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The Other Tony Kahn

The Other Tony Kahn

 

 

Hamaca, 2010. Photo: Raymond Elman.

 

If you’re a regular listener to WLRN, South Florida’s only National Public Radio (NPR) news station, you’re likely to have heard Tony Kahn.  Among other things, Mr. Kahn is a regular on “Says You, a public radio game show of bluff and bluster.”

I first met Tony a long time ago in the tiny town of Truro, the smallest and most rural village near the tip of Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims made their initial landfall on the North American continent.  There are still a few cows and chickens grazing and pecking in Truro, there are no traffic lights, but there are at least three families named “Kahn,” two of which have tennis courts, and two of which are well-known for their writing skills.

The first Kahn family to buy a house in Truro, was led by E.J. “Jack” Kahn Jr., the long-time New Yorker magazine writer, who still holds the record for most words ever written for The New Yorker.  Jack was the son of noted Art Deco architect Ely Jacques Kahn, and Jack was the first and only Kahn to install a clay tennis court on the Outer Cape.  Jack had three sons from his first marriage, all of whom became writers.  The third son is named Hamilton, but everyone calls him “Tony” – yeah, Tony Kahn.  This Tony Kahn became editor-in-chief of the Provincetown Banner, a local weekly newspaper.

The second Kahn family to buy a house and build a tennis court was led by Harry Kahn, a highly successful stock broker.  Harry built a hard surface tennis court.  Neither his court nor his profession were the most highly valued in the arty village of Truro.

The third Kahn family to buy a house in Truro is co-led by the other Tony Kahn and his wife Harriet Risen, both of whom are writers, and appear on NPR.

As you can imagine, keeping the Kahn references straight can be problematic, so the question, “Which Tony Kahn?” might be asked on a daily basis.

Fortunately, the Tony Kahn I’m writing about has assembled an archive of his musings and documentaries on NPR radio and television that clearly distinguish him from all the other Kahns.  One of the recurring themes in Kahn’s broadcasts is his unusual childhood.  Tony Kahn grew up in Los Angeles, the son of Hollywood screenwriter Gordon Kahn and Barbara Brodie Kahn. He joined his family in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where his father had fled in the 1950s during the McCarthy era (the Red Scare), when Tony was five years old. So Tony grew up speaking Spanish and English. Ultimately, the family returned to the United States and Kahn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. Kahn also holds a master’s degree in Slavic studies from Columbia University.

Kahn has had a distinguished career at NPR.  He produced and directed the WGBH program Morning Stories and hosted its podcast version, public radio’s first. He was the original host of PRI’s The World, and a contributor to Minnesota Public Radio’s Savvy Traveler. From 1982 to 1985, Kahn hosted a regular social commentary segment on WCVB-TV’s nightly newsmagazine Chronicle.

Kahn produced, wrote, and narrated Blacklisted, a six-part public radio series about his childhood as the son of a blacklisted screenwriter, starring Ron Leibman and Carroll O’Connor and featuring Stockard Channing, Eli Wallach, Julie Harris, Jerry Stiller, Spalding Gray, Scott Simon, Susan Stamberg, and Daniel Schorr. He has won numerous broadcasting awards including twelve New England Emmys, six Gold Medals of the New York International Festival, the Ace Award, three Gabriel Awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award for feature reporting.

Over time, Inspicio will periodically post recordings from Mr. Kahn’s archives.  The recordings linked below run between 2:37 and 20:10 minutes. You must be connected to the Internet to view the videos and hear the audio recordings.

 

1-800-YOURDAD: 2:37 min.  

“Long before the Internet and smart phones, I used to do commentaries for Boston’s great public radio station, WBUR, on topics I found amusing.  This little skit is probably as relevant as ever.”  © Tony Kahn.

 

ELTON’S STORY:   1;44 min.

Every year around Christmas we’re asked to ‘Remember the needy. Especially the children.’ The neediest kids I ever met were the students of a rural high school in Zimbabwe. They had nothing: no shoes, no pencils, few textbooks, and, in far too many cases, no parents because of AIDS. During their lunch hour, a misnomer since they also had nothing to eat, I asked some of them to tell me a bit about their lives and, of all the things in the world, what they needed most.” © Tony Kahn.

 

JERZY’S STORY:   4:24 min.

“For a number of years I produced a weekly segment for NPR’s Morning Edition from Boston’s pub radio station WGBH called Morning Stories.  In 2004, with the advent of Apple’s iTunes store, Morning Stories became public radio’s first podcast and earned me the title of a ‘podcasting pioneer.’  The idea was to get a personal narrative every week from an everyday person that could be as human and compelling as anything produced by a professional story-teller.  They say ‘everyone has a story,’  This one came from a Polish immigrant electrician named Jerzy.”© Tony Kahn.

 

THE DAY THE COLD WAR CAME HOME:  20:10 min.

“My father, Gordon Kahn, was a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter.  For the last fifteen years of his life he was the subject of constant FBI surveillance and harassment and unable to make a living under his real name.  This half hour family story, produced for A&E, is based on my experience and memories of those times as a child.”  © Tony Kahn.