Some testimonies to Willis Conover

These messages were posted to the Usenet news groups and in the days following Willis Conover's death on May 17, 1996.

From: (Piotr Michalowski)
Subject: Re: Willis Conover, R.I.P.
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 15:10:15
Organization: University of Michigan

When I was a kid in Poland, Conover's VOA Jazz Hour was our window into the jazz world. We would hunker down next to our short wave radios, not exactly the best thing for music, and try to listen to him through the static. Take the A Train was his theme song, and it was a signal to us that the jazz was coming on after the most horrible newscasts "in special English" that were read so slowly you thought they would never end! He eventually visited Poland and made many friends. Like so many others, I practically owe my jazz interest to Conover. He will be long remembered.

From: Jim Wilke (
Subject: Willis Conover
Date: 18 May 1996 18:15:58 GMT
Organization: Jazz After Hours

Last night, (5/17) while on the air with Jazz After Hours, a bulletin came in that Willis Conover had died of lung cancer at age 75. For those of us who've been in jazz radio for more than 3 or 4 years, Willis Conover was THE guy. The most heard jazz disc jockey in the world!

He was host of Music USA Jazz Hour, one of the Voice of America's most popular shows for 40 years. For many places in the world, his was the only source of jazz, even in places and at times when it was forbidden.

Russian-born trumpet player Valery Ponomarev told me years ago, as did Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, the only reason why they were jazz musicians was that they had heard the music for the first time on Willis Conover's show, and were inspired. There are countless others with similar stories.

Willis Conover's slow, measured baritone carefully outlined the music for people whose understanding of English was probably limited but their openness to the music was not. As a jazz broadcaster myself, I think the greatest compliment I ever received was from a listener who told me my approach reminded him of Mr.Conover's. We all owe a debt to one of the most effective ambassadors the music (and the nation) ever had... Willis Conover.

Jim Wilke
Jazz After Hours

From: (Jowett, Garth S.)
Subject: Willis Conover, R.I.P.
Date: 18 May 1996 13:48 CDT
Organization: University of Houston

I just wanted to say that when I was growing up in South Africa in the 1950s, Willis Conover was GOD to me. My interest in jazz was formed by his broadcasts, and my own broadcasting style, for what is it worth, was based upon his cool, carefully enunciated delivery, which seemed both personal and informative. He was speaking to me, and I learned an enormous amount from him. There are literally millions of people who are jazz fans today because of him. May he enjoy that great jam session in the sky..... I will miss him.

Garth Jowett,

From: Steve Robinson (
Subject: Re: Willis Conover
Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 17:10:08 -0700
Organization: University of Washington

Growing up in the USA, I never heard Willis Conover's overseas shows, the thing that made him the most famous. I do remember hearing him on a weekend show that he did for the Air Force. I believe it featured the music of the Airmen of Note, and Mr. Conover was the host of the program. Even at that time, there wasn't much jazz on the radio in small-town America, and I looked forward to hearing him each week. He was obviously knowledgable and his voice was unmistakably professional. He will be missed.

Steve Robinson
Seattle, WA

From: Masahiro Mimura (
Subject: Willis Conover
Date: Sun, 19 May 1996 08:49:32 -0400
Organization: Michigan State University

It was almost 20 years ago in Tokyo when I listened to Willis Conover's "Jazz Hour" for the first time. I was a curious high school kid getting interested in music, mechanical things and foreign countries. I don't remember where I learned about his program from, but I do remember I was extremely excited about it because it could bridge three of my biggest interests: jazz, shortwave radio and America. I can't tell in words how I felt when I heard "Take the 'A' Train", the theme song, over noises and fadings after a struggle with my old second-hand Sony to tune in to the VOA. This experience was my first exposure to "live" English as well. Thanks to "Special English", I managed to pick up some names and song titles and that fueled my excitement.

To me, Mr. Conover sounded like a professor rather than a radio show host. He never made casual comments. He talked only about discographical details when playing records and tapes. In fact, "The Jazz Hour" was my musicology course where I could learn a great deal about jazz: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and many others. He was the voice of America.

(The transcript of the VOA's obituary column is available at gopher:// )

Masa Mimura, East Lansing, MI, USA

From: (Jack Woker)
Subject: Re: Willis Conover
Date: 19 May 1996 17:17:20 GMT
Organization: Netcom

Also having grown up in the USA, my only exposure to Conover was his duties as MC of the Newport Jazz Festival in the early years. His voice can be heard on most of the live records made there in the 50's and 60's. His overly clear enunciation used to get on my nerves, but after I became a broadcaster I can appreciate his strengths, especially to foreign audiences.

Another friend from my youth is gone...


From: Randy McElligott (
Subject: Willis Conover
Date: Sun, 19 May 1996 18:30:53 +0000

Sad news, the death of Willis last week! Does anyone have any stories about Willis? Maybe listening to him overseas etc... I think that Willis (Bill) was a very important figure in the world of Jazz. I payed tribute to him this afternoon on my radio show. He will be missed!!

From: (Charles Packer)
Subject: Re: Willis Conover
Date: 20 May 1996 12:03:24 GMT

I would like to know how prominently Conover's death was noted in the press in various countries. As other postings mentioned, he was known worldwide, but hardly at all in the U.S. In the New York Times, his obit was just one among several on the obituary page.

