Published on: December 24, 2013

It's the time of the year when Christmas Story airs repeatedly BUT what you don't know is that creator Jean Shepherd was NO Ralphie.

Radio's Jean Shepherd, who's cultists of late night listeners cowered in the dark, hiding their transistor AM sets underneath pillows so as to not get  caught listening after hours to the mellifluous maven of anarchistic storytellers, warped a generation's mindset during the 1960s. 

Modern audiences know him only as the faceless narrator and co-scripter of the timeless depression era A Christmas Story directed by Bob Clark.  But those episodes are strung together from the prodigious writings of Shep who's non-stop monologing on WOR-AM transfixed millions for decades.

The prophetic  Marshall McLuhan in his book  Understanding Media wrote that Shepherd "regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly" and counted fellow beat poet Jack Kerouac and satirist Jules Feiffer as pals.

Born In Hammond, Indiana where the Xmas fable was set, Shep worked in the local steel mills before joining the Army serving in the Signal Corps during WW2.

Post-war he bounced around several radio stations trying to find a niche for his unique shtick at  WOR. Some nights Shep may have riffed on the Village night people roaming all night book stores in the late 1950s, playing nose flute to Sousa or commenting on the news of the day interspersed with semi-autobiographical tales of "Ludlow Kissel's Dago Bomb" (a Fourth of July perennial) to emerging slob art or to marching with Martin Luther King on Washington in 1963 to a quiet night of reading Robert W. Service poetry on air. 

The listener NEVER knew.

The seemingly improvised raconteur would use pre-selected audio tracks to accompany wild discourses into ephemera, the  foibles of modern life and the ultimate absurdity of it ALL.

Many of the stories later appeared in written form in Mad Magazine ("Night People Vs. Creeping Meatballism") and Playboy ("Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories"), Car and Driver, National Lampoon  and then collected into books including In God We Trust, All Others Pays Cash (where much of his Xmas Story comes from) A Fistful of Fig Newtons and The Ferrari in the Bedroom. 

When he was about to be canned by WOR in 1956 for not being "commercial" (i.e. "too hip") he created a faux spot for Sweetheart Soap who was NOT a sponsor and Shep was immediately fired.  After being barraged by irate listeners and an offer from Sweetheart to actually sponsor the show, the station relented and Shep remained there for years.

Shep's most scintillating programs remain prophetic, biting humorous commentaries about ordinary life in America and the pitfalls of hubris.

He later branched into television and Jean Shepherd's America and Shepherd's Pie aired on many PBS stations during the 1970s.

But to merely read abut his work and NOT HEAR Shep, the modern Mark Twain, possibly the world's greatest monologist, is to miss the point entirely.  Many of broadcasts taped by enthusiasts are now available online and are more prescient, poignant AND funnier than anything today. You can get a good dose via podcast at "The Brass Figaleee" and "Mass Backwards" on iTunes. Yes, it's FREE.

Jean Shepherd, a Greenwich Village night person himself, died in 1999 on Sanibel Island in Florida but his work still endures.

So, do yourself a favor this holiday season, don't just watch A Christmas Story LISTEN to the man who's life it was spun from - the late, great Jean Shepherd.

You won't shoot your eye out, kid.