The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine”

In the 1950s, a DJ named Jean Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on New York’s WOR that was unlike any before or since. On these broadcasts, he delivered dense, cerebral monologues, sprinkled with pop-culture tidbits and vivid stretches of expert storytelling. “There is no question that we are a tiny, tiny, tiny embattled minority here,” he assured his audience in a typical diatribe. “Hardly anyone is listening to mankind in all of its silliness, all of its idiocy, all of its trivia, all of its wonder, all of its glory, all of its poor, sad, pitching us into the dark sea of oblivion.” Shepherd’s approach was summed up by his catchphrase: a mock-triumphant “Excelsior!”, followed by an immediate, muttered “you fatheadÂ…”

Shepherd inspired fierce loyalty in his listeners who would tune in to listen to him in the middle of the night. These listeners embraced his term for them, “night people,” and under his direction they would execute one of the biggest and most bizarre media hoaxes of the 20th century. The hoax was meant as a strike against their opposite: “day people,” that is, against phoniness and squareness–all those 50s words–as well as a joke on New York pretension.

In our time of memes, virality, and reality blurring, the hoax Shepherd dreamt up seems extremely modern and prescient in its contours–as does the fact that, eventually, it got out of his control.

The story of the I, Libertine hoax is interesting, and presages a lot of today’s media culture. Shep was a fascinating guy, and I grew up listening to him on WOR in the evenings. His irreverence certainly helped shape my worldview.

Source: The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine” – The Awl

14 thoughts on “The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine”

  1. Great story. Definitely worth a read. Thanks for the link, Kirk.

    I already knew some parts of the Shepherd story, but that fills in a lot of detail.

    And speaking of late night radio, I assume you are familiar with the AMAZING Joe Frank, yes?

  2. Great story. Definitely worth a read. Thanks for the link, Kirk.

    I already knew some parts of the Shepherd story, but that fills in a lot of detail.

    And speaking of late night radio, I assume you are familiar with the AMAZING Joe Frank, yes?

  3. Oh, good lord. IMHO, Joe Frank is the most brilliant radio artist in the history of the medium. And I think he’d very much appeal to your sensibility.

    I immediately fell in love with him 25 years ago when I first discovered him, and I still listen to him today.

    Here’s where you can find a goodly amount of his broadcasts in podcast form for free. (The full archive requires payment, as he’s in financial difficulty these days.) Check it out!

    https://www.joefrank.com/

  4. Oh, good lord. IMHO, Joe Frank is the most brilliant radio artist in the history of the medium. And I think he’d very much appeal to your sensibility.

    I immediately fell in love with him 25 years ago when I first discovered him, and I still listen to him today.

    Here’s where you can find a goodly amount of his broadcasts in podcast form for free. (The full archive requires payment, as he’s in financial difficulty these days.) Check it out!

    https://www.joefrank.com/

    • Thanks for that. I never intended this to be just a Mac blog; my interests are quite eclectic, and I like to share them. I’m very happy that so many readers find these obscure tidbits interesting.

    • Thanks for that. I never intended this to be just a Mac blog; my interests are quite eclectic, and I like to share them. I’m very happy that so many readers find these obscure tidbits interesting.

  5. I listened to the abbreviated version of Shepherd’s show as a kid growing up in Southern New Jersey. It served as a gateway drug for the two late night shows that I regularly listened to after I fled to college in northern New Jersey: Bob Fass on WBAI and Bill Watson’s idiosyncratic classical show on WNCN. Those were the days when giants roamed the airwaves.

  6. I listened to the abbreviated version of Shepherd’s show as a kid growing up in Southern New Jersey. It served as a gateway drug for the two late night shows that I regularly listened to after I fled to college in northern New Jersey: Bob Fass on WBAI and Bill Watson’s idiosyncratic classical show on WNCN. Those were the days when giants roamed the airwaves.

  7. When I re-watched the classic “A Christmas Story” several years ago, I started researching Shepherd and discovered what a treasure he was to those lucky enough to hear him on radio. (Growing up in L.A., I was not.) Thanks for this!

  8. When I re-watched the classic “A Christmas Story” several years ago, I started researching Shepherd and discovered what a treasure he was to those lucky enough to hear him on radio. (Growing up in L.A., I was not.) Thanks for this!

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