In 1981 I went to the National Association
of Broadcasters convention
in Las Veges in my role as a Contributing Editor of Videography
Magazine. In that year the annual luncheon speaker for the Engineering
Luncheon was Jean Shepherd. That the engineers should choose Shepard
as the after dinner speaker was not as far fetched as you might think,
for Shepherd was, among other things, an amateur radio operator, call
As you might expect, his after dinner speach
was formated like his
radio program on WOR. What works well deserved to be duplicated.
I, for many years, listened to Shepherd on
local radio station WBUR,
who carried his rebroadcast at midnight. The procedure I used was to
set my recorder to make an automatic copy and then play it back during
my drive to Boston. So, as you can see, I was a devoted fan.
I could not let the moment pass without letting
him know, in person,
of the devotion with which he was viewed by many in the audience at
Hale fellow well met and the bottom line was
a gracious invitation to
bend our mutual elbows at the bar of the Hilton Hotel later that
evening. I was joined by two other sycophants who also were in the
audience. They came with credentials of being broadcast engineering
and also radio amateurs.
So, the four of us sat and drinked in the occasion
listening to the
garolous Shepherd take us on a miny-spin along the never ending trail
of his broadcasting.
Then, Shepherd did the unexpected and relayed
to us a story of his that
was most unanticipated. Using the format well known, he began a
monologue which included a story of how it was that an announcer in a
Cinncinati radio station happened to come to New York.
It all happened in 1955 when the NBC network
was looking around for a
new replacement on the Tonight Show. The Tonight Show already had
quite a following having been started by Steve Allen and it turned out
that there were more than enough people up watching television after
the 11 o'clock news to make a very valuable program. When Allen quit
because enough is enough he caught NBC flat footed and without a
suitable replacement. They pulled in the Sports Announcer from the
Today show who carried on as best he could, but the audience voted with
their feet, and the Tonight show was in danger of total collapse. So
in this atmosphere the programmers at NBC looked around for a
replacement to Steve Allen. They sent out their bird dog looking around
for an appropriate person with a garolous nature and one who was quick
on his feet and could keep his head above water no matter what the
Someone said there was a guy operating as a
staff announcer at WLW
radio in Cincinnati that showed promise and why not go take a look.
The bird dog went swiftly to Cincinnati and
holed up in a hotel room
with a radio. Thus it was that Jean Shepherd came to NBC's attention.
They met again on the telephone and immediately decided that they might
have their candidate for Steve Allen's replacement.
The next day the bird dog introduced himself
wholly unexpectedly to the
amazed Shepherd. Told the story in nutshell and made an offer on the
spot. Shepherd was completely swept up by the unexpected which was
taking him from Cincinnati to New York. But there was a teeny, tiny
caveat in the offer. There was another chap who NBC had, but a
promised prime time venture was turning out going nowhere. NBC had an
obligation to make an overture to this person who they had stolen form
CBS but in the event, there seemed he would be littled charmed by an
offer for a program spot after the Eleven O'Clock News. It was
anticipated that he would turn down flat an offer to be the Tonight
show host. The game plan went like this: 1. Offer the Tonight Show
to the guy who would turn it down flat. 2. Then the Tonight Show
would go to Shepherd
Over on CBS there was another chap operating
who claimed the hour from
noon to 1pm. This fellow I knew well for I was working for a new tv
station and we were so poor that we had no news department and
consequently carried CBS at the time when almost every body was busy
making money. To say that the person was a hole-filler on CBS was a
That person was Jack Paar and he already had
enough talent to draw him
away from CBS to NBC where they were planning a prime time program
which would use his talents.
Alas, the best plans of mice and men.....
the prime time venture
turned out to be smoke and mirrors, leaving NBC with a potential star
and no place to put him. The contract Paar negotiated with NBC
contained a section that committed NBC to trying to find someplace to
put Paar that was mutually agreeable.
Paar was now a bit pissed off by NBC's action
but he looked around and
saw that among his otions the one from NBC still offered him a chance
to make the big time on his own. He said "yes" to the NBC offer.
So certain had been NBC that Paar would turn
down the offer, that they
brought Shepherd to New York pending the announcement of the new
Tonight show host. Alas, the announcement was that Jack Paar would be
the new host..... and the rest is history.
Shepherd was ensconced in a New York hotel
and several weeks later
connected with WOR.... and the rest is history.
David P. Allen
Contributing Editor, emeritus, Videography Magazine