Thursday, December 08, 2011

DJ Jacob Tarshish

I have often wondered aloud why almost all religious radio in the U.S. is of a Christian eschatology. There is precious little else.It used to be so more varied. To that end I've decided to write a bit about some of these all too obscure characters from radio history. His program "The Lamplighter" appears in the indispensable reference book On The Air: The Encyclopedia Of Old-Time Radio  by John Dunning. The entry is very brief.
"Jan. 3, 1936—April 14, 1941, Mutual. 15m, various times, with some gaps in continuity. Host: Jacob Tarshish. Continued into 1942 on the West Coast with Ted Yerxa."

Ted E. Yerxa is almost as enigmatic, a music columnist for the Daily News with a small record label. Both the record label and the column were also named Lamplighter. He put out a number of notable jazz sides in the mid 1940s. I was fortunate to find that the  University of Iowa scanned a brochure for Tarnish which contained more information on his early resume. You can see it here. Jacob Tarshish was a Rabbi, and a radio personality in the 1930's. (He was even a member of the central Conference of American Rabbis.) He broadcast on a number of stations such as WCAH, WAIU, WOR-AM, WLW-AM and WGN-AM. His nickname was "The Lamplighter" and he was said to have had two million radio listeners.

OTRpedia claims he was born in Lithuania in1892. In 1932, after18 years of the rabbinical life, he quit to be a radio personality. He started out on WAIU-AM in Ohio where he had a program for about 5 years. Then became a news commentator at WCAH-AM. He got into WLW in Cincinnati in 1933 doing Sunday afternoon religious broadcasts. But this wasn't pulpit material, he was increasingly sociopolitical and high brow. In November of 1936, he spent one of those Sunday time slots reading aloud from Charles M. Sheldon's article Poverty Doesn't Frighten Me, from an issue of the Rotarian Magazine.

Rabbi Nathan Zelizer described him as "a very polished person" and "an oratory."  But he also noted that Tarnish might not have quit his temple, he might have been kicked out for his commercialism.  More here
Over the years his sponsors included Dr. Edwards' Olive Tablets, Kreml Hair Tonic, and Kreml Shampoo, Zemo, and Zemo Ointment, Musterole, Bost Tooth Paste. Some of these products were cosmetics, others were more like patent medicines. He was now making a living speaking to groups just as an orator. That same promotional brochure listed off a litany of civic groups that he was hired to speak to.
"United Commercial Travelers Ohio Bakers Association Ohio Restaurant Association Mead Paper and Pulp Company The Food Growers of United States National Association of Sheet Metal Manufacturers Indiana Council of International Relations International Association of Motion Picture Operators and Stage Hands Ohio Canners Association Southwestern Ohio Teachers Convention Ohio Farm Bureau Ohio Parent-Teachers Association Columbus Junior League District Nurses Convention Rabbi Tarshish addresses annually over 300 audiences, composed of Service Clubs of all types, Fraternal Organizations, Women's Clubs, Churches and Church Organizations, Chambers of Commerce, Schools and Colleges and Graduation Classes."

I wish I had more information about his time in the 1950s. I can't imagine that his writings such as Judaism and Socialism (1929) went over well during the red scare. He died two days before Christmas in 1960. He was only 68 years old.