KQED Public Radio airs programming from many different sources: NPR, PBS, BBC and our own local shows like “Forum,” to name some. Yet, to many listeners, it’s all just “KQED,” a seamless run of information that somehow fits together.
One reason for that is our staff announcers, who function as almost masters of ceremonies, smoothly segueing the audience from one show to the next.
And to many, these on-air personalities are KQED Radio. If you ask my wife, for instance, what person she thinks of when she hears those call letters, she says Jerry Neuman.
And now, after 37 years, Jerry is retiring, putting an end to his reign as the longest-serving employee of KQED Radio. Jerry has been with the station since 1976, when the station still played classical music. Here’s his official KQED bio:
Jerry Neuman’s lifelong love affair with radio began over 50 years ago, when he represented PS 91 in Brooklyn as a Quiz Kid on WNYE. Thanks to a family member who was in the Metropolitan Opera chorus, Jerry cut his teeth on the classics. When Jerry attended Ithaca College and heard of an opening for someone familiar with classical music, his dream of becoming a radio announcer was realized.
After college and service in the Army Security Agency, Jerry switched coasts and took a position with Doubleday & Co. Publishers. In 1974 he returned to radio announcing at KDFC in San Francisco. Two years later Jerry joined KQED, where he hosted “Music Quiz,” the Oakland Symphony broadcasts, “The Joyous Diversion,” and “Check It Out,” a program that promoted the use of libraries and that he produced and syndicated to NPR.
When not on the air, Jerry is a devotee of the speedbag — it helps him maintain hand-and-eye coordination. He says it’s also the one piece of equipment that’s always available at the gym. Jerry was also a massage therapist for 10 years and still sees a few clients.
Therapeutic hands, and a sly wit wrapped in a soothing tone — it’s Jerry Neuman, the afternoon-evening voice of KQED Public Radio.
Also, one of his biggest accomplishments, in my book: that dulcet voice taking the pain out of many a pledge drive. Well, at least a little bit, anyway.
I talked to Jerry today about his career and retirement. Edited interview:
Jon Brooks: So Jerry, why now?
Jerry Neuman: The best answer to that is I’ve been talking to microphones for 60 years. I started in New York City as a quiz kid and now I’m getting close to my 72nd birthday. It’s quite enough, thank you.
Jon Brooks: So what did you like most about your job?
Jerry Neuman: I loved the hours I worked. My shift was originally from 3 p.m. till 1 a.m. and more recently it’s been 2 p.m. till 11 p.m. And I genuinely liked the people that I worked with at KQED FM.
Jon Brooks: And what didn’t you like?
Jerry Neuman: Being the staff announcer means you are completely cut off from contact with almost everybody, and there were days that I might not speak to more than two or three people, relieving someone during a shift change and then talking to someone from the front office. Beyond that, on some days that would be all the contact I’d have with anybody unless I’d run into someone in the halls. It seems to be a glamorous job but in actual practice it’s a very isolating job. But I’ve done it all my life and I’m pretty used to it.
Jon Brooks: Do people recognize your voice when you’re out and about?
Jerry Neuman: I now live in Walnut Creek, where reception of KQED FM is marginal. So it doesn’t happen very much anymore. But for the 17-20 years I lived in Oakland and Berkeley, the answer is a resounding yes. When I was out and about it would be hard to go a week without someone hearing me and talking to me.
Jon Brooks: Word around here is before your announcing career, you were some sort of spy? Is that true?
Jerry Neuman: I was an electronic spy with the U.S. Army during the Cold War and the early parts of the Vietnam War.
Jon Brooks: Do you know secrets you still can’t tell?
Jerry Neuman: I could tell you what we were doing but it would bore you stiff. Morse code was heavily involved.
Jon Brooks: Any fond memories you want to share from your career?
Jerry Neuman: For many years I was the program host for the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. That was a great deal of fun and we did our broadcasts out of Oakland’s Paramount Theatre. The other program I’m especially proud of is a program I syndicated with the assistance of KQED, through National Public Radio, called “Check It Out.” That was a daily episode in our broadcast day about libraries and how to use them, which has been an interest of mine since I was a child. That also got syndicated on the Armed Forces Radio Network, so it was heard around the world.
Jon Brooks: You officially retire Sunday, but you’ve been off the air for awhile now. Any plans to come in for a farewell shift?
Jerry Neuman: No, I’m a pretty tightly contained fellow except when you get into a moment you might imagine to be emotional, and then I get too emotional, and I prefer to contain those things, especially when I’m on the air. But I wish everybody the best of luck.
So long, Jerry. We’ll miss ya.