From: (Brian Rost)
Subject: Re: Willis Conover
Date: 20 May 1996 13:55:18 GMT
Organization: 3Com Switching R&D

The saddest thing about the career of Willis Cononver was he was virtually unknown INSIDE the US because the Voice of America broadcasts were never aired here. He was well known OUTSIDE the country as ambassador for America's great contribution to music, jazz, a form that the masses at home seem to care less about.

From: Jeff560 (
Subject: Willis Conover obituary
Date: Sun, 19 May 1996

WILLIS CONOVER, 75, a jazz expert and host of the Voice of America's Music USA program, died Friday [May 17, 1996] of lung cancer in Alexandria, Virginia. For more than 40 years, he was host of one of Voice of America's most popular programs, playing his favorite music to millions of listeners around the world. Over the years his program became one of the most popular VOA broadcast offerings, with perhaps the largest audience of any continuing international radio broadcast in history, according to VOA. Jazz enthusiasts in the communist countries eagerly awaited Conover's broadcasts, and many secretly recorded his programs. He brought them the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker. Mr. Conover's visits to Russia and Poland attracted large crowds.

From: H Sontz (
Subject: Re: Willis Conover obituary
Date: Tue, 21 May 1996

I missed the obituary of Willis Conover in the newspapers. Thanks for publicizing it here.

I remember Willis' Conover's jazz broadcasts back from the late 50's over the VOA. My first shortwave receiver was a regenerative set built from a kit I purchased from Lafayette Radio (remember them?). We lived only a dozen or so miles from a VOA transmitter site in Bound Brook, NJ (long gone), and the VOA, including Willis Conover's program, boomed in loud and clear over my small set.

His program was actually written about from time to time in our national press, while the Soviet government experimented with turning on and off the tremendous radio jamming effort they expended to keep their population from hearing Conover's "decadent" music, along with of course news and current events.

I remember reading in the New York Times years ago that American tourists and diplomats in the USSR, when recognized on the street by Soviet citizens, would often be greeted by the phrase, in heavily accented English, "This is Willis Conover", the only English phrase that many of Conover's clandestine Soviet listeners knew.


From: Marie A. Lamb (
Subject: Re: Willis Conover obituary
Date: Thu, 30 May 1996

You and others may be interested to know a couple of things.

First, VOA is running repeats of Conover's "Music USA Jazz" and "Music USA Standards" at the programs' usual times and frequencies; I hear them best in the Eastern U.S.A. at 2010 Monday through Saturday on 9760 or 10454 LSB. They intend to continue this for the time being. They have plenty of material; even though some 5,000 of Willis' taped broadcasts were trashed by some bright bulb some years ago, according to "Communications World" on VOA, some 15,000 programs still exist! Kim Elliott suggested, if I understood him correctly, that at sometime in the indefinite future, there may be a weekly program with the best of the broadcasts. It's only under consideration right now...if you'd enjoy such a show and would listen. let VOA know at (outside U.S.). Although VOA cannot target the U.S., I'm sure that it can't hurt for U.S. listeners to add their opinions at

Also, I heard it announced yesterday (5/29) on VOA that they will air a LIVE Willis Conover memorial concert on Wednesday, June 5th at 2300 UTC; the frequencies had not yet been picked for the special broadcast, but they will give them when ready, so listen for them or watch the newsgroup. They didn't mention who would be playing, but I'm sure it'll be worth listening to.

Marie Lamb

From: Joel Rubin (
Subject: Willis Connover, RIP
Date: 1996/05/18

The famous VOA jazz presenter, Willis Connover, has died in hospital from lung cancer at the age of 75. (No comment as to whether Saint Peter spoke to him in special English.)

From: (
Subject: Re: Willis Connover, RIP
Date: 1996/05/19

The New York Times today called Mr. Conover a "disk jockey who fought the cold war with cool music, capturing the hearts and liberating the spirits of millions of listeners trapped behind the Iron Curtain.... [and] proved more effective than a fleet of B-29's." Mr. Conover would "bombard Budapest with Billy Taylor, strafe Poland with Oscar Peterson and drop John Coltrane on Moscow." (!!!) The world will sorely miss the "most famous American that virtually no American had ever heard of." What a shame that more Americans didn't know him. He was a truly great ambassador to the world.


From: (
Subject: Re: Willis Connover, RIP
Date: 1996/05/19

I met a Russian (USSR) family when I was in college in the early 70's who had migrated to the USofA via Isreal. They couldn't believe that no one in the USofA knew who Willis Connover was -- they assumed that he was probably treated like a god over here -- because in the USSR he was considered the best know American -- better known even than the president. Imagine being able to have that kind of effect on that many people just by bringing them music and discussion of music. He will be -- indeed, has been -- missed.

From: Don Shorock (
Subject: Re: Willis Connover, RIP
Date: 1996/06/02

I'll add my "amen" to the lament.

Driving around western Kansas 20 years ago, there wasn't much worth listening to, so I put an MFJ converter on the car radio and listened to the VOA while I made my rounds. I always enjoyed his presentation, e v e n  i f  i t  w a s  a  b i t  s l o w.