Gordon Spencer had been working on this memoir for many years, reflecting his lively, fascinating, and sometimes turbulent professional life, passionately devoted to radio and theater. At one point in our married life I had suggested he do this. Sadly, he got only as far as his years in Milwaukee, leaving thirteen years in Pittsburgh and five in Omaha not documented because he died in February 2018 at age eighty-four.
Gordon loved Omaha—though he was understandably reluctant at first to make such a big cross-country move from Pittsburgh at the age of nearly eighty. But he did it for me so we could live near my family.
As his widow, I finally read Stationbreaks2bygordonspencer “from cover to cover,” recognizing some of the stories he’d shared with me over the years but also encountering many I knew nothing about. I knew also that there was much more to this wonderful man that wouldn’t have made it into a memoir about his professional life, and so, in this foreword, I want to tell you a little about that side of Gordon who was truly the love of my life.
I first fell in love with Gordon’s beautiful speaking voice when he was the morning-drive host on New York’s biggest classical music station at the time, WNCN. Newly single, I decided to pursue the man behind the voice. I wrote him a bold fan letter. He told me later, “Classical music DJs don’t get a lot of fan mail!” Our first date—a blind date—was a four-and-a-half-hour lunch at an Indian eatery in 1981. Less than a year later he accepted a job as morning-drive host on the classical music station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Gordon had dreamed of living—partly because he felt a profound spiritual bond to Native Americans and partly because of the state’s indescribable natural beauty.
Gordon was smart, funny, and well-read. He was incredibly knowledgeable about theater, movie and film scores, literature, history and world affairs, and, of course, jazz and classical music. He had a collection of 2000+ vinyl recordings, mostly jazz, that he knew intimately. He could walk to the shelves and within five seconds pull out any record you asked about. And there also were hundreds of CDs, cassettes, and open-reel tapes of interviews he had conducted with renowned jazz and classical performers and composers throughout his radio career.
He was a performer—having spent most of his work life in radio—a puppeteer, and an actor who was happy and comfortable on the stage. I marveled at his ability to memorize lines. In fact, when we were first courting, he recited to me, from memory, the long poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning; another time, it was the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—both roles! And once, while we were visiting Sicily, he headed straight for the stage of a Roman amphitheater and declaimed the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, as a group of French girls on a school trip looked on and applauded.
He was an excellent writer, as you’ll see, and a perceptive editor of some of my work for clients. He was a photographer with a keen artistic eye who took thousands of stunning photos on our many travels.
He was an avid and fast reader with amazing retention and had at least one book and four magazines going at any one time, including the weekly New Yorker. There was a funny incident he related to me during President Obama’s first term. Gordon was shopping at Trader Joe’s with his New Yorker shopping bag; at the checkout, the clerk commented on it, and Gordon told him that he never read a current copy of any magazine until he had caught up on all previous issues and was now about four years behind. The witty clerk remarked, “Well, sir, did you know that we elected a Black president?”
Gordon taught Italian to English speakers, and English to Italians when he lived in Genoa, Italy, for four-and-a-half years; he could get by in French, German, and Spanish, too. He also taught jazz history. He knew how to hook up multiple pieces of stereo equipment, but was not quite as good with computers—though his intuition occasionally helped him figure things out. Most often he followed the rule that said: just turn the computer off and then turn it back on. That often did the trick.
Gordon was a wonderful cook and loved grocery-shopping and couponing—how many men do that?! He taught himself how to cook Chinese food—when he lived in Italy. On our third date he cooked filet mignon and green beans in his postage-stamp-size kitchen in Manhattan. I was impressed!
While I was recovering after cancer surgery on a Valentine’s Day many years ago, I lamented to him about the hospital’s bad food. The next morning he arrived with a foil-wrapped package that held an English muffin slathered with butter and jam. When I asked him how this sublime treat could still be so warm on a cold February day, he said: “I carried it inside my jacket, next to my heart.”
We loved to travel together. He was a fearless explorer, though not a particularly good navigator—never afraid of getting lost or even just daring to drive in Italy or Germany or Spain, which often meant taking our lives into our hands. And we spent many an hour after dinner back home reminiscing about a dish we had eaten somewhere in Peru or Egypt or Iceland. That was my cue to get out the relevant travel diary in which I had documented every meal we ate en route and read passages out loud to relive the experience.
Gordon loved cats and I learned to love all of our feline children, starting with the stunningly beautiful chinchilla cat he had in New York with hair that was, I swear, three inches long. When he brought Sulu (as in Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) to check out my apartment, I was mostly worried about fur getting on my dark furniture. Gordon had great respect for, and fascination with, all creatures—especially the smallest ones, and loved watching spiders spin their webs on our patio. And when I got terrified at seeing a spider in the house, he rescued me by lovingly wrapping it in a tissue and carrying it outside, explaining: “Hey, it was just lost.” I now also take spiders outside.
Gordon was incredibly generous. About a month after we met, he gave me, for my birthday, a huge boom box: a portable radio with a tape deck and two big speakers. Over the years he presented me with many other wonderful, thoughtful gifts. But the most beautiful gift Gordon gave me was his devoted companionship and unconditional love. I never questioned that and consider myself so very lucky to have had him share my life for thirty-seven years. He was truly a blessing.
After Gordon’s death I was faced with deciding what to do with his LPs, CDs, cassettes, taped interviews, short stories, poems, and two unpublished novels, as well as the memoir you are reading now. I researched the possibilities and was thrilled to be able to donate The Gordon Spencer Collection to the University of Missouri/Kansas City’s Marr Sound Archives, part of the university’s Miller Nichols Library (https://library.umkc.edu/marr/about). Gordon’s memoir is now also a part of The Gordon Spencer Collection.
I am sincerely grateful to the University and to Chuck Haddix, curator of the Marr Sound Archives, for making such a worthy home for Gordon’s materials and thereby making it possible for anyone to access his legacy.
I hope that scholars, researchers, and readers in general will explore The Gordon Spencer Collection and this memoir to get a glimpse of the man who made my life so beautiful and meaningful.
—Hannelore N. Rogers