JEAN SHEPHERD:

Repackaging the Past for the Modern Culture

Introduction

Jean Shepherd was a writer, actor, radio personality, humorist, and an American storyteller. This site will focus on his career as a radio personality and storyteller from 1956 to 1977 and how he contributed to a nostalgic culture during those times. His legacy continued into the 1980's when he contributed to the screenplay for A Christmas Story, which was based largely on his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. His radio programs and the movie appealed to many Americans during a time when they found themselves longing for "the good old days". This site will show the evolution of nostalgia in America, how Jean Shepherd can be considered an "American" humorist, and how his radio programs used the elements of nostalgia and storytelling, which later developed into a movie many would call a Christmas "classic".

"Stand By for something else..."

By the time Jean Shepherd had moved to New York in 1956 to begin his career with WOR, the number of televisions in American homes was creeping up towards the 60 million mark. Now families gathered around the television as they had the radio twenty years earlier. Radio programs had to change their format in order to keep a faithful audience. While people twenty years earlier listened to such people as Tommy Dorsey and Fred Allen, the new genre of radio programming was popular teenage music and panel discussions on contemporary controversial topics. The 1960's were a time of controversy with the momentum of the civil rights movements and the Cold War threats of nuclear holocaust. Many American's found comfort in Jean Shepherd's nightly stories of his childhood, which he would tell in such a manner that it let people escape from the realities of the pressing controversies and indulge in a little nostalgia. His 45-minute radio spots were first only available to nightly insomniac listeners in New York, but later KFRC in San Francisco and WNAC in Boston began to broadcast him. He remained an "underground phenomenon" until he crossed over into other mediums, such as writing for Playboy or publishing his stories. He also did programs for PBS in the 1970's called "Jean Shepherd's America". A Christmas Story was produced in 1983, which he narrated himself. Throughout all of those different mediums, Jean Shepherd continued to use nostalgia and storytelling in order to revisit a place in his memories that would alleviate his audience's contemporary worries.

Site created and maintained by Anne Riley for the American Studies Program
University of Virginia; Spring 2002

American Studies at UVA