Gene Parrish dies at 82; longtime classical music host on radio

Gene Parrish, a longtime host of classical music programs on KUSC-FM (91.5) who also wrote and produced syndicated programs on worldwide jazz and American choral music, has died. He was 82.

Parrish, of Hermosa Beach, died Friday of lung cancer at a Kaiser Permanente hospice-care facility in Harbor City, said his wife, Eleanor.

Soon after joining KUSC in 1984, Parrish co-hosted a daily arts magazine with Gail Eichenthal on the Olympic Arts Festival.

"He was intensely involved in the work yet wore it so lightly," said Eichenthal, KUSC's program director. "He was as nice as he sounded on the air."

In 1986, their live coverage of an auspicious cultural moment for the city -- the first production of the Los Angeles Opera -- hit a snag when the curtain failed to completely rise. As the hosts vamped to fill air time, Parrish "was just as cool as could be," Eichenthal recalled.

His "Worldwide Jazz" program grew out of his first full-time broadcast job, at KQED-FM (88.5) in San Francisco. For five seasons in the 1970s, he co-produced and hosted national broadcasts of the San Francisco Opera.

In China to produce an opera project, Parrish connected with Radio Netherlands, which wanted to start a program that highlighted its regional jazz. After the show debuted, people from around the world sent Parrish music and he expanded the show's scope. Between 1984 and 1996, he hosted and produced more than 800 "Worldwide Jazz" segments.

He traveled the world documenting live performances of classical and jazz music, making eight trips to Finland. Closer to home, he co-produced and hosted the weekly radio series "The First Art," which highlighted modern choral music throughout the United States and Canada. The program aired on more than 200 public radio stations from 1993 to 2001.

The Los Angeles native was born Nov. 11, 1926, the second of two sons of Alan and Mildred Parrish.

While in the Navy, Parrish attended Occidental College and returned to the school after serving in Shanghai around the end of World War II.

Although he had studied radio broadcasting and speech at Occidental, Parrish couldn't find a job in radio after earning a bachelor's degree in 1948 because the advent of TV made everyone think "radio was going to disappear," his wife said.

He acted in local theater and eventually became a manufacturer's representative for auto parts. While working in the Bay Area, he answered a classical music station's call for volunteers to record news for the blind. The smooth reader of current events was soon substituting as a radio-show host.

By 1973, he was a classical music host at KQED-FM radio in San Francisco. After the station switched to a talk format, Parrish joined KUSC, where he served as a host and producer until 1996. Most recently, Parrish was a regular contributor to KUSC's morning magazine show "Arts Alive."

Parrish's musical taste was "eclectic and all-embracing," said Peter Rutenberg, his producing partner of 25 years. "I think he liked whatever he was producing at the moment."

In addition to Eleanor, his wife of 53 years, Parrish is survived by his sons, Kurt and Scott, and two grandchildren.

Services were being planned.

KUSC will air a one-hour memorial retrospective at 4 p.m. Jan. 24 and repeat the broadcast at noon Jan. 25.