Gene Parris, 82

Gene Parrish, a longtime pubradio broadcaster known for his programs on classical, jazz, opera and choral music, died Jan. 2 [2009] of lung cancer in Harbor City, Calif. He was 82.

His career included traveling the globe to record jazz and classical performances. From 1984 to 1996, he was at the helm of some 800 segments of his syndicated Worldwide Jazz.

He also hosted The First Art, focusing on modern choral music in North America. More than 200 pubradio stations ran the show from 1993 to 2001.

He started out at San Francisco’s KQED in the 1970s, hosting and co-producing national broadcasts of that city’s opera company. When the station switched to a news/talk format in 1984, he moved to KUSC in Los Angeles.

Gail Eichenthal, p.d. of that classical station, remembers the day Parrish signed on.

“He was already famous as host of the nationally syndicated San Francisco opera broadcasts,” she says. “We thought of him as a big star; we were intimidated by him. But he was such a humble and congenial fellow. We were just amazed.”

Parrish “really put jazz on the map in the public radio world” with his Worldwide Jazz, she adds. “He was a person of encyclopedic knowledge but a very easy-going quality. He had a great warmth, both personally and on the air.”

Larry Mayer agrees. He also met Parrish in 1984 while working at KUSC.

“He had a very easy disposition,” says Mayer, now p.d. at WETS in Johnson City, Tenn. “He could go with the flow, he was very likeable. He never had anything bad to say and was always in a good mood.”

He left full-time duties at the station in 1996, working freelance until just a few days before his death.

Parrish’s final program aired two days after he was gone.
“His last big project was something he had been doing for many years,” hosting the finals concert for the Metropolitan Opera’s Western region competition.

He had recorded the track in the weeks preceding his death, Eichenthal says.

“His voice lost a little strength in his last months, but we edited around that,” she says. “He was still same consummate broadcaster.”

He was also in touch with her by e-mail shortly before he died to plan his next feature for KUSC’s arts magazine show, Arts Alive.

Parrish was married for 53 years to Eleanor Parrish. “He always introduced her as ‘my bride,’” Eichenthal adds.

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