Tales of an Overnight Classical Deejay

How I faked an accent, lied about the weather and entertained countless cabbies

Monday, October 24, 2011 - 01:22 PM

Scheherazade spun tales for a Sultan for a lousy one thousand and one nights. I spun tapes, records and CD’s for insomniac New Yorkers for over six thousand and one nights on WQXR radio, the (then) radio station of the New York Times. Scheherazade enjoyed only one nocturnal companion, the Sultan Shahryar. I, on the other hand, had a handsome cross-section of New Yorkers on any given night; obstetricians, New York’s finest, the Entenmann delivery men, cabbies and a lot of people with jet lag who weren’t too sure where they were.

Scheherazade’s Sultan had a nasty habit of killing his night’s companion the next morning in retaliation for having been betrayed by his first love. But the wily Scheherazade told such good tales, the sultan had to keep her alive till the next day so he could hear the end of the story. Needing to keep my ratings up on the graveyard shift, I found I could tease the listeners into keeping me company a little longer by stringing out the identification of the piece of music, so they had to stay awake to find out what they were hearing.

Many was the time listeners had to hear a brief history of Tudor England before finally learning they had been hearing Gloriana, Benjamin Britten’s opera on Elizabeth Tudor. If I created an intriguing enough link to the next piece, why then I could keep the listener around for maybe the next offering and the next… Then, Mr. Arbitron, who kept score of numbers of listeners out there, would have to concede someone was there at 4 am and I could keep my job a little longer.

Like Scheherazade, I could indulge in certain powers. Even as she could lull the Sultan with a romantic tale, I could do the same by offering the music of Debussy and Vaughan Williams. Scheherazade could excite the Sultan with a rousing adventure: all I had to do was play Wagner, a sure fire way to keep anyone awake. With diabolical pleasure, I pushed a button and New York slept or jumped out of bed at my command. Heady stuff.

How did it all come about? In 1980, I was “at liberty” but performing as a chorister in a singular production of Carmen playing every geriatric center between Manhattan and Co-Op City. I was reveling in putting the voice lessons I was taking to good use and learning the Bizet score. The population of Seville varied according to who was employed from week to week. Wishing to play my part to the utmost, I concocted what I deemed was an appropriate Spanish get-up, heavy on red and gold bangles. It wasn’t my fault that our Carmen was diminutive and favored beige and that some elderly residents mistook me for Carmen.

One day, word came through the amateur opera company grapevine that the venerable New York Times classical radio station WQXR was looking for women, minorities and languages. I sort of fit the bill: I was definitely female, not blonde and blue eyed and I had French and Italian—or at least an ability to get through Pinocchio. David Vosburgh, our excellent Don Jose suggested I go up for an audition.

I presented myself to the chief announcer, Duncan Pirnie who bellowed instructions and gave me a sheaf of papers – some news copy, some music copy and a lot of commercial copy. The news concerned Mrs. Thacher’s economics and went into raptures about someone’s having piloted the Gossamer Albatross from Folkston to Cap Gris Nez and then there was something about the NFL, whatever that was. The toughest bit in the music was reciting the outrageously international cast of Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda with Renato Capechi, Montserrat Caballe and Shirley Verette, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. This last was a real curve ball. But it was the commercials that threw me most—I simply couldn’t thrill to air fares from New York to Tampa/St. Pete.

My audition tape was heard but I was not likely to be heard from again. I came across as too English, the product of an early English School education. June Le Bell, the (then) only woman at WQXR suggested I call and ask to be given another “go.” This I did, but not until I had been to something called Announcer’s Training School and mastered an Eastern Seaboard accent, whatever that was. I came back, and tried again. This time, I sounded vaguely patrician and down right passionate about air fares. I was put on the Reserve List of WQXR.

I got my first air date doing a newscast about which I remember absolutely nothing except that I had no feeling in my fingers by the end of it, and that I couldn’t have been happier. A few days later, I was put on the weekend morning shift which was distinguished by my telling lies uncontrollably. You see, the script said the music would come out on the hour—it didn’t. I found I had nothing to say—so I lied about the time, and with great assurance, played the gong which indicated the top of the hour. Then it became necessary to lie about the weather because I realized too late that I had pulled off the weather in upstate New York near the Canadian border from the monster that was the weather machine instead of the New York Metropolitan area.

