Monday, September 12, 2011

DJ Nap Turner

This began with a teasing note in the book The Jazz Scene by W. Royal Stokes. 
"At the time of writing [this book] Nap could still be heard Wednesday mornings on WPFW-FM (Pacifica) with his radio program "Don't Forget The Blues."
The book was published in 1991, and Nap died in 2004. It became my mission for a few nights to fill in the blanks. Nap was short for Napoleon, and he's actually Napoleon Turner Jr. Back home in Tam, WV they just called him junior. He sang, he played bass, he was utterly authentic and from the last era where that was possible.

89.3 WPFW-FM first signed on in 1977, a small one room operation.  Turner was 46 years old that year. He fell in love with their jazz playlist and became a volunteer. In the 1980s he started his own program"Turners Arena". In 1994 he took over "The Bama Hour" from DJ Jerry Washington. Before that he'd worked in drug counseling... Which had been a step up from jail, and stealing cars.

Jerry Washington has been tremendously popular. But he had diabetes, was nearly blind, going deaf and had both legs amputated. The New York times called him a "certified Washington institution". The program ran 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturdays. On air he was sharp as can be, but in real life he was dying. He had a stroke in 1992 and started talking about retirement.  He died in 1994, and The Bama Show passed to Nap Turner. Turner added more jazz to the program. He told stories and later he began reading poems by black writers like Langston Hughes. More here.

This program slowly morphed into "Don't Forget the Blues. "  Turner segued away from Jerry's R&B playlist playing more jazz and more blues and then mostly blues. His personality was equally big, but not nearly as loud. He was suave, a latter-day jazz-man in a borsalino hat. he encourages the career of young jazzmen, and was active locally in the music scene.