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Radio Artist, Writer Joe Frank Dies At 79


We're going to take a couple minutes now to remember a radio storyteller who combined dark fantasies with absurdist humor. His name was Joe Frank.


JOE FRANK: I'm sitting at a dinner party attended by Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Seated at another smaller table are Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Pinochet and some others that I don't recognize.

MCEVERS: Joe Frank's stories were heard here in Southern California on member station KCRW for years.


Frank began his radio career in the mid-'70s at WBAI in New York. In 1978, he came to NPR to host Weekend All Things Considered and then moved to another show called Options. He made quite an impression on those who worked with him.

IRA GLASS, BYLINE: Joe Frank was the first time I heard radio narrative, which is, like, what I've spent my life doing.

SHAPIRO: Ira Glass, host of This American Life, was a production assistant for Frank.

GLASS: And I was standing in the studio, as in the control room, standing by the reel-to-reel tape recorder, which is how long ago it was. And he was reading one of his stories. And music was playing. And I just remember thinking, like, I don't know what this is, but I can't stop listening. All I want to do is just know what's going to happen next.

MCEVERS: And with Joe Frank, what happened next could be anything from Kierkegaard making a literal leap of faith to Leon Trotsky swooning to a mariachi band.


FRANK: Trotsky was skeptical. He liked to listen to the music, to dance the native dances. He refused to have them removed.

MCEVERS: Joe Frank mixed philosophy and personal nightmares. Here's how he explained it to Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air.


FRANK: Whatever tragedies might befall you, you can always right away think, well, that would make a great story for radio so that it was easier to experience whatever suffering that came my way.

SHAPIRO: Joe Frank was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1938. His family fled before Hitler annexed the region and stopped Jews from leaving. He died Monday of complications from cancer. He was 79. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.