‘Annoying Music Show’s’ Jim Nayder dies at 59

July 4, 2013

Bette Davis singing “Feliz Navidad.” Donald Duck quacking “Amazing Grace.” A jingle for American Standard toilets. Nearly anything by Slim Whitman.

All were among the recordings heard — for better and often for worse — on “The Annoying Music Show,” which ran on public radio from 1996 to 2012.

Jim Nayder, 59, the program’s creator, died June 27 at his home in Chicago. The cause was a heart attack, said his daughter, Blair Nayder Botti.

Mr. Nayder’s popular five-minute program, which perversely celebrated music that irritates its listeners, had an unlikely and highly accidental premiere. The show, which originated on WBEZ in Chicago, was eventually heard on 197 public radio stations nationwide, including WAMU.

When Mr. Nayder was announcing a show that didn’t air on time, his producer asked him to cue some music to fill the dead air. He played a record of the renowned country yodeler Whitman, caterwauling through the Disney song “It’s a Small World.”

At the end of the song, Mr. Nayder announced “Welcome to ‘The Annoying Music Show,’ ” and a new career was born.

Much of the humor in “The Annoying Music Show” came from the incongruity of singer and song.

William Shatner, the “Star Trek” actor, was a perennial program choice as he enunciated and emoted his way through the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” And a chorus of the San Francisco 49ers football team doing the Christmas favorite “Winter Wonderland” led Mr. Nayder to call a personal foul on the team for “roughing the eardrums.”

However, other selections, such as “My Bathroom Is a Private Kind of Place,” a jingle for the toilet manufacturer American Standard, reflected more of a failure of song craft — or, perhaps, subject matter.

For his part in the show, Whitman, who died June 19 and whose signature trill was subsequently heard many times in the show’s history, was later honored with its first lifetime achievement award in 2003.

Mr. Nayder emphasized that he did not play novelty records, nor did he play bad music that could cause listeners to tune out. Rather, he played selections that were, in his words, produced from “sincere and honest efforts in the recording studio.”

He once quipped: “When all else fails, we just play Leonard Nimoy singing ‘Proud Mary.’ The key is [that] the tune is a serious attempt gone awry.”

The program, which inspired several CD compilations, including themed anthologies of annoying Christmas music and annoying wedding selections, wasn’t Mr. Nayder’s only accomplishment in radio. Another program reflected a more serious side.

Mr. Nayder produced “Magnificent Obsession,” a radio program that featured Chicagoans from all walks of life sharing stories of addiction and recovery with a candor usually reserved for anonymous, 12-step meetings. He had struggled with alcoholism, and his experiences in rehabilitation centers led him to make the program.

It first aired on WBEZ in 1992 during the dawn hours on Sundays. The seemingly low-profile time slot was by choice.

“I asked him if he’d thought of a good time slot, and he suggested 4:30 a.m. Sundays,” former WBEZ colleague Ken Davis, then a program director, told the Chicago Tribune. “That, he said, is the low point of the week — a time when some people might be reachable.”

The program ran for 20 years and was eventually broadcast on 87 stations. It earned Mr. Nayder an award from the Mental Health Association in 1998 that was given to him by former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

James Joseph Nayder was born June 22, 1954, in Chicago, where his father worked for a construction worker’s union. After two years of course work at Lewis University, in Romeoville, Ill., the younger Nayder decided to study for the priesthood through a Loyola University seminary program.

After changing his mind about a religious vocation, Mr. Nayder received a film degree from Columbia College Chicago and a master’s degree in communication from Northeastern Illinois University. He began his radio career at WBEZ as a producer with a show on Chicago history and later worked in multiple capacities as program director, on-air personality and fundraiser.

His marriage to Laurie Brown ended in divorce. Survivors include a daughter, Blair Nayder Botti of Chicago; a brother; three sisters; and one grandson.

NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon told the Chicago Tribune that Mr. Nayder’s shows “came out of separate sides in his personality. One (“The Annoying Music Show”) came of that part of his personality that was utterly hilarious — the very wild, Chicago-style sense of humor, he said.

“At the same time,” Simon added, “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.”

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