Ed Love’s career as a broadcaster has been a longtime love affair.
“It was as much a part of my life as family,” he said this week, speaking from his adopted hometown of Detroit. “I’ve worked hard and been devoted to my career since day one.”
WDET-FM 101.9 is paying special tribute to Love this year, celebrating his 60 years of being “the Voice of Jazz” in Detroit. He has spent the last 38 of those years at WDET-FM.
A Jazz Lover From Parsons
The journey to where he is today began in Love’s native home of Parsons, where his interest in both jazz and broadcasting were first ignited.
Born on May 6, 1932, in Parsons, Love’s family listened to the radio on occasion, his father favoring the country music played then. However, by the time he reached late elementary school, Love was becoming familiar with the diversity of music as he was introduced to the world of records.
“My mother (Bessie Love) was an avid record collector, of all kinds of music. That is how I got my interest in music was listening to my mother’s record collection,” Love said. “When World War II started, they opened up the Kansas Ordnance Plant, and she started working. She was making about as much as my father (William Love) was. He worked at the railroad, M-K-T. … She had an account, like the bills at grocery stores, at the two record stores. One was called Richmond’s and one was called Interstate. She would bring home two, three, four records, which would be those 78, breakable, RPMs. She’d bring them home and have me listen to them. … She got me interested in music and subsequently, my lifelong career.”
In 1948, when Love was around 16, his best friend, Harry Coker, showed up one day at his house trying to convince him to go with him to check out the new radio station that had opened in Faye Hotel with the call letters KLKC. It took a little convincing, but Love was finally in.
Next thing they knew, they found themselves hanging out there, assisting where needed in the afternoons, like pulling records from the record library for D.J. Jay Pratt, while people would call in requests.
There also came the opportunity to play records when one summer KLKC hosted a Saturday show called the “Platter Playhouse” that featured a group of teens who would bring in their own favorite records and play them. Love found himself pulling from his mom’s beloved jazz collection to share.
“Me and a girl named Hazel Smith started going down there. She later became my first wife. … In the beginning, there were a good 18 or 20 of us that were down there on that program. They’d give us time to speak and each play one or two records. I’d bring jazz records — not like I play now, but I’m talking vocals.
“It only lasted one summer, but it was enough for me to have an interest by then in broadcasting,” Love said.
It was not long after that Coker went off to join the Navy. He stayed in touch with his friend, though. One day in conversation, a short time later, Coker mentioned he had thought about being a broadcaster and encouraged Love to pursue that path. At the time, Love didn’t think that was the road for him to take, but when he graduated junior college, he realized he didn’t have any idea what he wanted to be, and the memory spurred him to action.
“I knew I didn’t want to be a laborer or a janitor. Nothing wrong with being a janitor, but I didn’t want it,” he said. “I went back down to KLKC, and that same guy, Jay Pratt, who was a very nice person, I bent his ear. I asked him, ‘How do you become a radio announcer?’ He told me that there was a school in Kansas City, Missouri, called Pathfinder School of Broadcasting.”
Pratt explained how the school charged tuition, and Love could come out after about six months with a certificate in broadcasting. Using his father’s free railroad pass, he went to Kansas City to check out the school. He found out the costs, schedule and what it would take. Love went to his father, who told him he would help him get a job with the railroad in the back shops to raise the money, but he wasn’t going to give him the money.
“By then I had been bitten. I had listened to a lot of disc jockeys on the radio,” Love said, talking about picking up stations from Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and even New York City using the short wave radio his brother owned. “I made just enough money to go to broadcast school for six months, and I was gone.”
“Back when I was doing that ‘Platter Playhouse,’ I thought it was like nothin’. I thought I was something great. Once I got into broadcasting, I realized I was really, really bad,” Love said, laughing.
About a month before he was set to graduate in 1951, station KIND in Independence approached the school, looking for a broadcaster. The dean of the school spoke to Love, given the station was near his hometown of Parsons. Love took the job and worked there for six months. By then the Korean War had started, along with the draft. Love didn’t wait. He volunteered for the Air Force, first serving as a radio operator.
“Then they had a shortage of broadcasters for the Armed Forces Radio. They found out I had those six months’ experience with KIND, and they transferred me to doing radio shows and news broadcasts. I became a big star in the Armed Forces Far East Command in the Philippines.”
