In his adopted city of Detroit, Ed Love has become a musical institution. His evening radio show, Destination Jazz: The Ed Love Program, has been in place for more than 20 years on radio station WDET-FM, and Love, attracted to the city in the first place because of its vigorous jazz tradition, has in turn nurtured a generation of players. More than just a disc jockey, Ed Love has been a tradition-shaper, a musical leader who has ignored temporary trends to put listeners in touch with the roots and new manifestations of the jazz tradition. His deep, deliberate, yet companionable voice is familiar not only to Detroiters, but also to the national audiences who heard his syndicated National Public Radio (NPR) program, The Evolution of Jazz.
Edward James Love, whose voice seemed such a good representative of urban jazz sophistication, grew up in the small town of Parsons, Kansas, in the state's southeastern corner. He was born around 1932. Love's mother was a music fan who brought home old jazz and blues records by the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Tampa Red. His father liked country music and talked about his favorite singing cowboy stars.
So Love grew up with an appreciation for various kinds of music. And he had one more musical influence that pushed him specifically in the direction of his ultimate career choice: he heard big-city jazz radio broadcasts. Love was a particular fan of disc jockeys Dick Martin on New Orleans station WWL and of Sid McCoy on Chicago's WNER. "Those were the days when you could hear music on the clear-channel, 50,000-watt stations at night," he recalled to Hollie I. West of the Detroit Free Press. "Man, it was beautiful, checking out those cats playing Stan Getz, George Shearing and Woody Herman."
Although he played the trumpet and harbored some ambitions of becoming a jazz musician, Love aimed toward a radio career. After he graduated from Parsons Junior College, he attended the Pathfinder Broadcast School in Kansas City, Missouri, graduating third in a class of 63. Then, in 1952, Love joined the United States Air Force and got his first radio experience as an Armed Forces Radio staffer in the Philippines, where he was sent during the Korean War. After he completed his tour of duty and returned to civilian life, Love encountered racial barriers in his chosen profession. Station owners, impressed by his great radio voice, made promises to hire him during phone interviews but devised excuses not to when he showed up in person. Finally, Love got hired by radio station KIND in Independence, Kansas, playing popular music.
During the 1950s, Love bounced from one radio job to another. He worked in Beckley, West Virginia, in Baltimore, Maryland, and at stations in Pennsylvania and New York. The moves weren't uncommon in the nomadic radio industry, but they took a toll on Love's personal life. He married and divorced twice, and fathered four children along the way. In 1959 Love contracted a serious case of pneumonia. Between jobs, he moved in with relatives in Detroit to rest and try to shake the disease. What he found in Detroit was a profusion of jazz clubs where the architects of pop's Motown sound performed and hung out. Delighted, Love decided to make Detroit his home.
Love threw himself into the city's jazz scene. He organized the Ed Love Jazz Workshops, in which young players honed their talents and networked with established bandleaders, and he organized a jazz concert series at the Detroit Institute of Arts. His Sunday-night jam sessions at central-city nightclubs—Mr. Kelly's, the Minor Key, the Twenty Grand (the latter especially popular with Motown session musicians)—attracted players who later went on to jazz fame, including clarinetist Wendell Harrison. Love had various jobs in broadcasting, not all of them connected with jazz. He worked for rhythm-and-blues station WJLB and for classical outlet WQRS, and even appeared as an announcer of WXYZ TV, channel 7, for a time. For 14 years he worked for jazz station WCHD, later renamed WJZZ.
Married to his third wife Barbara, a nurse, Love looked to find a stable financial basis for his musical activities and took a job as a postal carrier, a position he held for more than 30 years. His radio work was in the evenings, so he had plenty of time to return to the family's home in Detroit's elegant Rosedale Park neighborhood and pull selections from his personal collection of more than 8,000 records. At WJZZ, Love was already mentoring younger DJs like Rosetta Hines. "He taught me how to talk on radio," Hines told West. "He had me put a pencil in my mouth and talk so that I would improve my diction. Do you know how hard it is to do that?"
Finally, in 1983, Love settled in at Detroit's NPR affiliate, WDET. Destination Jazz: The Ed Love Program grew into a Detroit radio standby that introduced several generations of young people to jazz. Love's approach to jazz was consistent. His orientation was toward modern jazz, and he rarely tried to appeal to the nostalgia of older listeners with music from the big-band era. On the other hand, he was leery of trends such as fusion and jazz-funk that swept across the musical landscape, preferring to stick with the challenging small-group jazz that lay at the heart of the genre's tradition. Love picked his own music, becoming one of the few DJs in the country allowed to do so, and he rarely took requests. "I want my audience to have enough confidence in me and my appreciation of jazz that people will say they will like what Ed Love is playing," he explained to West.
WDET also served as home base for The Evolution of Jazz, a syndicated program that ran for six years on NPR and was heard on 125 stations around the U.S. at its peak. Back in Detroit, Destination Jazz remained one of WDET's most-listened-to programs through several wholesale programming changes. Love only increased his jazz activities as he passed retirement age. In 2000 he served as director of the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival (formerly the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival, and later the Detroit Jazz Festival), and he continued to play a role behind the scenes in maintaining its straight jazz programming.
Well into his sixth decade of radio, Love was given an extra two hours for Destination Jazz even as WDET reduced the rest of its music programming in 2005; as of mid-2006 it ran from 7 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday. By that time, Love had been honored by the Motor City Music Foundation, the Southeast Michigan Jazz Association, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the National Broadcast Awards, among other groups, for his contributions to the jazz tradition.
At a Glance …
Born 1932(?) in Parsons, KS; married four times; children. Education: Parsons Junior College, Parsons, KS; Pathfinder Broadcast School, Kansas City, MO. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1952.
Career: Armed Forces Radio, Philippines, broadcaster, early 1950s; KIND radio, Independence, KS, announcer and program host, 1950s; various radio jobs, late 1950s; WJLB and WQRS radio stations, Detroit, MI, broadcasting jobs, 1959–1970s; WCHD (later WJZZ), Detroit, host, 1970s and early 1980s; Destination Jazz: The Ed Love Program, WDET, Detroit, host, 1983–; NPR program The Evolution of Jazz, host.
Selected awards: Two Spirit of Detroit awards; Southeast Michigan Jazz Association, Outstanding Contribution to Jazz and the Arts award; Music Center for the Performing Arts and the Detroit Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Guardian Award, 2005.
Addresses: Office—WDET-FM, 4600 Cass Ave., Detroit, MI 48201.
Detroit Free Press, December 19, 1986, p. B1.
Detroit News, September 1, 2000, p. E11.
"Ed Love," WDET-FM, www.wdetfm.org/music/hosts.php (July 25, 2006).
"Ed Love's Celebration at Baker's," SEMJA Update, www.semja.org/nov2002/index.html (July 25, 2006).
"WDET 101.9FM—Destination Jazz: The Ed Love Program," WDET, www.wdetfm.org/show.php?sid=5 (September 21, 2006).