It's All in the Day's Work

Email a Friend
WQXR Producer Alfred E. Simon in 1943.

From the October, 1943 WQXR Program Guide:

The author of this peek behind the scenes at WQXR is one of our program editors. His specialty is the lighter classics, and he knows that kind of music from Arensky to Ziehrer. Among the WQXR programs Mr. Simon produces are Just Music, The Maxwell House Dinner Concert, The American Express Cavalcade of Music and The Operetta Scrapbook.

The scene is a good-sized square room containing three desks, Kardex filing systems which give detailed information regarding every one of the thousands of records in WQXR's library, more filing cabinets, books about music and musicians, and the usual things you see in an office. The occupants of the room: Ann Cornish, attractive and blonde, who programs the classical music; Walter Diehl, tall, slender and studious, who writes most of the musical continuity and is in charge of records and myself.

As the curtain rises, it's about 9:45 on a September morning. Ann, Walter and I are seated at our desks. The telephone rings (as it always seems to at the rise of the curtain). Ann, who is nearest the 'phone, picks up the receiver, and here's what follows. "That's the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka by Johann, Tritsch-Tratsch...T-R-I-T-S-C-H...No, 'T'....That's right, Tritsch...The second word is Tratsch...No, Tratsch...T-R-A-T-S-C-H...No, that's also at 'T'...That's right, Tritsch-Tratsch...It's by Johann Strauss...You're welcome." (Remember, this sort of thing happens dozens of times a day!)

A rather tall, dark, smartly-dressed woman breezes through the room, and though she looks pretty serious, gives us a cheerful "Hello." It's Lisa Sergio, who'll be on the air in a few minutes...Eddy Brown comes in and asks Walter, "Do you want to go over the program now?" meaning that he's ready to give Walter the facts about the selections he's going to conduct that night on the Stromberg-Carlson show...One of the announcers, Everett Ball, who is in charge of the Request Program, comes in to work at the record files, every so often give the clock a furtive glance and rushing back to the studio to announce a "spot"...Eleven o'clock, and a loud-speaker in an adjoining office gives forth with the cheerful Ballet Music from "Faust" which the equally cheerful Alma Dettinger uses as the theme for Other People's Business...The 'phone once again...I take it this time...A listener wants to know the record number of the Waldteufel waltz on Just Music Tuesday night. 'That isn't a record,' I explain, It's a transcription made only for broadcasting purposes, and can't be played on a phonograph."...Flo Atanasin, our glamorous assistant, comes to consult Grove's Dictionary for some dope on Dietrich Buxtehude...Norman McGee of the sales department tells me the Maxwell House Dinner Concert needs a Caruso record to tie in with the commercial spot on tonight's program...Eleanor Sanger, our program director who has been approving advance October programs, informs me, "Ann has the London Again Suite on the Altman show on October 22nd at 9:30, and you've just had it on 'Just Music,' that night. Can you give me something to substitute for it?"...Allan Kalmus, our publicity director, drops in..."Got any story I can use on Monday's American Express show with Rettenberg?"...Doug Blaufarb, our news editor, pops in with "Hey, you guys, I'm famished. How about some food?"

Two o'clock or so, and Abram Chasins appears in the music room. "Ann, here's some good material for Memorable Programs of the Past...."Walter, you wanted to know about my Treasury speech next Sunday. Oh, say four and a half minutes"...And again, the 'phone..."You played something on one of your programs about ten days ago. I forget what time it was, but I think it was in the evening, and it sounded something like a waltz. Can you tell me what it was?"...Lou Kleinklaus of the engineering staff drops in with a couple of notations about worn records or transcriptions that need replacement...From the announcers' room next door we hear the voices of some of the afternoon people...the young enthusiastic one of Allen Ward...a guffaw from Duncan Pirnie...Mel Elliott, Al Grobe and Woody Leafer heatedly discussing the correct pronunciation of a Russian village...Estelle Sternberger and Rax Benware on politics.   

Along about ten to five the closing theme of the Symphonic Matinee reaches our ears . That'll mean the 'phone again--and sure enough, there it is..."It's the Arioso from the Bach cantata #156, I Stand with One Foot in the Grave "...It's somewhat of a temptation, for the sake of a gag, to say that at the end of the day at WQXR Ann, Walter and I feel as though we had one foot in the grave. But that isn't the case at all. The three of us are singularly happy in our jobs, and consequently we rather feel inclined to tritsch-tratsch gaily back home for an evening of good music over WQXR.   

                                     (Photo: WQXR's Kardex record catalog for the WQXR library).


Editor's Note: Alfred E. Simon died in 1991 at the age of 83. He was Director of Light Music for WQXR for more than 20 years. With Richard Lewine, he wrote three books devoted to the musical theater: The Encyclopedia of Theater Music (1961), Songs of the American Theater (1973) and Songs of the Theater (1984). With Robert Kimball, he wrote The Gershwins (1973), which traced the lives of George and Ira Gershwin in words and pictures. Simon had also served as a rehearsal pianist for the original Broadway production of the Gershwins' musical Of Thee I Sing and had accompanied their sister on her record album Frances Gershwin -- For George and Ira With Love.

November 1961: From left to right Mrs Oscar Hammerstein, lyricist Dorothy Fields, and composer Alfred Simon prepare for a special radio tribute for American composer Jerome Kern for Thanksgiving Day o