Jonathan Schwartz: Fired at 79 1/2, Back in Business at 80. Music, Maestro, Please.
Jonathan Schwartz turned 80 on Thursday and for the record, he has decided he’s not through quite yet.
One of New York’s most enduring radio hosts, and perhaps the most impassioned living radio champion of the Great American Songbook, Schwartz now runs his own radio station.
It’s modestly called The Jonathan Station (www.thejonathanstation.com), and it streams Schwartz’s kind of music — Sinatra, Gershwin, Porter, Ella, cabaret, Arlen, Mercer, Bennett, Broadway, more Sinatra — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Occasionally you’ll hear a Johnny Mathis song, which Schwartz personally would never play, but on the whole it has his stamp.
The station has been spinning these tunes for several months, and now Jonathan himself has finally chimed in. He has revived his popular Sunday show, beginning at noon Eastern time and running until, well, whenever he feels like bringing down the curtain. His first show on June 17, which is archived on the website, runs 2:10. The second one runs 2:58.
Schwartz isn’t the only person playing Golden Age American music on the Internet. He may be the most knowledgeable, and no one presents it with more loving precision.
He also, at 80, still has a great radio voice. A little more measured, perhaps, but then, anyone who saw Sinatra in his later years might have said the same thing about Frank, and to those who loved his music, it was never a criticism.
Some context might also be valuable here. A lot of radio personalities, like a lot of people in many professions, have been put out to pasture by the time they reach 80. Some go willingly, some go eagerly, some see no reason to stop doing what they’ve done all their lives.
Trouble is, at a certain point it gets tougher to find someone who will pay you to keep doing it.
So radio veterans used to grudgingly accept it when their microphone was shut off for the last time. It wasn’t like they had a choice.
Today, they do, because anyone can start an Internet radio station. It’s not completely free, but it’s a whole lot cheaper than buying a stick, as the transmission towers for traditional over-the-air radio stations are known.
You don’t have as many listeners. You have to do your own promotion. You have to make sure you have programming.
But you’re there. You’re available. Since almost everyone has access to a computer these days, people who want to keep hearing you can.
In Schwartz’s case, as his fans know, there’s also a backstory.
Schwartz has been on New York radio since the 1960s, starting with early progressive-rock FM stations and gradually moving over to the popular standards wherein his heart always dwelt.
As popular standards disappeared from most radio stations, in New York as elsewhere, Schwartz dug in at public radio station WNYC. Most prominently he hosted the Sunday afternoon show, mixing music and details with occasional personal stories.
WNYC always seemed to like him. His music gave the station a touch of elegance, and it worked with him to develop an Internet station for popular standards, The Jonathan Channel.
Then last December, in the midst of the sobering revelations and startling allegations that spawned the #metoo movement, WNYC announced that Schwartz and another host, Leonard Lopate, had been suspended.
Two weeks later WNYC fired them, saying an internal investigation found both had “violated [station] standards for providing an inclusive, appropriate, and respectful work environment.”
There was no further explanation. Lopate went public in response, challenging the allegations. Schwartz publicly said nothing. The Jonathan Station materialized slowly and quietly, and his comments in his return focused on what lies ahead.
It’s important not to dismiss the deeply disturbing catalog of #metoo stories about which we have details. Schwartz’s case differs because, absent details, we have no clue what if anything to make of it.
What we do know is that his return to the air, or the cyberair, brings back something of value.
There are, we all know, thousands of music programs on the Internet. The problem is sifting through enough of them to find the handful for which you would make time.
If you love the music Schwartz does, he should be on your short list. He says he plans to do a Sunday show every week, plus frequent Wednesday and Saturday shows and a few random Fridays. That should make all of those days a little better.