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Victor Packer
1 The One-Man Radio Department
2 Voices of the Street
NPR Documentary
Victor Packer, the documentary about WLTH's one-man Jewish programming department. (RealAudio, 12:35 min.)  


EXPLORE
PHOTOS
People and places featured in the documentary about Victor Packer.  

AUDIO_EXTRAS
"Coney Island," (excerpt) Packer's epic poem, c1940.

"Hammer's Beverage Program," with Victor Packer and the Happy Twins, 1940.

"To Marry or Not to Marry," Packer's avant-garde drama, c1940.

Packer's "Questions in the Air," (Sept. 1940):

The rules of the game.

Name this composition.

Does a chicken have 24 teeth?

 

VIDEO_EXTRAS
Packer performs his poetry.

Packer's kidkin's show.

(Courtesy the Warembud family)
 


The One-Man Radio Department

In 1992, Yiddish historian and sound archivist Henry Sapoznik got a phone call from a woman who said she was the widow of a former Jewish radio personality. She was moving out of her house in Queens and wondered if Sapoznik might want to haul off some of the materials her husband had left behind. Soon, Sapoznik was making his way down the basement stairs that led to her late husband's office. When he entered the room, he was astounded.

Sapoznik had descended into a veritable King Tut's tomb of Yiddish radio, where nothing appeared to have changed in decades. All around were stacks of photos, radio scripts, and dozen and dozens of 16" acetate discs.

This was the legacy of Victor Packer, an eccentric broadcaster whom the fates had granted a multi-year license to transmit whatever boiled to the surface of his overheated imagination.

From the late-1930s to 1942, Victor Packer served as Jewish Program Director of Brooklyn's low-budget station WLTH. The title and function don't sound unusual until you listen to the discs in Packer's collection and begin to realize that Packer was WLTH's Jewish division. His charge: to fill -- as writer, director, host, and anything else necessary -- four hours of radio a day in 15-minute increments, each distinct from the last.

The one-time Yiddish theater actor took to the challenge with a total lack of inhibition. Ideas that sprang into his head one day were on the air the next. In one segment, listeners might hear him recite avant-garde literary masterpieces like his epic sound poems about New York City life, which presaged the beat poetry of 1950s America. The recitation over, Packer would metamorphose from bard to buffoon -- say, as host of the "Hammer's Beverage Program," an insipid children's show on which Raisele and Sheyndele, "the Happy Twins," sang cloying Yiddish and English ditties punctuated by senseless patter, with Packer as the butt of every joke.

As the day proceeded, Packer co-hosted talent and game shows with his English-language announcer, Norman Warembud, conducted man-in-the-street interviews, acted and directed in serial dramas, and created a variety of programs that still defy categorization. Case in point: the 11-minute "To Marry or Not to Marry," a heated dialogue on the topic of marriage, in which only one side of the conversation is audible. (Fully seven minutes of the broadcast comprise perfect silence.)

Packer sustained his manic production of radio creations until WLTH went off the air in 1942. After that, he hosted the occasional show on several of New York's other Yiddish stations. But never again would his maverick radio sensibilities be given free rein.

Next Page: Voices of the Street »

 

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