3:52 PM EDT, June 28, 2013
Jim Nayder, a longtime fixture on Chicago public radio and pioneering program director at WBEZ-FM 91.5, was found dead in his Rogers Park apartment on Friday.
Nayder, 59, was best known as the host and producer of National Public Radio’s "Annoying Music Show," as well as "Magnificent Obsession," a harrowing, weekly 30-minute WBEZ show about drug and alcohol addiction, narrated by a subject who is battling addiction.
The Cook County medical examiners office said his autopsy is not scheduled until Saturday morning. However, his daughter, Blair Botti, as well as his ex-wife, Laurie Nayder, said Nayder had a long and tortured history of alcoholism.
"I am obviously devastated," his daughter said, "but he had gotten really sick in the past five years and kept trying to put his life together. I can’t say this is shocking. I talked to him Tuesday and had a great conversation. He seemed back to my old dad. I talked to him on Wednesday and he was in a bad state, though I couldn’t count how many times I have been through this." She said that he had checked into rehabilitation centers many times.
Nayder is survived by Laurie Nayder; his daughter; her husband, John Botti; and a grandson, Frederick.
There will be a private remembrance next week.
The three-minute "Annoying Music Show" — a kind of wry celebration of kitsch, from William Shatner’s cover of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" to "Muskrat Love" — began as weekend filler on WBEZ in 1995. By 1997, the show was on public radio stations around the country, spawned CD compilations and live performances (that included Nayder’s Annoying Music Dancers).
"Annoying music is a train wreck," Nayder told the Tribune. "You don’t want to see it but you can’t look away."
Reruns still air weekends on WBEZ.
"Magnificent Obsession" started in 1992 and also remains a WBEZ staple, although Nayder had not produced a new episode since 2012, according to WBEZ CEO Torey Malatia.
"It was an incredibly simple and powerful format," he added. "And when I told him I liked it, he would always have that look like, ‘Thank God someone appreciates this,’ because he knew ultimately, people would know him for 'Annoying Music.'"
Nayder, who grew up in Marquette Park on the South Side, started at WBEZ in the late 1970s.
"He really is mostly responsible for crafting the programming that became the basis of this station," Malatia said. He also established the first schedule-disrupting WBEZ fundraiser, "which people can probably blame on Jim," said Laurie Nayder. "Though the truth is Jim didn’t love being a station executive. He was more of a creative guy."
Johanna Zorn, executive director of the Third Coast International Audio Festival creative, seconds that. She met Nayder when she first started at WBEZ, as an intern in 1980.
"We used to joke that he didn’t understand small talk," she said. "He was not a chatty guy. He was not a comfortable person. He saw the world the way artists tend to see the world, in dimensions. There was a lot going on between those ears."
Before radio, Nayder studied for the priesthood through a Loyola University seminary program — but left to marry a Jewish woman, said Laurie Nayder (meaning herself).
Scott Simon, host of NPR’s "Weekend Edition Saturday," and an old friend of Nayder and former WBEZ colleague, said Nayder’s parents were apoplectic over their son’s plans.
"Jim used to say that when he left the seminary, his father, a union president with ties to the Chicago Board of Education (which originally ran WBEZ), asked the board to ‘find my son the most disagreeable job they had.’ So WBEZ hired him. That was very much his sense of humor."
Simon added: "Jim’s shows came out of separate sides in his personality. One ("The Annoying Music Show") came out of that part of his personality that was utterly hilarious — this very wild Chicago-style sense of humor. At the same time, Jim knew powerfully how life could be taken over by the things we don’t understand and can’t overcome in ourselves, no matter how hard we fight — and boy, he tried for years."
Tribune reporter Monica Eng contributed.
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