Jean Shepherd, 78, the prolific radio raconteur whose easy storytelling style earned comparisons to fellow Midwesterner Mark Twain, died Oct. 16 in a hospital near his home in Sanibel Island, Fla. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Shepherd, while best known for his radio work, excelled as a multimedia performer. His films included the 1983 classic "A Christmas Story," a sardonic look at the holiday that he wrote and narrated. He had hoped to call it "Satan's Revenge."
His writing appeared in a vast assortment of publications, from the New York Times to National Lampoon. He wrote several books, including 1966's "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" and the 1971 story collection "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters."
Mr. Shepherd did a pair of syndicated PBS television programs, "Jean Shepherd's America" and "Shepherd's Pie," and often sold out Carnegie Hall for his live shows.
He was once described by media critic Marshall McLuhan as "the first radio novelist."
Mr. Shepherd spent 21 years on 50,000-watt WOR-AM in New York, attracting a large, loyal following along the eastern seaboard. He worked without a script, conjuring tales based on his Indiana upbringing, creating characters such as his alter ego, Ralph Parker, and his neighbors, the Bumpuses.
"If there was ever a voice to hypnotize . . . it was Old Shep's; familiar but not condescending; sharing (it seemed) confidences with masculine camaraderie; constantly interrupting itself in a stream-of-consciousness more properly described as a torrent," read a 1971 profile of Mr. Shepherd in the Times.
In a move that likely inspired the climactic scene in the movie "Network," Mr. Shepherd would tell his listeners to crank up the volume on their radios and scream along with him. "Drop the tools, we've got you covered!" was one of Mr. Shepherd's favorite shout-along phrases.
Mr. Shepherd was born in Hammond, Ind.--a town that later became "Hohman" in his tales. He began his radio career at age 16, doing weekly sportscasts for a local station.
He served in World War II in the Army Signal Corps, developing a distaste for authority that later cropped up in his stories. He did radio shows in Cincinnati and Philadelphia before briefly moving into television.
His Philadelphia TV program, "Rear Bumper," attracted the eye of original "Tonight" show host Steve Allen, who recommended Mr. Shepherd as his replacement on the NBC fixture.
When that didn't work out, Mr. Shepherd launched his career at WOR, performing during off-hour shifts for an audience that he dubbed the "Night People." The station's powerful signal attracted diehard Shepherd-philes from Canada to Florida.
In recent years, Mr. Shepherd stayed out of the public eye, making infrequent radio appearances. His last radio date came on WFAN-AM in New York in 1996.
His third wife, Leigh, died last year after 21 years of marriage. He leaves no immediate survivors.