James Spruill, 73, actor, teacher, “Say Brother” host

A few months after launching the New African Company, a groundbreaking black theater troupe in Boston, James Spruill sat in the living room of Globe theater critic Kevin Kelly nursing a gin and tonic, amber-tinted glasses on his face, a cigarette in his hand.

“There must be a black theater for the black community, our own voices in our own playwrights, and the more black rage the better,’’ Mr. Spruill told Kelly in October 1968, speaking in a resonant, stage-trained voice which was as restrained as the words were fierce.

“Black people,’’ he added quietly, “refuse to go around not being recognized any more.’’

With New African Company, which performed everywhere from resplendent venues to abandoned buildings, he brought plays highlighting the black experience to white audiences and professional acting to black audiences who might never venture into Boston’s Theater District….

Mr. Spruill, an influential theater teacher at Boston University for 30 years and an actor who shared the stage with the likes of Morgan Freeman and Al Pacino, died Dec. 31 in his son’s Roxbury home of pancreatic cancer. He was 73 and in retirement resided in Winchester, N.H., fulfilling a longtime wish to live in a log cabin on 40 acres….

In 1968, the year he founded the New African Company, he began serving as a host of WGBH radio’s “Say Brother,’’ which became “Basic Black.’’

Folk shows its love for Dick Pleasants

Shortly after stepping up to the microphone, nearly every performer peered into the crowd, staring down at the edge of the stage. Some of them winked, others gestured with a hand or mouthed a thank-you. Jonatha Brooke expressed her gratitude quietly, as if it were a private moment.

“I love you, Dick.’’

“I love you, Jonatha,’’ came the faint response from the third row.

That would be Dick Pleasants, the beloved radio host whose 40 years on the local airwaves — first on the Cape, then at WGBH, and now at WUMB, among other stations — were being celebrated at Sanders Theatre Friday night. Seated dead center with a single crutch just in front of him (Pleasants was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2003), he was finally stepping into the spotlight that he’s shone on others for so long.

WBUR launches ad campaign to compete with WGBH

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Public Radio Rivalry

“A series of new TV ads … are part of ’s new marketing campaign aimed at differentiating itself at a time when it faces fierce competition from WGBH (89.7 and 99.5), another NPR broadcaster. Analysts say the aggressive advertising campaign, which includes TV ads and billboards along Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, is a rarity for public radio….

“Indeed, the two public broadcasters have been engaged in a battle — for listeners and donors — since last December when WGBH reinvented 89.7 FM to a full-time, news-talk format and began running syndicated NPR programs that WBUR carries. WGBH also launched two news-talk shows: ‘The Emily Rooney Show’ and’The Callie Crossley Show.’ In response, WBUR expanded its weekly local news magazine show, ‘Radio Boston,’ to a daily program last May.

“WBUR still leads in Boston public radio. In November, the station ranked 11th in Boston with a 3.9 percent share of listeners, according to Arbitron. But WGBH is expanding its share of the market: The station ranked 20th last month with a 1.1 percent share of listeners — up from 24th in October.”

Remembering Robert Koff

In the mid-1970’s, I produced a six-part series for WGBH Radio on the Haydn Quartets with violinist Robert Koff at Brandeis University.

A founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet, Robert was chairman of the Brandeis music department from 1969-76, and retired from the university’s faculty in 1983. He also taught at Tel Aviv University and Harvard. Robert’s other activities included lecturing on music in a 40-part series for WGBH-TV. Robert passed away in 1985 at the age of 86.

Reviewing the Haydn Quartets series in FM Sub-master control (click to enlarge).

Robert Koff (left) and NSJ editing the Haydn Quartets (click to enlarge).

WGBH radio drama in the 1970s

More images from Nat Johnson’s collection. Click on thumbnails to see a larger version.

From left to right: Nat Johnson, Dee Dee Doren, Ed Thoman.

From left to right: Ed Thoman, Rick Hauser, an unknown person, Joan Sullivan, Norma Farber, Jean Harper.

NSJ Audio, director Ed Thoman, PA Dee Dee Doren in WGBH FM Sub-Master Control.

WGBH Hall of Famers

The Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame — of which WGBH alum Art Singer is president — held its annual induction ceremony on September 16. Several honorees (this year and last) have been affiliated with WGBH at some point over the years. Here are those recipients, and the dates they were inducted.

Classic Theatre (1975)

We can hardly mention classic drama on WGBH (and PBS) without thinking of the one person perhaps most responsible for the many memorable series seen across America. Joan Wilson Sullivan brought us Masterpiece Theatre, Classic Theatre and Mystery!

At WGBH Radio, Joan co-produced and directed the WGBH Radio Development Project. We have Joan to thank for bringing us, among other treasures, “Upstairs, Downstairs, and “Pennies from Heaven.” These gems alone would have earned her that special place in the Pantheon of broadcast drama. For those fortunate enough to have shared her dream, Joan was our leader, our muse, and our friend.

Frontspiece Classic Theatre Program Guide