This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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ED WALKER, DC RADIO ICON, DIES AT 83
by Jack French © 2015
(From Radio Recall, December 2015)
A longtime MWOTRC member, and our best recruiter, Ed Walker, a career radio announcer in Washington, DC died October 26, 2015. He was 83 years old and had been entertaining at the microphone for over 65 years. With Willard Scott, he performed as The Joy Boys for two decades.
Edward Heston Walker was born in 1916 on Shakespeare's birthday, April 23rd in Fairbury, IL. His family moved to Washington, DC from Illinois when he was four years old and he spent the rest of his life in this area. Blind from birth, he was always entranced by sound and loved the medium of radio.
Ed graduated from the Maryland School for the Blind in 1954 and then applied at American University. That college had never admitted a blind student before and were reluctant to accept him. But Ed won them over by demonstrating his ability to navigate the campus without difficulty. They tried to steer him into social work, but he insisted on pursuing his dream of broadcasting and he graduated in 1954 with a communications degree. While attending college, he met Willard Scott at the campus radio station, WAMU.
After graduation, he worked for years at various radio stations, WPGC, WRC, WMAL , and even a television station, WJLA. He never concealed his blindness, but on the other hand, he never made a big deal of it either, very rarely mentioning it on the air. Many of his listeners had no idea he could not see.
About ten years ago, when I was managing the volunteers in the phone room during a WAMU fund raiser, it was also Ed's birthday. My wife had bought a birthday card in Braille and I brought it in for the volunteers to sign. A number of them asked me why a Braille card and I said, "Because Ed's blind." They were shocked to learn this.
Ed even joked about his blindness and had a favorite story he'd tell, though never exactly the same way, so it may have been a fairy tale. Ed began the story by saying that one late night he and Willard were leaving the station. Willard asked him what he missed most about being blind. On a lark, Ed responded the thing he missed most was never driving an automobile
"Well, heck, you can drive my car tonight. There is almost no traffic and I'll sit right beside you and give you directions." Ed agreed and slipped behind the wheel. They started the engine and slowly drove down the middle of the street, with Willard coaching, "A little right, not too fast now..." They hadn't gotten very far when a suspicious DC cop pulled them over and asked Ed for his driver's license and registration. Ed chuckled and said he couldn't get a license because he was blind.
The policeman then sputtered sternly, "You can't drive a car if you're blind." Willard leaned over and sweetly said to the cop: "That's just what I told him, officer, but he said I'd driven him home so many times, he knew the route by heart."
With all the many shows Ed had on different stations over six decades, much of his fame comes from two shows; The Joy Boys and The Big Broadcast. (See Bob Bybee's article on The Joy Boys in this issue.) In 1990, Ed took over hosting The Big Broadcast from John Hickman, who had developed this program for WAMU in the 1960's by combining OTR shows with current commentary. Every Sunday night, Ed was on the air for four hours, playing OTR programs and relating interesting facts about the actors, the production, and the sponsors. He even aired programs with cigarette commercials, but the FCC never clamped down on him for this practice.
Ed was a long-time member of the MWOTRC and was the keynote speaker at both our 10th and our 30th anniversary dinners. He was responsible for bringing dozens of new members into our group. We usually ask each new member, "How did you hear about us?" and 3 out of 4 people will say, "Ed Walker talked about you."
For the November 2014 celebration of WAMU and 25 years of The Big Broadcast, our club was asked to take part on stage with Ed at Lisner Auditorium. Over a thousand paid attendees showed up for this event, which began with a interview of Ed by his friend and associate, Rob Bamberger, This was followed by our club performing a sound effects demonstration, a recreation of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and a Lone Ranger parody which featured "the notorious Smilin' Ed Walker Gang."
The club was scheduled to appear again with Ed in October 2015 at the headquarters of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This did not occur, due to Ed's hospitalization with cancer and death.
In his last days, Ed was weakened by his cancer but his family and WAMU convinced him to do one last Big Broadcast so he recorded it from his hospital room. It aired on Sunday night, October 25, with Ed and his family listening. He died peacefully a few hours after the show ended.
His surviving family includes his wife of 58 years Nancy Murphy Walker, his daughter, Susan, and eight grandchildren.
Let me close by quoting the words of Mark Bush, a charter member of our club and a longtime DC area resident:
"Ed Walker was a radio companion to me and my friends since the mid 1950's. He brought integrity to the field of broadcasting which is sadly lacking now. It is comforting to know Ed is with the angels now and able to see, with restored sight, the glory of Heaven. God bless Ed Walker. "