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For immediate release
March 22, 2000


Harry Shearer Celebrates A Forefather of Radio Storytelling in a Special Two-Hour Homage

Likened to a jazz musician, compared to Mark Twain and James Thurber, and hailed by Marshall McLuhan as "the first radio novelist," Jean Shepherd had an extraordinary ability to tap into the American psyche and communicate with an audience of devoted fans and listeners.

This spring on NPR, one master of radio pays homage to another, as satirist Harry Shearer hosts Voice In The Night: A Tribute To Jean Shepherd. In this two-hour special produced by NPR and member station KCRW, Shearer presents vintage excerpts from Shepherd's broadcasts, his own interview of Shepherd, and reminiscences from people who knew Shepherd and were influenced by his unique storytelling style.

"Even when I was first exposed to his radio work as a callow youth, I realized that Jean Shepherd's view of childhood, and politics, and life, provided an essential antidote to the sentimental gloop or fashionable cynicism that represent the two acceptable approaches to those subjects. He was, and is, smart, funny, and devoted to capturing the reality of the moments he recalls. He was also a pure radio original, and this show is my repayment of a debt I incurred long ago," says Harry Shearer.

Harry Shearer gained national recognition as one of the creators and stars of "This is Spinal Tap," where he portrayed heavy metalist Derek Smalls in the mock rockumentary. He was a writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live for two seasons. His film work includes The Right Stuff, Oscar, The Fisher King, Wayne's World II, and The Truman Show. Shearer is now known to a new generation as the voice of Mr. Burns, Smithers and Ned Flanders, among others on the international hit series, The Simpsons.

Voice in the Night is an act of tribute by people in public radio who trace their own interest in the medium to Jean Shepherd. Throughout NPR and its member stations, there are hundreds of producers, host, and engineers who owe their understanding of what radio can be to Shepherd.

Shepherd was a spiritual father to Garrison Keillor, Daniel Pinkwater, Bill Harley, Paul Krassner, and Joe Frank. He helped and worked with Jules Feiffer, Shel Silverstein, and Herb Gardner. Many of these people and others are heard in Voice in the Night. Most importantly, in Voice in the Night we hear Jean Shepherd at work on the radio.

From 1950-1954, Jean Shepherd was a radio DJ on WSAI and also appeared on a nightly comedy show, "Rear Bumpers," on WLW, both in Cincinnati. In 1956, Shepherd moved to WOR in New York and for 21 years listeners along the East Coast were able to enjoy his comments, silly songs, jokes, and other thoughts that usually centered around one story each night. His other great radio event was a live broadcast on Saturday nights from The Limelight, a nightclub in Greenwich Village. In the 1970's, Shepherd shared his talents with a national television audience in a series of humorous narratives for PBS called, "Jean Shepherd's America," which later continued on the PBS New Jersey Network as "Shepherd's Pie."

However, his most popular and well-known work is the film, "A Christmas Story" which he co-wrote and narrated in 1983. Shepherd has also written six books including, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash Buy It Now!" and "A Fistful of Fig Newtons." On October 16, 1999 at the age of 78, Shepherd passed away at a hospital near his home in Sanibel Island, Florida.

Renowned for its journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information, and cultural programming, NPR serves a growing audience of 14.6 million Americans each week via 625 public radio stations.