own, should hear Jean Shepherd. He wasn’t necessarily as edgy as today’s comics, but he could make any scene or memory or family member come alive in humorous, unique ways. He was also the most prolific humorist in American history, crafting 45 minutes of mostly improvised material five nights a week on the radio, and a few hours more at weekend nightclub shows, for nearly three decades. As Jim Sadur writes:


Jean Shepherd was a writer, humorist, satirist, actor, radio raconteur, TV & film personality and an American original. He was a master story teller in the league of Mark Twain, S.J. Perlman and P.G. Wodehouse. Taking bits and pieces from his own life, he weaved tales of the joys, humor, intrigue and angst of growing up. His youth in Hammond, Indiana, his adventures in the Army Signal Corps and stories of the obscure and infamous were all fertile sources for his tales. For almost three decades, he told these stories to eager radio audiences. In Cincinnati between   1950 and 1954 Shep did a DJ show from Shuller’s Wigwam on WSAI and a nightly comedy show on  WLW called “Rear Bumpers”.  This led to a television version at KYW in Philadelphia.  In 1956 Shep moved to the Big Apple on WOR New York where for 21 years listeners all over the Northeast were treated  to a nightly dose of genius.  His shows were a menagerie of comments, silly songs, jokes and other digressions all orbiting around a central tale. For 45 minutes you laughed and wondered if he would remember to conclude the story at hand. He always made it! His other great radio enterprise was live broadcasts on Saturday night from The Limelight, a nightclub in Greenwich Village. Marshall McLuan once called Shep “the first radio novelist.” 

As for me, I remember how his radio shows usually opened with a few minutes of rambling comments about the latest news, banter with his studio engineer or what was on his mind that day before turning to the real story he had to tell. As a young journalist, I saw him deliver two back-to-back bravura performances in the studios at WOR without any notes, each perfectly timed to end precisely at the show’s sign-out, stopping to do a few on-air commercials in-between. At a live show at a college, I saw him weave together nearly three hours of stories that he pulled together and played against each other, just talking to the gathered students on a make-shift stage made from a cafeteria table. He likely would have talked longer except that the clock on the wall was broken. His live shows were the story-telling equivalent of early Bruce Springsteen marathons lasting for hours. Flicklives is the leading Shepherd tribute site, but it’s not as easy to find actual audio of his shows as it once was.


Taken from an email I sent some friends and perfomers, here’s the best of Shep on the web:

A good starting point is a hard- to- find Shepherd website, with links to other websites, with hundreds of shows posted. Note: the “LL” or “Limelight” are live shows before audiences, the rest are live shows inside a radio booth, with Shepherd, a mike and an engineer on the other side of the glass….
> More info below. Also Note: his “LL” or “Limelight” shows before audience have several stories with framing intros….
> Here’s a two-part documentary hosted by Harry Shearer on Shepherd, with generous excerpts of his work:
> and here’s a link to a great story of his on covering the Beatles that I captured that should be hearable online via dropbox:

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> Here’s a link to his limelight show about a riot  in his home town:
>    On the right side of page there is a something called “LL” album– those are tracks from his performances before a nightclub audience…
> Podcasts of rebroadcasts of his shows, mostly the studio shows, are found on WBAI’s Mass Backwards:
> and , of varying length at the brass figalee:
> Mass Backwards isn’t on the air anymore, but I think the podcasts are still available
> This site, when you click on individual files, will take you to online streaming or ability to download.
>  Any file with references to “LL” or “Limelight” also means it’s before a live audience in a night club…

Listen, enjoy — and if you’re a performer, be inspired.

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