SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Filthy Pragmatists Love "A Christmas Story"

(12/23/2002)

Jean Shepherd

By Bob Weaver Christmas 2002

His voice was muffled by the hum of the grapevine telephone line that connected my house at Hur with the rest of the world.

"Can you hear me?," I asked. "Sounds like a bad connection. Where you callin' from?" he replied.

"I live in the hills of West Virginia and I listen to your radio show on WOR (New York), and I guess I'm just a fan who wants to express how much I enjoy it," I said.

"Well, that 50,000 watt thing gets out pretty good at night," he said.

I really don't remember much of the conversation, but I'm sure we talked about radio and how it inspires the imagination and it was something I aways wanted to do since a kid, get into radio.

WHUR radio was on-the-air then, a usually one-watt AM station that was produced in the cellar house, sending a signal around the Joker Ridge and out the Husk.

I remember he said radio doesn't pay much money, asking how old I was. I told him I was still in high school.

On his late night show he just talked, told stories and played some music, all spontaneous, straight from his wonderful story-telling mind.

He was very kind, and said he would mail some stories he had written for the Village Voice. In a few days, they arrived in the mail.

My mom and dad didn't know about the call, until they got the bill -"What the heck you doin' callin' New York?"

Some time later I called him at his home from my aunt Gladys Stump's house in Grantsville. The connection was better, no buzzing sound.

We continued to exchange letters for a couple years and I think I talked with him at least once after I launched my radio "career" in Marietta, Ohio, later returning to Spencer to help put the town's radio station on the air in the early 1960s.

Later I remembered his statement about radio not paying much. I was walking down the street in Spencer, fully understanding I couldn't afford a car and an apartment at the same time. I kept the car, and shortly abandoned my radio life.

I thought about the New York radio personality this Christmas day, after a TV channel showed 24-hours of his movie "A Christmas Story." I watched the film again, laughing just as much as I did the first time.

That radio man was writer Jean Shepherd, who may be best known for the 1983 Christmas movie, but others will recall Shep's thousands of hours of broadcasts of talking only to "me".

He had a method of talking as if he were sitting in your living room holding a casual conversation, discussing auto racing or some mundane thing that happened to his Uncle Phil.

A stunt he often pulled, was the hurling of invectives.

He would instruct his listeners to place their radios in the open window of their house and turn the volume way up. He would then yell over the radio things like, "You filthy pragmatists, I'm going to get you!" Only the cows and my parents heard it in the Village of Hur.

Shepherd wrote several books, produced TV specials and made movies, but his star shone more brightly during the 50s and 60s during the fading days of radio.

He passed away in 1999.


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