by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Maybe he wasn’t “a giant in the industry” but he was big, physically big, a furry guy with a mop of hair, thick beard, cotton shirts, old shoes. When he waddled down the hall you had no choice but to say hello, and to say hello to Dorian Paster was to start a conversation that could go for hours. “He never stops talking!” some people moaned.

What did they expect? He was a disc jockey.

I would call him sometimes late at night at WLLZ, to leave a message for the morning shift producer.

“Where are you?” he would ask.

“Houston,” I’d say.

“Houston. There’s a fine jazz club in Houston. Check it out. It’s called.
. .”

This would go on for five minutes, me, in some hotel bed, my eyes half-closed, Dorian in the studio, gabbing away. Now and then, he’d say, “Hold on,” and I’d hear the song end and Dorian’s voice, reaching out to the night crawlers, telling them the title and the artist.

Radio was not created by the Howard Sterns or Rush Limbaughs, but by an army of faceless men who go from city to city, station to station, starting records, taking you to commercials. They do hard rock, classic rock, soft rock, country, they do mornings, afternoons, weekends. They are voices that surf between waves of music and belong to men who can’t help it, they are addicted to that room, the cup of coffee, headphones tight around the ears, the microphone close as a lover, the world within reach.

Finding a home, with jazz

If that sounds romantic, don’t be deceived. Radio careers are like wandering the desert, and about as secure. Dorian knew this. He was living proof. Raised in New York, the educated son of Belorussian immigrants, he came to the Midwest and, like most disc jockeys, began to chart his life by call letters. He went from WGLN in Sylvania, Ohio, to WIOT and WHME in Toledo, to WABX and WWWW in Detroit. He was smart. He was opinionated. So he was fired several times. Always fighting over how commercials interrupted the music.

Then came WJZZ in Detroit — a jazz station — and jazz was Dorian’s passion. He stayed for nearly 10 years, programmed the music, became a popular morning host. His voice was smooth and patient, and when his first child was born, in the hospital, his wife, Carol, turned up the radio and whispered to her new baby, “That’s your Daddy.”

Of course, you don’t make much money doing jazz. Dorian and Carol, who had two more kids, rented homes for years. Twice, they were told to move because the landlord was giving the place to his own children.

They got by. Dorian had a lot of ’60s radical left in him, and he worked odd jobs to supplement his income. One was the Red Squad Project, a now-defunct police unit that for decades spied on Detroiters suspected of Communism. Dorian, naturally, was appalled. He worked feverishly to return the files to citizens; many never knew they’d been watched.

No matter. Dorian believed it was important. He gave people back their privacy. Which is funny, coming from a disc jockey. A dream unrealized

Dorian Paster was 47 years old and his dream was to own his own station, but he liked food too much and his blood pressure was high. One night, just over a week ago, he went to bed and never got up.

It was an unfair end to an unfair period. His career had been derailed when WJZZ let him go in 1987, and he bounced around, working mostly the overnight shift at hard-rocking WLLZ-FM. When I would come in — I do morning sports there — he would just be leaving. He’d stop, naturally, talk politics, music. You knew he was too good for this god-forsaken shift, but he had the most forgiving eyes, almost twinkling, like a Santa Claus. Because of this, you could think he didn’t mind the blows radio had dealt him.

Not true. He wanted to succeed. But he was too smart to be a Stern, too kind to be a Limbaugh. Dorian was eccentric, he loved his music and his family. He promised his wife he’d eat better. On his last night, he asked her for grapes instead of ice cream.

A few hours later, she nudged him to get up for his shift. He was dead. Heart attack. “Maybe he didn’t want to work anymore,” she says now, sadly.

A memorial service will be held today, at a park in Southfield. Jazz bands will play, and the only thing missing will be Dorian’s voice after their last note. Last week, Carol received many letters, including one from a police officer she’d never met. He said he listened to Dorian on the graveyard shift and was going to miss his voice. Many of us who knew him now want to say the same thing. I can’t help thinking Dorian should know this.

Here’s to all the men who spin the records, late at night, when the building is empty and the only friend you have is a cigarette or a popsicle. It’s a strange fraternity, the disc jockey business, and it just lost one very special brother.


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