David Randolph: The Father of Weekly Thematic Music Programming

History Notes: Volume 2, Issue 18

Friday, June 03, 2011 - 12:00 AM

On July 2, 1946, David Randolph began a series of weekly broadcasts on WNYC called Music for the Connoisseur, later known as The David Randolph Concert.* 

On his fourth broadcast, he surveyed the subject of humor in music. With that, David pioneered the thematic radio broadcast devoted to a single musical subject with commentary. Above, you can listen to the full broadcast of "Composers' Senses of Humor," David's 375th show that aired in June, 1954. 

The programs were later syndicated nationally on the 72-station network of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB). The broadcasts garnered four Ohio State University Awards as "the best programs of music and commentary in the nation," and aired for 33 years. They also resulted in invitations from 23 publishers to write a book, and This Is Music: A Guide to the Pleasures of Listening was published by McGraw-Hill in 1964. It was described by the New York Times as "one of the best of the year."

David actually made his first WNYC appearance in 1939 on the music quiz program Symphonic Varieties, hosted by Sigmund Spaeth. It should be no surprise that not only was he the winner, but one of the few to ever get a perfect score. Spaeth encouraged David to stick with radio, and by 1950, he had four programs on the air each week and had established himself as one of America's outstanding commentators on music. Two of these programs were on WNYC. In the late fifties David was the intermission commentator for WNYC's broadcast of the Lewisohn Stadium concerts. Later on, he was a regular guest critic for WQXR's First Hearing and the host of WQXR's Lincoln Center Spotlight.

In August 1948, David announced during his program that the FCC might end WNYC's evening broadcasts — effectively cancelling his show. Listeners responded and sent in 6,134 letters of support. In view of the protest, the FCC renewed the AM station's night broadcasting license despite objections from WCCO in Minneapolis, our broadcast nemesis. Fan mail in David's file also includes kind words from photographer Margaret Bourke-White, composer and pianist Sir Alec Templeton, poet and editor Louis Untermeyer and the writer Joseph Wood Krutch.

Outside of the radio, David Randolph was the conductor of the original Masterwork Chorus & Orchestra from its founding in 1955 until his resignation on January 1, 1993. He was also the director of the St. Cecilia Chorus, which he led from 1965 until a week before his passing last year. David also taught music for many years at Montclair State University and The New School. Finally, Maestro Randolph has the distinction of making it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having conducted the most complete performances of Handel's Messiah.

*In an oral history interview with the NYPR archives several years ago, David voiced his frustration with some civil service announcers who introduced the program as Music for the Con-ne-sewer. He felt the best remedy was to change the name.


    Maestro David Randolph (1914-2010)

                                                                                               Photo Courtesy of the St. Cecilia Chorus Archives



Broadcast on WNYC Today in:

1926: National Democratic Club dinner. Speakers: Thomas E. Rush, Franklin D. Roosevelt, James W. Gerard, Henry Morganthau, James M. Cox, Frank L. Polik and others.

1938: Women's League for Peace and Freedom program.  

1956: Gilbert Seldes discusses movies and why people will go to see a bad movie faster than a good one on The Lively Arts.


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Comments [1]

Richard E. Mishell

Thank you, David.

Dec. 17 2011 09:54 PM

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