David Ferry reads from Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, on Wednesday, March 28, at 7 p.m., Barnes & Noble Reading Room

Vol. IV No. 27   ·   23 March 2001 


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In the 1950s, when WBUR was located at 84 Exeter Street near Copley Square, it was a student-run station serving primarily to train radio majors. It was an FCC-licensed noncommercial station that broadcast within a 40-mile radius of the city, however, and students working there often bumped elbows with big-time entertainment and political personalities.


Elliot Berkowitz (COM'56).
Photo courtesy of Elliot Berkowitz


Elliot Berkowitz (COM'56) was WBUR's program director from 1954 to 1956. He recalls booking jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong and Max Roach on a weekly half-hour jazz program he produced.

"Father Norman J. O'Connor, a Catholic chaplain who worked his way through the seminary playing piano in nightclubs, hosted the show," says Berkowitz. "The famous Storyville jazz club was right next door to the station, which was in the basement of the Boston Athletic Association Building." O'Connor, chaplain of BU's Newman House from 1951 to 1962, also was a prolific music critic who moderated the Newport Jazz Festival's Jazz Forum for many years.

"We used to bring on our show the big stars who played the club," continues Berkowitz. "I don't remember any of those guys being at all standoffish. But I wasn't smart enough to get photos or autographs."

What Berkowitz did get at WBUR was valuable experience overseeing the station's day-to-day operations. Programming at the time included classical and modern music, public service announcements, news, and live broadcasts of University concerts and sporting events.

But his dreams of a career behind the scenes at a radio station were interrupted in 1957, when he was drafted into the Army. While serving in South Korea, he was assigned as a late night disc jockey on the United States Armed Forces Korea Network. "I never even wanted to be on the air," he says. "I didn't think I had the voice for it, and I much preferred writing and editing."

  Late-night disc jockey Jerry Elliot (Elliot Berkowitz), at a U.S. Army radio station in Kuma Ri, South Korea, circa 1957.
Photos courtesy of Elliot Berkowitz

Stationed in Kuma Ri, just a few miles from the North Korean border, Berkowitz's job was to make sure soldiers on night guard duty stayed awake. He did so by spinning jazz records from midnight to five a.m., and peppering his show with stories about the jazz greats he had met at WBUR.

"It was still a combat zone along the border when I was there, but being a disc jockey wasn't a totally unpleasant experience," he says. "Because of the hours I worked, I got to prepare my own food, and during the day I could wander around the local neighborhoods in one of my company's trucks.

"Once I ran into some soldiers I'd never met, and when they looked at the name on my uniform after hearing me talk, one of them said, 'You're not Berkowitz. You're Jerry Elliot!' which was my air name. And he told me that he listened to me every night when he was on guard duty and that I was his only company. It was moving to hear that I actually had an effect on people."

Upon returning to the United States, Berkowitz worked as a fundraiser for several Jewish philanthropic organizations and for the National Association of Social Workers. Semi-retired now at 66, he works as a fundraising consultant in Raleigh, N.C.


23 March 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations