Jonathan Schwartz is Back (And So is Sanity on Sunday Afternoons)

For me and plenty of other people who love decent music, sanity has returned to our Sunday afternoons. Jonathan Schwartz is back on the radio. Internet radio this time – – but no one really cares. After a long winter and spring with Jonathan absent from the airwaves, we’re just happy to have him back.

Jonathan’s new Sunday show debuted on Father’s Day, and the occasion was fitting. For more than 50 years, wherever he wandered on the dial, from WNEW-FM to WNEW-AM to WQEW-AM to Sirius and finally to WNYC, Jonathan had served as our idiosyncratic master teacher in The Great American Songbook, created by people like George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, and his own father, Arthur Schwartz.

On a personal level, he was an almost palpable part of my existence, an angel on my shoulder with unusually good taste. In the late 1970s, as a homesick college freshman with hall-mates who favored Donna Summer and “Le Freak,” I discovered one night that if I opened my window, held my boom box in the air and tilted it at a 90-degree angle, I could hear Jonathan’s voice on WNEW-AM, 150 miles away from my Providence dorm. I could hear Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald too, but it was Jonathan’s voice that mattered the most to me. Still does.

Later, back in New York, I would listen to Jonathan pontificate about his beloved Boston Red Sox and Philip Roth as I wrote speeches and press releases at work. When the kids were little, I drowned out the “Barney” theme song that perennially emanated from my living room by keeping Jonathan at top volume in my kitchen. (The super-sized mimosas I hid in red Solo cups also helped.) Much later, it was Jonathan, and the little packages of graham crackers in my oncologist’s waiting room, that helped sustain me through six months of chemo.

In mid-December, a #MeToo frenzy exploded at WNYC and Jonathan was removed (along with fellow on-air host Leonard Lopate). The station’s paltry attempts at justification only made it apparent that the dismissals were without cause, which made the situation especially heartbreaking. Jonathan issued no public statement. Listeners, including me, promptly cancelled our WNYC sustaining memberships. Many of us congregated on the internet, gravitating to the Facebook group The American Songbook with Jonathan Schwartz – which was not formally affiliated with Jonathan — to express our anger and sadness.

On the Facebook page, listeners, both men and women, pointed to the lack of due process in Jonathan’s removal. Age-ism seemed the likely culprit. (Jonathan was 79 at the time of his removal; Lopate was 77.) It occurred to me, in the current un-nuanced climate, that if Sinatra himself had suddenly materialized and serenaded his female coworkers with a song like Rodgers’ “My Funny Valentine” – “Is your figure less than Greek? Is your mouth a little weak?” – well, he probably would’ve been fired too.

People joined the Facebook group from as far away as Dubai, and a community took shape around Jonathan’s absence. We mourned. We reminisced. We had a lone malcontent banned from the group. And we did our best to recreate what we’d lost, posting songs that Jonathan would play and even attempting our own “Salute to Baseball” like the one he hosted every Super Bowl weekend. We wondered if we’d ever hear Jonathan on the radio again.

In early April, after searching the internet regularly for news on Jonathan, I spotted a logo on Twitter for a new entity called The Jonathan Station. Shortly after that, the station launched a 24-hour music stream featuring the American Songbook. Finally, on Father’s Day, Jonathan went live for the first time in six months. There’s a photo of him, smiling, on the Facebook page, taken right before the inaugural show. He looks like he’s precisely where he’s supposed to be. One member of the Facebook group said that when she heard Jonathan’s voice, she cried.

There’s something to be said for loyalty, for continuity, for well-deserved resurrections, and for those memorable voices that make your heart sing. I’m not just talking about musicians here.

“Oh! So there you are,” Jonathan began his first show. “It’s become June.” As though he’d never been away.



11 thoughts on “Jonathan Schwartz is Back (And So is Sanity on Sunday Afternoons)”

  1. Too much coincidence for real life? I sat down today and thought – Jesus, but I miss Jonathan Schwartz. I’ve tried to fill the gap with Broadway stations, old CDs, and far too much time spent in critical thought. Not bad, but not Jonathan. Where IS he, I thought. It seems impossible that a kid who managed to hook up his apartment’s intercom system to broadcast American Songbook music to his neighbors would be sitting on his hands and not finding a way to do what he’s always done. Here in Northwest Connecticut, we joked that nearly twenty years ago, we built a million dollar barn with a cupola high enough to house an aerial that would allow us to get Jonathan’s WNYC show. It was only a slight exaggeration. But I know he has many fans who would have done the same. I thought of reaching out to a friend who knows Schwartz, to petition some kind of response. But before I did, I thought I’d check the Internet – one more time – to see if there wasn’t some sign of life. And here it is. An article penned the day before yesterday, letting me know that this newfangled world of “media options” sometimes comes down on our side too! What a bloody relief.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Diane…..if you go on the website, there’s an archive of the handful of shows that you missed. He’s hoping, by the way, to expand beyond Sundays and that’ll likely happen in the near future. Best, Adrienne


  2. A friend just sent me this, and it’s made my day. This could nearly have been written by me. I first heard Schwartz when he was on FM in the early 70s before he made the full switch to the Songbook. He’s done more to shape my musical aesthetics than anyone aside from my parents. I even twice went to hear him perform at Michael’s Pub, and even bought his album. I met his father a year or so before his death, after a show at the 92nd Street Y in which he performed with Jonathan. I tried finding old shows on the dark web, to no avail. I even started to dust off 1984 cassettes of the Sinatra from A to Z weekend I’d recorded, knowing he’s on there (including me calling in with a question!), just for a hit of his voice. I found little snippets of things on WNYC where, sans name, his introductions were intact. I found the new station before there was anything on it, and didn’t know he finally came back. I hadn’t found your Facebook group or I’d have joined. I was in one initially put up to “bring back” Schwartz and Lopate, but then became only about Lopate.

    Thanks for this.


  3. As a lover of “The Great American Songbook” there is such joy today as I realise Jonathan is back with his own station – three cheers from this household. Whilst I know nothing about baseball, Jonathan had become a regular Saturday and Sunday evening “visitor” to our home here in England with his choice of music and his great knowledge and stories from the past.

    We really missed a 2017 Christmas special and since then, WQXR’s standards (the old Jonathan channel) has been heard here less and less. Now a return to sanity prevails and along with the legends, I get to hear the “new voices” on the scene today. From Jonathan I have heard of many new singers who have made their way into my CD collection. Great to see some of the shows are being archived too – his knowledge should be preserved for history.

    The BBC has had nothing like his show, with someone who had met many of the writers and performers, since the passing of Benny Green, now surprisingly 20 years ago. I’ve many friends who will be pleased to hear of his return.

    Long may Jonathan and this great music continue!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, thank god. I was hoping that he would surface somewhere.
    I have even missed his endless rambling, his playing Dylan (dreadful use of time) and his obsession with baseball.
    Most of all, I have missed what I consider to be my music history education.

    Liked by 1 person

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