Monday, October 26, 2015

RIP Radio Legend Ed Walker

Hall of Fame Broadcaster Ed Walker
 April 23, 1932 – October 26, 2015

I've been enjoying Ed Walker's nostalgic Sunday evening radio show since moving to the DC area in 2000. For 15 years, The Big Broadcast was appointment radio for me. I loved the show because it offered a glimpse into family life during a simpler time when radio was the main source of entertainment--the '30s, '40s, and '50s. When I was young in the '60s, TV was already popular. I remember watching Gunsmoke, Dragnet, and the Lone Ranger on TV with my family the way my parents and grandparents had probably listened to Fibber McGee and Molly or the Jack Benny Show. Through The Big Broadcast, I came to appreciate that the lineage of the shows we watched in the '60s went back to popular radio broadcasts long before the television era.

Despite Mr. Walker's status as revered co-founder of WAMU-FM and long-time host of his popular Sunday evening show, I really did not know much about the man himself until he decided to retire earlier this month. At the age of 83, Mr. Walker received a cancer diagnosis. He announced his decision to retire so he could focus on his health, and people in the listening audience and the wider WAMU community responded with news and stories commemorating his accomplishments and his character. That is when I began learning more about Mr. Walker. For example, I learned something that listeners of radio would have no way of knowing--that Mr. Walker was born blind. He was the first blind student accepted at American University.

His friend and fellow WAMU broadcaster, Ray Bamberger, guest-hosted Ed's show on October 18th, the first Sunday after Ed stepped down. Ray also announced that he would continue guest-hosting until a full-time host for The Big Broadcast was chosen. Meanwhile, Ed's family encouraged Mr. Walker to record one final broadcast. The report I read indicated that he really did not want to, as he felt weak and his voice was raspy. But his family convinced him to put together one final show. At the time, they probably did not realize that this final show would literally be Mr. Walker's Swan Song.

Recorded in his hospital room. the final show was different from previous shows. Rather than try to play what his audience wanted to hear, Ed set out to play his personal favorites. As you listen to the show, you can hear his raspy voice, a little quieter than usual, but his thoughts, insights, and recollections are every bit as colorful and lively as ever. Rather than simply airing the next episode in the Johnny Dollar series, Ed played his favorite episode. There were Christmas-themed shows, not because the season was right but because the content touched his heart. The sadness as he bade farewell was palpable.

The final broadcast aired on Sunday, Oct 25th, from 7 to 11 p.m. Surrounded by his family, Ed listened to the broadcast in his hospital room. You can listen to the broadcast by following this LINK. We learned today the sad and poignant news that within a few hours of hearing his signature sign-off, Ed Walker slipped into a deep and permanent sleep.

        What a bittersweet story...

              Rest in peace, Ed Walker.

Ed Walker (April 23, 1932 – October 26, 2015) was a Washington, D.C., radio personality. He hosted a weekly four-hour Sunday night program, The Big Broadcast, on WAMU-FM, featuring vintage radio programs from the 1930s to 1950s, such as Gunsmoke,The Jack Benny ShowThe Lone RangerFibber McGee and Molly, and Superman. Walker began hosting The Big Broadcast in 1990 when his friend John Hickman discontinued hosting due to illness; the show, which started in 1964 as Recollections, has been the longest running program on WAMU. The show ranks first in its time slot, and its audience is "remarkably young for a public radio crowd."