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Archive for Thursday, September 18, 1997

TURNS 45

September 18, 1997

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Jim Seaver has been spinning the sounds of tenors and sopranos since KANU-FM went on the air in 1952.

The name of one of the longest-running radio shows in United States almost does a disservice to its revered host.

For Jim Seaver, 45 years the host of "Opera Is My Hobby" on public radio station KANU-FM 91.5, opera is much more than a hobby.

For the man who has record players named Edison and pictures signed by Rosa Ponselle and Lauritz Melchior, opera is much more than a hobby.

For the man who has been interviewed on national radio during intermissions at the New York Metropolitan Opera and who frequently gives talks about the art form, opera is much more than a hobby.

Seaver's first date with his future wife, Virginia, was at the San Francisco Metropolitan opera, where they heard his best friend Robert Stack's uncle, a famous baritone, sing.

"He's just an encyclopedia of opera," said Dick Wright, host of KANU's "The Jazz Scene" and a longtime friend of Seaver. "He has just done so much to help opera, which is certainly not everyone's tea."

This week Seaver is celebrating his 45th year on the air (1952 was also the first year for the station). A special program, co-hosted by Wright, will air Friday night right after the 6 p.m. news.

Seaver will play his favorites, which he calls the "desert island" collection. First off will be "Il Travatore," which piqued his interest in opera as a teen-ager living in Los Angeles.

"That's a wonderful opera to start with," Seaver said. "It's full of knights and maidens in distress."

Seaver began collecting records when he was 13, targeting Goodwill stores and The Salvation Army. Once, while a student at California's Stanford University, he unearthed 500 records for a penny apiece.

"They were just throwing them away," he said.

While doing his graduate work at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., Seaver listened to an opera show broadcast by the New York station WQXR.

"That got me thinking that it might be something I'd want to do," he said.

In 1947, after teaching at Michigan State College for a year, Seaver came to KU as head tennis coach and professor of ancient and medieval history. In his first and only year as coach, KU won the Big 7 title.

"I loved it but it just took too much of my time from my academic work," he said.

Here he taught Greek and Roman history, serving as chair of the Western Civilization department for 27 years. He retired in 1989, but continues to fill in for colleagues.

Seaver has volunteered at KANU from his first day on the air. He first did the show live but eventually switched to taped broadcasts to avoid the common pitfalls of live broadcasts -- dead air and verbal flubs.

One of the only shows that KANU researchers found with as long a history with the same host is a polka show in Waterbury, Conn., called "The Polish Eagle Show." A woman named Sophie Zambruski has held the microphone since 1934.

"We've found two or three that have been on the air since the '30s," Janet Campbell, KANU acting director, said. "This is easily one of the longest-running radio shows in the world."

Wright, who has hosted his jazz show for 37 years and who as a KU student took a history course from Seaver, said the expertise for which Seaver was known has endured.

"He was known and thought of (as) an expert," Wright said. "He is held in very high regard."

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