Norm Nathan

Norm Nathan

Norm Nathan was a disc jockey, talk show host, newscaster, and one of the great personalties of Boston radio for more than 50 years. Norm first gained attention as the overnight disc jockey on WHDH in the mid-1950's. The station called the show, "Sounds in the Night" and it was supposed to be a program of popular music - singers and big bands. That was too schmaltzy for Norm's tastes. So he started playing his favorite music - jazz - around 3:00 a.m., figuring the boss would never be up at that hour. After a while Norm became more bold and the jazz would start around 2:00 a.m. or even earlier. The great music and Norm's unique sense of humor found an audience. Norm's boss started getting mail - lots of mail - from listeners thanking the station for that "great new jazz show" with the funny host that was on in the middle of the night. The boss said to Norm, "I don't know what you're doing but keep it up." And then jazz could be heard from the start of the program at 11:30 p.m.

It wasn't all-jazz but it was lots-of-jazz. Norm invited jazz musicians - from Dizzy Gillespie to Herbie Mann - into the studio for interviews when they were in town. Norm's sign-off became a sort of trademark, "Bye-bye, Old Sport" he'd say over the closing stanza of Count Basie's "Midnight Blue." Along the way it became Norm's nickname. WHDH newscasters and announcers would introduce him by saying, "Now here's the Old Sport himself - Norm Nathan."

The overnight show became so popular by the mid-1960's that WHDH decided to put Norm in a more important time slot, afternoon drive. However, Norm couldn't play jazz on the afternoon show. But he did pursue another of his interests - comedy. Now the "Norm Nathan Show" featured Norm's usual funny banter in between the songs but also comedy bits with Norm doing all of the voices. And it was obvious he was doing all of the voices...which made it even funnier. There were regular bits such as "Dial-A-Joke" with jokes so bad Norm would always groan at the punch lines. Characters such as sportscaster Lefty Sprocket and Barney Ruse, host of "The Radio Swap-Shop of the Air," made frequent appearances. After a couple of years the station moved Norm up again, this time to the midday shift. He had truly come full circle at WHDH - when Norm did the overnights, morning man Jess Cain was his relief. Now, in midday, Norm was Cain's relief.

After a few more succesful years at WHDH Norm was ready for a new challenge. In 1974, he joined WEEI and teamed up with a young co-anchor, Ben Farnsworth to deliver the morning news on Boston's first all-news station. Later Norm worked middays at WEEI. During this time Norm also co-hosted a TV show, "Sunday Open House" on WCVB-TV, Ch. 5. In the 1980's Norm hosted shows at various times on the three top AM stations in Boston - an overnight talk show on WHDH (his old shift on his old station but his first talk show), the morning show on WRKO and finally the weekend overnight talk show on WBZ...which he continued to do until his death in 1996.

Norm and Me
by Steve LeVeille