By Marie FrickerEight-year-old Jordan Rich of Randolph traded in his sticky booklet of S&H green stamps at the Redemption Center on Parkingway in Quincy in 1967. He was ready to redeem his 1,200 reward points for his months of licking, pasting and filling his mother’s book of stamps earned for purchases she had made at local stores.
Most kids would have swapped their points for a new GI Joe or Lionel train set, but not this kid,” said Rich. “I went home with a Panasonic reel-to-reel tape recorder tucked under my arm, and felt like I had hit the jackpot. Listening to radio shows was my passion, even at that young age and I was addicted to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, as well as a regular fan of late-night talk shows. At last, I would be able to record my voice and hear what it sounded like on radio (or close to it.) As my parents and I left the S&H Redemption Center that day, none of us knew that the prize we redeemed with green stamps would launch a more than 40-year career in Boston radio for me.
The name Jordan Rich was destined to become a household word, and he would rise to the level of a broadcasting legend throughout the state and the nation. While attending Curry College in Milton as a teenager, he landed a job as a weather reporter on WRKO. That led to posts as a disc jockey and host on WSSH-FM, WHDH, and WRKO, and a 20-year run on WBZ’s popular overnight talk program, the Jordan Rich Show.
Today, Rich’s familiar voice can be heard on the 50,000-watt WBZ radio station every weekend with his Connoisseur’s Corner, New England Weekend, The Upside with Jordan, the WBZ Book Club, and a movie and TV review show called Streaming with Jordan. He also teaches voiceover classes and co-owns and operates Chart Productions, an audio/video production company in Braintree.
And in his “spare time,” with the help of local editor and ghostwriter Stephen White, he recently wrote and published his autobiography, On Air—My 50-Year Love Affair with Radio. All proceeds from the book will benefit one of his favorite charities, the Boston Children’s Hospital. Rich’s memoir details his rise to fame on the WBZ airwaves as an early stand-in and then successor to the longtime overnight talk show host Norm Nathan, but also his 15-year struggle with depression, the loss of his first wife Wendy to cancer, and the joy of working with his son Andrew as producer of his talk show. He also offers a list of tips for those considering a career in broadcasting.
“Like my father, who was a singer and amateur actor, I’ve always had a wry sense of humor, and it was expected that I would be upbeat and funny on my show every night,” said Rich. “But when my clinical depression was at its worst, I finally decided to let my listeners know what was going on with me. It was the best thing I could have done. The love and support that came over the airwaves from all over the country was unbelievable. I didn’t have to put on a happy face (or voice) anymore and it took so much pressure off of me until I could find a great therapist who helped me through it.”
During one of his Saturday night talk shows,” Rich got the chance to pay it forward with a man named Joe who called in at 4:05 a.m. in a state of desperation. “Joe’s voice was weak as he told me he had just lost his job, and his wife had left him and wouldn’t let him see his only daughter,” said Rich. “He said he was thinking of killing himself, but I talked with him for half an hour, urged him to get professional help, and gave him the number for the Samaritans, which I always kept on hand during my shows. Before he hung up, Joe gave his address to our producer and promised to seek help. Lots of callers after than expressed support for him, including a psychiatric nurse who was listening to the show while driving home from her overnight shift. She spoke directly to Joe through the airwaves. ‘I want you to know we can help you,’ she said. ‘And there is a place to turn,’ she said. When she hung up, she left the name of her mental health facility with our producer.
“I later wrote Joe a long letter telling him about my personal struggles with depression and giving him the information that the nurse had left. Many months later, I was in the studio prepping for my show when I heard the last caller on the show before mine, which was hosted by the great Lovell Dyett. The caller said his name was Joe, and I recognized his voice immediately. He told Lovell that he had been in a desperate place one night about eight months ago with no one to talk to except the gentleman on the talk show. He said if he hadn’t called in, he might have ended his life that night. He subsequently sought treatment for depression, found a new job, and was back on solid ground.
“Hearing that ‘happy ending’ story from Joe was one of the most gratifying moments in my more than 40-year career in radio. As a Jew, I subscribe to the concept of Tikkun Alom, which means any activity that improves the world brings it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created, even if you are just helping one person at a time. Joe reinforced the importance of Tikkum Alom for me.
As a talk show host at WBZ, Rich was able to meet and work with many of the cherished “voices” he had held close to his ear on his battery-operated transistor radio in his Randolph home. “I worked with and became friends with broadcasting legends like David Brudnoy, Gary LaPierre, Larry Glick, Dave Maynard, Jess Cain, Jerry Williams, Dan Rea, and Norm Nathan, who was a wonderful mentor to me. Norm taught me about self-deprecation and treating listeners with kindness and respect, and it was an honor and a privilege to succeed him on WBZ. Those were tough shoes to fill. The overnight audience is made up of listeners that are more loyal to the hosts and the radio station than listeners during any other part of the day. They cherish hearing that voice in the night, and if they do not like a change you’ve made, they will let you know.”
Over the years, Rich interviewed hundreds of celebrities, including such notables as Kirk Douglas on the occasion of his 100th birthday, science fiction author Ray Bradbury, Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman, comedians Joan Rivers and Don Rickles, and actors Liza Minelli, Roger Moore, and Tony Randall, among many others. But his show was much more than a fluffy, “Who’s Who” in Hollywood for graveyard shift workers and insomniacs. It was also a forum for people to vent their feelings when tragedies happened in the world, like the deaths of Princess Diana and JFK, Jr., and, of course, the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York. e
When the economic collapse of 2008 occurred, once again a familiar voice in the night welcomed listeners to call in and talk about their troubles. People were panicked about losing their jobs, their savings, and their futures,” said Rich. “My role became that of comforter during those times. I had no grand answers, but I could listen, and they wanted to be heard.”
The Jordan Rich Show never delved deeply into politics or other volatile topics. Its major role was to entertain and comfort a special breed of listeners. “I didn’t want to have an issues-oriented, hard line talk show,” he said. “I’m not much for confrontation and I don’t want to fight with people. Political divides were not as harsh as they are today when I started my show, but things were beginning to get a bit ugly with the Clinton-era scandals. So, I went with the same format that brought me to WBZ—interviewing guests from all walks of life—authors, artists, historians, humorists, and more, and I developed an intimate connection with my overnight audiences.
“My audiences were different from the casual listeners who turn on the radio on their way to and from their work. My listeners are not among the thousands of rush-hour commuters on the Boston highways. They are awake while others sleep, in the dark of night and before the sun rises. Overnight listeners feel a certain entitlement and ownership of these hours. This is their comfort zone, a place that is shared only with others like themselves. I understood them. I was one of them. I loved them.”
Rich’s memoir, On Air: My 50-Year Love Affair with Radio, is available now on amazon.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.jordanrich.com for information about his current programs, voice-over classes, and podcasts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Marie Fricker is the editor of the South Shore/Metro West Senior News as well as a realtor. This article appears in the March 2021 edition.