Browse Topics



For immediate release
February 4, 2002
NPR: Laura Gross
Dan Klores Communications: Bruce Bobbins

NPR Celebrates the "Golden Age" of Yiddish Radio

1,000 Fragile Discs, Rescued From Dumpsters, Storerooms, Attics, Offer One-of-a-Kind Window on Immigrant Culture

NEW YORK--Some 1,000 fragile aluminum discs -- one-of-a-kind recordings from the "Golden Age" of Yiddish radio (1930-55) -- have been rescued from attics, storerooms, and even dumpsters and restored for a special series on National Public Radio. The series - The Yiddish Radio Project -- will air on All Things Considered on consecutive Tuesday afternoons starting March 19.

The Yiddish Radio Project offers an unprecedented window to Jewish immigrant culture in the U.S. during the first half of the 20th Century. Produced by MacArthur Fellow David Isay, musician/historian Henry Sapoznik, and Sound Portrait Productions, the series explores the Yiddish and English language dramas, music, news programs, advice and game shows, man-on-the-street interviews, and even commercials that were stalwarts of Yiddish radio. Translations are performed by a cast that includes Carl Reiner, Eli Wallach, and Isaiah Sheffer, as well as Yiddish stars.

"It's like opening up King Tut's Tomb," said Isay. "These discs allow us to eavesdrop on a people in the midst of a cultural Renaissance. These shows are mostly in Yiddish, but the voices and spirit captured on them is universal. At a time when New York has lost so much, to be able to bring these long-lost recordings back to life is a profound privilege."

"We are thrilled that almost 10 million public radio listeners will be able to hear these historic tapes," said Jay Kernis, senior vice president for programming at NPR. "This is an important part of not only Jewish history, but American history as well."

The NPR series will be complemented by a national tour of The Yiddish Radio Project, featuring the producers, klezmer musicians, and Yiddish radio stars. In addition, a soundtrack of music from the Project will be released in conjunction with the series launch, and a two-CD collection from the entire series will be released in June.

Web visitors will also be able to catch the series, as well as hear additional Yiddish radio shows with real-time English text translations and explore other related visual and text materials on, which will be launched in conjunction with the series premiere.

For a list of public radio stations that air All Things Considered, please visit

Yiddish was the language of the two million Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century. As the last great wave was arriving at Ellis Island in the 1920s, radio was beginning to make its mark on American culture. The Jewish immigrants embraced the medium and, by the early 1930s Yiddish radio flourished across the country. There were more than a dozen such stations in New York.

All stations were required by the Federal Radio Commission to cut single reference recordings of the programs in case the FRC received a complaint. The vast majority of the discs were then melted down for World War II scrap metal drives or simply disappeared.

Since 1985, Sapoznik explored attics, storerooms, and even dumpsters on his mission to locate and preserve every one of the surviving recordings before they vanished or decomposed. In all, some 500 hours survived.

"What a story they tell," he declared. "These programs offer an unprecedented opportunity to travel back to a lost world. They are incalculably precious remnants of a culture all but destroyed in the Holocaust."

Segments include:

  • The Radio Dramas of Nahum Stutchkoff: Stutchkoff created some of the most intense, intimate and emotional dramas ever broadcast on radio to provide listeners the opportunity to experience what life was like in the Jewish tenements of New York City. The Project profiles a forgotten genius of the 20th century and airs one of his classic episodes for the first time in 60 years. The segment is narrated by Stutchkoff's son, Misha, who was part of his father's radio drama acting troupe. English translation of Nahum Stutchkoff by Eli Wallach.

  • The Jewish Philosopher: Before Dr. Laura, before Dr. Ruth, before Ann Landers, there was C. Israel Lutsky, "The Jewish Philosopher"-the first advice columnist of the air. Despite his lack of credentials, and an abrasive on-air presence, Lutsky quickly became one of the best known and most beloved figures on Jewish radio. English translation of "The Jewish Philosopher" by Carl Reiner.

  • Yiddish Melodies in Swing: The show, which ran from 1938 until 1955 on radio station WHN in New York, celebrated a peculiar but wonderful hybrid: the mixture of traditional Yiddish klezmer music with popular American swing. Only 40 episodes of the program survive. The segment is narrated by one-time Yiddish singing star Claire Barry, the last surviving member of the show's cast.

  • Levine and His Flying Machine: Two weeks after Charles A. Lindbergh's historic flight across the Atlantic in June 1927, a second plane set out to cross the ocean. It was carrying Charles A. Levine, the man destined to become the world's first transatlantic passenger. To America's Jewish immigrants, Levine's accomplishment was nothing short of miraculous, celebrated in song and story, retold again and again on Yiddish radio, and then completely forgotten. The tale of Levine's spectacular rise, and the previously unknown account of his terrible fall is told in this segment.

  • Reunion: Decades before the term "Holocaust" was even part of our vocabulary, this short-lived series featured the voice of a Holocaust survivor telling his own story. Seigbert Freiberg was his name, and his story was unlike anything ever before heard on the radio. The Yiddish Radio Project presents an extraordinary historical artifact.

    Musical segments include versions of the classic Bei Mir Bist du Schon by both the Andrew Sisters and Louis Prima and Keely Smith; the legendary Yiddish star Seymour Rexite performing his interpretations of, among other standards, Surrey with the Fringe on Top and Battle Hymn of the Republic; and the prolific Sam Medoff and his Orchestra on Oh Mama Am I in Love, Samson and Delilah, and Yidl Min Fitl, among others.

    There are also commercials for Manischewitz Matza, Hebrew National foods, Barbasol shave cream, and AJAX cleanser, among other products.

    NPR, renowned for journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information and cultural programming, serves a growing audience of 16 million Americans each week via more than 640 public radio stations. NPR Onlinesm at brings hourly newscasts, news features, commentaries and live events to Internet users through original online reports, audio streaming and other multimedia elements. NPR also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwide, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network and throughout Japan via cable.

    Established as a non-profit organization in 1994 by MacArthur Fellow David Isay, Sound Portraits Productions is an independent production company dedicated to telling stories that bring neglected American voices to a national audience. Whether on the radio, in print, or on the Web, Sound Portraits is committed to producing innovative works of lasting educational, cultural, and artistic value.