When he came back to the U.S. he worked off base in his spare time at a station in Omaha, Nebraska, until he was discharged. He then went back to KIND for a while, before station manager Johnny Nelson Ruppert pushed him to take a position in West Virginia that Love had been offered, as it was close to Baltimore, New York and other places Love could grow his career. After a couple of years in West Virginia, that is exactly what happened. A man from Baltimore heard him, called and offered him a job, telling Love they also had stations in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Just about everything you could do in broadcasting, with the exception of sports, Love did.
Falling in Love With Detroit
He worked for a couple of different stations and then started freelancing. During that time he moved more into the realm of jazz. When he was offered a position with a 24-hour jazz station in Hollywood, he thought he had found his dream job, but a two-month vacation before he left, which included a stop in Detroit to convalesce and visit family before heading to the West Coast, ended the plan.
“I fell in love with Detroit,” he said. “I still do. I love it.”
He made the move there permanently in 1959 and began broadcasting jazz in 1960 at various radio stations. Learning that a love of broadcasting pays no bills, he worked a second job during the daytime hours for the postal service. He worked that job for 30 years, and in the meantime landed a position with National Public Radio’s Detroit affiliate WDET, where he broadcast “The Evolution of Jazz,” heard on 150 stations nationwide. That later evolved into his WDET program today, “Destination Jazz, The Ed Love Program,” which began in 1983.
“Hi there, Love here,” are the words listeners have come to look forward to in the world of jazz as Love has engaged them in an entertaining, educational journey through the musical genre, introducing them to the greats.
“He is (a planner). He researches each show for hours and hours and days and days. There is no winging it for Ed,” WDET general manager Mary Zatina said. “He’s up in years, as you can count, and it’s hard for him to even get here. He goes to his mailbox and it has CDs and letters from all over the world, and a lot of people are sending him their discs to audition. Now that we are kind of short-staffed and a lot of people are working from home, I sort the mail a lot and I see it. Where else and who else would be receiving these humble offerings from all over the world who want Ed’s critique of their jazz music, and he doesn’t like just anything.”
Honoring Ed Love
Love’s career accomplishments are vast. He has been praised by artists and listeners alike. He has been honored multiple times by state legislators in Michigan, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1995, receiving the Legends of Jazz Award. He received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Motor City Music Foundation during the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival in 2000, and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History paid tribute to Love Jan. 29 of this year, just to name a few of his many, many accomplishments.
“I’m devoted to jazz,” Love said. “I’ve been blessed. I’m good at what I do, and I know that.”
Tributes are coming in from everywhere to the WDET website honoring Love, calling him a “musical institution,” the “icon of jazz,” “legend of jazz” and some touting him as “Detroit’s jazz statesman.”
Love said he is incredibly honored. He said he was also thankful for the support of his family, without which he could not have pursued his passion.
“Love’s impact transcends his time in the studio,” WDET states on its tribute page. “He has mentored and promoted musicians far and wide. His influence on their lives and his commitment as a cultural torchbearer and multigenerational voice for the tradition of jazz is acknowledged by artists here in Detroit and throughout the world.
“Now, into his sixth decade of radio, Love is still working, introducing yet another generation to the jazz tradition and the power of music.”
Zatina said Love’s continuation with WDET through decades is unique in the industry.
“There is tremendous movement in radio people from station to station and town to town, but Ed’s longevity doing jazz in Detroit is a testimony to Ed and how he has really helped educate the community about jazz and develop a huge appreciation for it. … Our station has been here for 70 years, and Ed has been here for over half of that and has really been the growth and the brand of WDET. We’re very grateful to have him and proud he is in our roster.”
Love has no particular plans for when he will step down from his show, if ever. Sometimes he imagines he will eventually die where he has lived — in the broadcast studio. Certainly, when he does, the jazz broadcast icon’s contributions will not soon be forgotten.
No matter how well known he has become, or the honors he has amassed, through it all he has always proudly shared that he was born and raised in Parsons, Kansas. He used to try to make it back now and then for the Black Homecoming every three years, but it has been a while since he has been back to his roots.
“In recent years, every day I think of something or someone in Parsons. I miss the way I grew up now. I would like to go back and visit. I had a lot of fun. I did a lot of things,” he said. “Everything I learned early on, I learned in Parsons. I love Parsons. I really do. If not for Parsons, there would be no me.”