Henry Lewis, Legendary WNYC Host Dies

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jan. 2009 (courtesy of WFMU)

Jan. 2009 (courtesy of WFMU)


For almost 60 years, the poised, confident baritone of Henry Lewis was the sound of Saturday night on WNYC AM 820.

If you never had the pleasure of his company on one of those evenings, here is a recording from March 2009:

On May 15, 2006 we sat down with Lewis to talk about his time at WNYC. Lewis discusses his early years on the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) radio show, which he started announcing at 13 on Saturday afternoons in 1945. Lewis also speaks about broadcasting during the blackout of 1965, and how he came to be a WNYC announcer.

Lewis was a regular announcer from 1952-1954, again from 1964-1967, and finally from 1987 until he was hospitalized in early November.

Lewis died on December 25, at the age of 77.

Rex Doane, Programming Promotions Manager at WNYC and host of Fool's Paradise on WFMU says, “Henry had the classic pipes. He was of that generation of radio announcers who had a style few people could replicate, a style that stood out and was meant to. Henry was born to be an announcer.”

If you have any memories or favorite segments from Lewis' shows please post your comments below.


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Comments [12]

Wendy from [?]

Where to send a Condolence card to his family ? Hello, to "Prairie Home Companion".

Nov. 27 2010 11:44 AM
Scott Fraser

God bless you, Henry Lewis. I belatedly learned of your passing. Thank you for gracing our Saturday nights and smiling as Danny closed that heavy oak door. A star is twinkling above our New York City sky for you tonight. Sweet dreams old radio friend.

Jan. 09 2010 10:09 PM
WNYC Newsroom

I knew Henry for more than half a century -- 61 years, actually.

On the last day of 2009, I was informed of the death of my classmate, my colleague, and my friend, Henry Lewis. That was his professional name. His name was Henry Lilienthal. I met him on the first day of high school class in September 1948 at a well-worn school building on Oliver, Oak, and James Street, in lower Manhattan. The streets and the building no longer exist.

I had arrived early, with eager anticipation of an exciting new adventure. The postcard that the school had sent me gave the date, the time, and the location that I was to report for my first class. The door to the classroom had a large glass pane. I could see that there was no one there. The room was empty and it was locked. I looked at the postcard again, to make sure that I had not misread it. The hallway was devoid of anyone, too. The entire floor was quiet. I waited in front of the classroom door. Presently, I heard footsteps. Turning the hallway corner, a man approached me. His steps kept the same cadence. He wore a fedora hat and a long coat. He stopped before me, took a postcard from his pocket and compared it to the room number on the door window. It must be the teacher on his first assignment. Here was an opportunity for me to make a good impression. I introduced myself. His voice had the resonance and boom of authority. No, he said, he was not the teacher. He was a student on his first day, also. It was Henry. From that day on, we were friends.

While we were still students, he introduced me to RADIO, 1948 Radio. We visited many radio shows -- while they were LIVE, on the air. He took me to NBC, gave me the grand tour, showed me all the studios and all the control rooms, explained everything and had me audition for the Saturday morning children shows. We appeared on many of them, many together. NBC had a large "professional performers" lounge on the 3rd floor, where they rested, between rehearsals and performances, and that is where we spent our time, after school. Those children shows consisted of fairy tails and stories from history. Henry was the Town Crier, the Village Constable, the stern King. I, the Village fool, the dog or frog that turned into the prince when kissed. We also appeared on a small local radio station that played French music. We created a very small radio station, WERN, with a tremendous radius of 2 and 1/2 city streets. We would broadcast for six hours on Saturday afternoons, along with Phil Dixon and Dom DeLuise. Henry, naturally, did the Newscasts.

Henry knew so much about radio that he could identify all the various time tones that chimed on the hour of the various radio stations. He could identify all the major American Announcers, from their voices, and give a biography dissertation of their careers.

Henry Lewis, since his youth, wanted to be a Radio Announcer and that is what he became: Radio Announcer, Narrator, and Newscaster. While still in school as a Drama student, he appeared on the radio on those Saturday morning children shows -- they were all LIVE then -- on WNBC and WNYC, the city station. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the Far East Network of the Armed Forces Radio Network, AFM-Tokyo. Later, his voice was heard on many of New York's radio stations. These last years, he was an announcer for “the new” WNYC.

His voice introduces our High School of Performing Arts documentary, "ON 46th STREET."

I will miss Henry, dearly. I’ve lost my "VOICE."

Jan. 06 2010 02:52 PM

I am brokenhearted. There was nothing like Saturday nights on WNYC AM with that charming gentleman bringing us the elegance, warmth and care of a bygone era...yet I marveled that he was here with us now...and stayed way thru the night...isn't that metaphoric. God bless Mr. Henry Lewis and I thank him so much and miss him already.

Jan. 02 2010 04:17 PM
Maury Feinsilber

Henry Lewis was the impeccable spice to the feast of Danny Stiles and saturday nights, and as with all feasts, without the spice, the meal has no savor. He was, in the truest sense, a class act, not just a classic, although he was that, too. His mellifluous voice always leant a feeling of warmth with each syllable, and blessed each of his listeners with -- I'll use the word again, as it bears repeating -- a touch of class. Somehow, just hearing his voice always made me feel that, for the moment, at least, everything would be alright.

Jan. 02 2010 02:24 PM
Jerome Harris

So sorry to hear of Henry's passing. I've long enjoyed the warm handoffs between Henry and Danny Stiles, and Henry and Oscar Brand on Saturday nights. I find it wonderful to hear the voices of elders in our lives--increasingly so as we join their ranks (anyone reading this remember Pegeen Fitzgerald on Leonard Lopate's show back in its "New York And Company" incarnation?). I second Terry John's hope for a NYTimes obituary for Henry.

Jan. 02 2010 09:58 AM

So sad to hear about Mr. Lewis....Coupled with Danny Stiles, he made my Saturday nights, as his voice had an elegance that one seldom finds anywhere on the radio dial. Thanks for the remembrance.

Jan. 02 2010 09:44 AM
Terry John

I always enjoyed hearing Henry on the air on Saturday evenings.

He provided a link to the past within a modern setting.

I hope the New York Times prints an obituary that befits a broadcaster of his stature.

Dec. 30 2009 07:30 PM
J. C. Kaelin

God bless, he'll be missed in our house. Kudos to Rex Doane for his comments.

Dec. 30 2009 05:54 PM

So sorry to hear this. A lovely mellow voice -- an old friend. He was one of those fixtures you think will always be there. RIP...

Dec. 30 2009 12:05 PM
Amy from Livingston

Dear Brian,

One of the groundbreaking events of the 2000 decade is the election of the first African-American president.

Sadly, this event essentially prevented the election of the first female president

Dec. 30 2009 10:50 AM

Saturday nights will never be the same. He often out-shined the music played with his tales of radio of long ago will be missed. A classic flavor is no longer being served on New York's airwaves....

Dec. 29 2009 09:36 PM

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