When I skulked into the studio on Monday morning, I was sure I was going to be thanked politely and sent on my way. I wasn’t. Instead, it was suggested that if WQXR ever chose to go 24/7 instead of closing down at midnight, would I consider doing an all night show? I said yes assuming it would never happen. A year later, October 20, 1980, armed with The New Yorker, Maxell Tape and American Express as sponsors, I embarked on my first overnight.

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Comments [41]

"The New Yorker - Yes, The New Yorker..." I remember that ad (from way back) and my French friend then said your French was Academy-perfect too and she went to the austere St. Denis. But then I was just one of your many cabby admirers.

Jul. 13 2014 01:41 PM
E.S.T.

Nimet: It's the END of Daylight Savings Time!

But we all LOVE YA!!!

Nov. 03 2013 06:32 AM
jerome dolan from Brooklyn N.Y.

Nimet, you can't do anything wrong by me. You gave us comfort during disasters, storms, and terrorist attacks. Keep having a beautiful life.
love and kisses
Jerry

Aug. 28 2013 08:01 PM
Joye from Murrieta CA

I spent a short 3 years in New York 1998-2001, and couldn't wait to hear where Nimet would take me. Her departure saddened me - her return is a triumph! One person truly makes a difference :)

Jul. 26 2013 04:45 PM
BOBBY ROSENBERG from East Brunswick, NJ

Dear Nimet! I feel that I know you like a good friend! I'm still a novice @ Classical Music, although my mother's mom-Mrs IDA GOODWIN, listened to WQXR since its inception, circa: 1935. I while in was an Officer & Enlisted Soldier in the US Army, when I came home on leave, you'd be entertaining me: "New York @ Night!" When you came back to WQXR, my mother-ISABEL & I were so elated!. I went to "B&N"/Barnes & Noble & purchased the leather edition of: "The Tales of the Arabian Nights!" as we love "Scherazade!" I always think of you when either I hear: "Scherazade" or to your opening theme to: "NEW YOYK @ NIGHT," "The Petite Suites". Which recordings are your favorites? My Egyptian and Lebanese friends here in the New Brunswick Area of NJ, love your program, too! I'm a strong advocate and supporter of classical music! You have that elegant way of speaking that makes me want to capture every word you say! What are great talent! Oh, yeah! you're just as sophisticated in person, too! You were with Ms Joanne Woodward, both of you talking about Franz Lehar, @ the Metropolitan Museum of Art! That was a "extra special" treat! When I went up to speak with you & how gracious you were to me! I'll never forget what an impression you left on me! Thanks for being you & adhering to such high standards! Your standards of excellence & how you present yourself to us on the air while we are listening to you, is the epitome, a TRUE PROFESSIONAL! Your an extraordinary person to us! Thanks for making our day complete!Your endearing listeners!ISABEL & Bobby

Feb. 18 2013 01:25 PM
GCL from Astoria Queens

I grew up listening to the station in its original location and thrilled hearing Duncan Pirnie present music in its best form.
And when you Nimet Habachy started overnight music back when I was in high school, and incidentally convinced everyone I knew that I was just a bit stranger then they were, you were perfect then.

And you are still perfect. I am still listening to you at work and allowing the music you choose to help me resolve a particularly difficult problem in computers.....

I just wish the station would let both you and Jeff Spurgeon use specific musical passages to open and close your days.

Jan. 24 2013 01:55 AM
David Lipsky from New York City

Nimet --

I loved the piece and grew up with New York at Night. A quick question: Can you recall different themes -- opening pieces -- the show has had?

And thank you for such great years and for introducing so many QXR listeners like me to such wonderful music.

David

Jan. 17 2013 12:28 PM
frank Burns from Palo Alto Ca


As one who lived in New York for over a half a century I always enjoyed your voice and programs. I now live in
California, my favourite radio statio is WQXR New York!, over the Internet.
When I heard your voice I thought the station was playing old tapes!. Now after checking with Google I understand, you are back at WQXR.
Best wishes

ps the the party who left New York and can no longer hear WQXR, get with the technology of this era!. WQXR can now be heard by hundreds of millions of people all over the wortld. By the way I am an octogerian who tries to keep up with the
times!

