Deceased February 5, 2011

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In Memory

More than 40 years later, I can still hear the voice. I’ll bet you can too, perhaps rousing you from sleep at 8 a.m. (or 2 p.m., or 11:30), or breaking onto the air on a warm afternoon in April 1968 to deliver the awful news about a shooting in Memphis. Jack Popejoy, who died of cancer on February 5 at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., may not have been the voice of Amherst in the late ’60s (he had stiff competition from Larry Dilg, Professor Theodore Baird and the Beta Man) but he was unquestionably the radio voice, the general manager and guiding spirit of (all together now) “WAMF, Amherst!”

In those days, radio exerted a kind of magic that may well be lost, now that anyone can download anything from anywhere and create an infinity of personal stations from digital bits. Jack commanded the airwaves not just over our campus but on others as well. “I remember Jack making the most of his great voice on his weekly ‘easy listening’ program, which aired once a week at 11 p.m.,” his radio partner and Kappa Theta roommate Milford (Smitty) Smith ’70 told me by e-mail. “At that time WAMF [now WAMH] was widely listened to at the surrounding schools, including Smith College. In the time-honored radio tradition of ‘working the request lines,’ Jack was never at a loss for dates!”

Smitty added, “I believe Jack and I were the only two Amherst students who actually seriously majored in radio, at a school with no communications department.” Well, Jack’s listed major was astronomy, but how he attended classes was a mystery to me—he seemed to be at the many-dialed master control board in the glassed-in studio in the basement of Pratt every time I showed up for one of my program slots. Nor do I remember how he acquired his radio knowledge (he was born in Texas and lived in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania before coming to Amherst, according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times)—only his generosity in sharing that knowledge and his seemingly effortless command of the medium.

It will surprise no one that Jack Popejoy became an honored broadcaster in Southern California, serving as morning news anchor at two CBS-owned stations, KFWB and then KNX, from 2000 until two weeks before his death. He had a trophy case full of awards, including 27 Golden Mikes from the Radio Television News Association of Southern California, and colleagues spoke of him with awe. “It would not be an exaggeration to say, on radio, Popejoy was the most trusted news broadcaster in Southern California,” Gary Lycan wrote inthe Orange County Register, and went on to quote Roger Nadel, a former general manager of KFWB:

“We all knew Jack to be a renaissance man. He had a keen interest in the sciences, was the most knowledgeable broadcaster in Los Angeles (and perhaps in the country) when it came to earthquakes and wanted very badly to be an astronaut. He was skilled at communicating effectively but calmly during the height of breaking news, be it a major earthquake or the planes flying into the World Trade Center on 9/11, one of his most shining moments on the air.”

Jack left no immediate survivors. But there is the memory of that voice. As a Southern California quake veteran put it, writing on the website of the L.A. Times: “I will miss the voice of Jack Popejoy talking us through even the smallest tremor.”

David Corcoran ’69