Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Murray Horowit
I saw the good news in Current last week: Murray Horowitz is returning to public radio as host of WAMU’s Sunday night program The Big Broadcast. The move brings NPR’s former Cultural VP back into a world he created before he was unwisely deposed by NPR management in 2002.

 The Big Broadcast is a perfect fit for Horwitz who has spent most of his career in “show biz” – a term he doesn’t mind. He succeeds longtime program host Ed Walker, who died in 2015. Rob Bamberger served as interim host.  Horwitz began his hosting on June 12.

The Big Broadcast [link] has been a weekly fixture on WAMU since 1964. The program was inspired by the 1932 film The Big Broadcast.  It was highly influential in pre-code Hollywood because of its diverse cast and salty subject matter. The film was banned in many cities.   
WAMU’s version of The Big Broadcast includes audio from radio’s first golden age. Here is a sample of what was heard on Horwitz first program:

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar episode The Callicles Matter from 1956

My Favorite Husband episode Knitting Baby Booties from 1948

Gunsmoke episode Man and Boy from 1957

Great Gildersleeve episode Father's Day Chair from 1942

Dragnet episode "Red Light Bandit” from 1949

The Adventures of Father Brown episode The Three Tools of Death from 1945

Lux Radio Theater episode Sorell and Son from 1940


Horowitz was VP of Cultural Programming at NPR from 1989 to 2002, a time of change in public radio. Horowitz was pushed out when NPR’s management decided to de-emphasize cultural programming in favor of news. What the bean-counters failed to realize is that culture is part of news. It is in the DNA of American life. The results of NPR’s exit from most classical, jazz, blues and Americana programming hurt the network for a while.  Only in recent years has NPR gotten its cultural groove back with NPR Music.

Horwitz is a multi-platform player. He knows cultural programming doesn’t exist in a vacuum, that it is essential to a full life for life-long learners.

After NPR turfed him, Horwitz moved on without anger. One of the shows he green-lighted helped create – Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me - became a big hit. 

After he left NPR Horwitz became Director and COO of the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. The Silver Theatre has become a Washington, DC cultural landmark. In addition to hosting The Big Broadcast, Horwitz now divides his time between his own writing and serving as Director of Special Projects for Washington Performing Arts.

I first got to know Horwitz in the 1990s when I was Director News at American Public Radio (APR), now Public Radio International (PRI) and he was Cultural VP at NPR. At that time the competition between NPR and APR was intense. Folks from the two networks sometime wouldn’t speak to each other.  But none of that bullshit mattered to Horwitz or me.

Whenever we crossed paths at conferences he always greeted me with a smile and asked me about the music I liked and great movies I had seen. Horwitz was and is interested in the common bonds between people – the things that bring us together.

I once asked Horwitz when he knew he had "made it" in show biz.  He said that was during his first job in the early 1970s.

It happened in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Horwitz started his performance career in Sioux Falls as a clown with Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.

One of a clown’s duties with the Circus was to lead a parade of animals and performers down the main street.   

Horwitz said he almost chicken-out because he was so scared of failing. 

As he led the procession down Phillips Avenue has saw Horwitz Jewelers, a Sioux Falls institution. Seeing it made him feel in his comfort zone. Folks are just folks anywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Shouldn't you at least mention John Hickman who originated the show on WAMU? Ed Walker took his place after John passed away.