Dec. 25 2012 12:54 PM
Lee Lieberman from Fort Lee, NJ

Thanks for playing the Alkan. I'm very pleased that you are back sending WQXR over the airwaves. Your calm voice is reassuring--like an earthmother.

Nov. 04 2012 06:23 AM
Mike from NJ

Dear Nimet,
For many years I returned home from work around midnight. Upon going to bed I would listen to your show. I do not know what was more appealing, your voice or the music you played. Probably the whole package.
At that time, for recreation I would spend a great deal of time doing expedition canoeing. That is packing my canoe with all my needs and spending a couple of days to a couple of weeks on the water.
One night you came on and spoke about a pleasant canoe trip you had just been on. At that time I fell madly I love with you.
Fortunately for me I met someone who shared my love for the sport. She and I have shared many miles and campfires together.
Thank you for many nights of pleasure.

Sep. 26 2012 05:28 PM
Martin from Stratford, CT

I so enjoyed waking and hearing your selections for Easter, Russian Easter, Christmas and Russian Christmas at those times. Then being lulled back to sleep and feeling so content.

Sep. 21 2012 08:29 AM
Rochelle from New York

To those who are mistakenly think Nimet is no loner on WQXR:

Nimet's new show runs in NY at midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. If you can't get WQXR on your radio, you can stream the show live by clicking the "Play" button at the top of any page on this site.

Aug. 28 2012 11:14 AM
Rochelle from New York

One night in 1989, I was dozing off with the radio tuned to your show. The voice of Olivier who had died the previous day, doing Shakespeare, awoke me. It was magical to hear him in the darkness.

Then there was your recitation of Danny Kaye's "vessel with the pestle," which still makes me giggle the way you were giggling.

Yours was, and always will be, the only program on the air that could combine Danny Kaye, Olivier and Mozart. I suspect your current show doesn't allow you tat diversity.

Aug. 28 2012 11:07 AM
Dan Moriarty from Tarrytown

Oh Dearest Nimet:

Like the oracle of Delphi you were the transmitter of all the musical gods could say to us. . .and as a young college student I would come home to the Quaker Hill area in Pawling, New York. . .your voice seemed to float from and over those charmed hills, and gracious colonials. . . the strong signal from the great city would waft over those hills so gently. . . first with that gracious Debussy opening. . the epitome of cultivated grace. . I miss those days. . your grace and being so impressionable. . .

Thanks for those first hours at midnight. . .

Mar. 10 2012 01:11 AM
Delores Schmidt from New York City (Bronx-Riverdale

Nimette, it was so wonderful to hear your voice again during the Fund Drive; but, alas, you no longer are on at midnight. I used to "short" my sleep to get perhaps an hour of your programs some nights, and I so enjoyed your musical comments.
Also, I recall you on a retreat in May, 1973 or 1974 whereby Bernice Kirkland was our chaperone of 20-some excited young women..... You were such a friendly and such a sophisticate then, too.
My best wishes to you. If only you could have a music program again!

Mar. 06 2012 06:02 PM

Dear Nimet, First of all, you are fantastic! Your sultry voice is hypnotic! I just love it! You have been inspiring me into classical music before you retired @ from WQXR's old location on the FM dial! When I heard Debussy's "Petite Suites," I knew I would always be in for an exotic treat Monday through Friday! "New York @ Night!" It was lively & vibrant, to say the least! Whenever, I hear your favorite piece by "Rimsky- Korsakov, "Scheherazade," regardless who is conducting, you come to mind! Recently, I loved what you said after playing the piece! "Scheherazade wove & spun her stories, & I spin CDs; how brilliant! What an aristocratic, classy, extremely intelligent intelligent woman you are! I was fortunate to meet you, when both you & your colleague & friend Joanne Woodward, were @ The Met! I just had to briefly introduce myself to you! How lucky was I! You just do not know! When I travel to Poland, Germany, Hungary, Spain, etc., I think of your unique travels! You're terrific! & I just wanted to take the time to tell you so! Bobby Rosenberg; Grafvonrosenberg@aol.com; PS: Thanks for always being there when I need to be "perked up" with expertise, knowledge, array of musicology! As Molly Shannon, would say from a skit on "Saturday Night Live"/"SNL"; "I love it, I love it, I love it!"

