Famous radio host, native Springfieldian, Jim Lowe dies at age 93
Sixty years ago, Jim Lowe’s gold record "Green Door" knocked Elvis Presley out of the top spot on the Billboard charts. After the release of his hit record, Jim Lowe was heard on New York City's flagship radio stations for decades.
James Ellsworth (Jim) Lowe died on Monday morning at his home in East Hampton, on Long Island, New York, after a long illness. The native of Springfield was 93. He was a longtime resident of New York City but lived in East Hampton in recent years.
Millions of WCBS, WNEW and WNBC radio listeners became Lowe’s fans. He also hosted NBC Radio's "Monitor Beacon" in its heyday and regularly let his nationwide audience know he was from Springfield, which he called "Paris of the Ozarks." He often told his audience that he loved to read “Ozark Mountaineer” magazine as much as “The New Yorker.”
Lowe’s encyclopedia knowledge of the American songbook and legions of show business friends were the centerpieces of his long career. Many people will remember his sister-in-law, "Aunt Alice" Lowe, as the original host of KY3's “Children's Hour.”
His longest and latest tenure on radio was with the legendary WNEW, where he was acquainted with virtually all the greats and near greats of American popular music, Broadway and broadcasting. His friends included Frank Sinatra, who routinely called him on his radio show to sing Happy Birthday to him, dozens of composers including Irving Berlin, and great singers such as Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Andy Williams, Sarah Vaughan and Margaret Whiting among countless others.
After interruption for U.S. Army service in World War II, Lowe graduated from the University of Missouri in 1948. He began his radio career at Mizzou, with short radio stints afterward in Springfield, Indianapolis and Chicago before moving to WCBS in New York City in 1956. At CBS he was the featured host of "Jazz is my Beat" and "Upbeat Saturday Night," and teamed up there with Florence Henderson to showcase the CBS TV audience participation series "Sing Along" in 1958.
Lowe took his talents to WNBC in 1959. He had a daily show, also was heard on NBC Radio’s “Monitor,” and did several stints on “Today” on NBC-TV.
Lowe’s tenure at WNEW began in 1964, and was long and notable for his encyclopedic knowledge of American popular music from the ‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s, its composers, lyricists, and singers.
His passion for The Great American Songbook began as a youth in his maternal grandfather’s store, Lines Music, on Walnut Street in downtown Springfield. His signature show, "Jim Lowe's New York," featured interviews with countless celebrities from that genre, and formed the centerpiece of his career.
His daily show was a staple of New York radio life throughout the 60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. He was known to his listeners as Mr. Broadway. Lowe carried an amazing depth of information about lyrics, composers, arrangers and performers, and could retell it at will in astonishing detail.
It was a song of a different time that first put Lowe on the national map.
As a sideline to his radio career, his #1 gold record hit "Green Door" was recorded in 1956, sold two and a half million records, and for a brief time knocked Elvis Presley out of Billboard’s top spot. As part of that sideline, Jim also composed songs, sang and played fine stride piano, made club appearances and numerous recordings. “Green Door” even earned him guest star appearances on “Ozark Jubilee,” produced by KY3 for ABC-TV from the Jewell Theater in downtown Springfield.
When he retired from broadcasting in the 1990s, he turned his attention to charitable and industry endeavors. He was a founding board member of The Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. And for decades he hosted many of the annual Lyrics and Lyricists Series performances at New York City’s prestigious 92nd Street Y, as well as special musical events for East Hampton’s Guild Hall, The Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, and The Southampton Cultural Center.
Beyond Lowe’s music expertise, he was exceedingly well read, knowledgeable about history, and a vigilant observer of current political events. He was a passionate sports fan, especially of football and golf, and a loyal supporter of his alma mater’s Missouri Tigers through good years and bad.
Lowe’s life, characterized by his abiding interest in friends, family, music and the world around him, was full and eventful. Beyond these things, he will be equally remembered for his charm, wit, intelligence, good humor, kindness and his exceedingly good nature. These qualities will remain in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved him, marking a true memorial to this fine citizen and dear friend.
He is survived by his nieces, Cindy Lowe Lurvey of Las Cruces, N.M, and Melissa Lowe of Springfield, and many friends. He was preceded in death by his brother, Dr. H.A. Lowe Jr.
Graveside services will be at Maple Park Cemetery in Springfield under direction of Gorman Scharpf. The date wasn't set, as of Monday afternoon.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Animal Rescue Fund, 90 Daniels Hole Road, Wainscott, NY, 11975.