Mar. 06 2012 09:43 AM
Bruce from Strasburg VA

Dear Nimet: How I loved your voice back in 2002 on your midnight programs.I now live in Virgina, so I can't hear WQXR on the radio. I just
wanted to say you have such a fantastic voice over the air, and I loved
your reading of poetry before a musical composition. I learned about classical music from my grandmother back in 1971-73. In 71, I came home for lunch after high school, and she had on Adventures In Good Music.
She would tell me all about who's playing what and a bit about the composition. Hope you have a great career with WQXR. Sincerely Bruce

Feb. 28 2012 01:43 PM
howard from New York

Well its nice to finally see the face that matches the voice. And a nice one at that! However,I sometimes find myself listening to your words and saying,"now its not a pure English accent but a hair splitting and somewhat of a mixture of accents while trying to sound over convincing and elite." Mind you, it is still quite pleasurable to hear and I am always wondering when and if I can find the "real voice" sneak in a line or two.

Jan. 31 2012 05:15 PM
Jim from Hampton Bays

Bravo to the voice that taught me the importance and beauty of music. Imagine listening simultaneously to the sounds of the city wafting up into the open window as Nimet's voice and WQXR's classical music drifted out that same window into the night air. I wasn't in The Bronx anymore, I was at Carnegie Hall, The Met, Covent Garden and La Scala.

Thank you,jr

Jan. 31 2012 02:41 PM
Joseph Franceski from Stamford, CT

My dear Nimet,

I am late writing to you to tell you how much I loved your Christmas message. I was still very sleepy when I heard it, so I don't know if it was a little poem or a sentiment you wrote or quoted, but it was so lovely, so apt, so beautiful, that it made my Christmas. I felt blessed to have awakened earlier than expected, and I heard the last half hour of your program, and then that beautiful send off to the gifts, the tree and the creche. Thank you so much. If you might share those words, I would be grateful as I would like to write them down, and keep them on a card in my wallet for awhile to be able to hold on to Christmas for awhile. God bless,

Joseph

Dec. 28 2011 10:13 AM
Peter from New York, NY

I, too, was devastated when I got the news (in spring 2007) that Nimet was leaving. I had been through some terrible stuff in my personal life, around that time, I was lying in bed (grief-stricken), when I heard her say: "I am leaving." It was like: Oh no, I don't freakin believe it.

I was always mesmerized by Nimet, by her voice (that magnificent voice), by her on-air persona, her erudition, by her kindness [or so I imagnined.] I was mesmerized by Nimet for 20 years.

Nov. 03 2011 12:28 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

Been listening to Nimet for many years as well but never knew how her name was spelled. Very nice speaking voice and good announcer. Brava.

Oct. 30 2011 10:35 AM
Fred Plotkin from Nighttime

I happened to hear your very first overnight broadcast on WQXR 30 years ago. It was always my style to stay up with the owls and retire as the lark ascends, so that I heard at least 5000 of your broadcasts. You were a New York institution and still are, by day or night. Fred

Oct. 29 2011 02:09 AM
Claire from NJ

Nimet,
I have been a fan for many years and was devastated when I learned that you were hosting your last broadcast of New York at Night on April 28, 2007. You kept me company on many lonely nights when I was going through a rough patch in my life and for that, I will always be grateful. I had the honor of meeting you and even having a picture taken at one of your lectures at the Opera Learning Center back in 2008. I was ecstatic upon learning that you would be returning to WQXR and once again, the airwaves have been graced with your inimitable voice, grace and charm. As I have always told my husband, you're the only woman allowed in our bedroom after 12 midnight! From both of us, thanks for having returned!

Oct. 29 2011 12:13 AM
Larry Stoler from Stamford, CT.

Nimet, I think you bring magic to the radio whenever you're on.

When WQXR was owned by the New York Times and we were able to correspond with the hosts by e-mail, I wrote to you and we exchanged comments about the late Bill Watson and Fleetwood.

I realize things are different now and you are voicetracked on 105.9 FM but it is a joy to hear you back where you belong. WQXR.

Oct. 27 2011 05:31 PM
Sid from Brooklyn

I never did like that "put-on" accent.
Many musical works were badly
mispronounced and probably still are.
A little too Bachish for my taste, but
it's the only music on late night.

Oct. 27 2011 02:48 PM
cejnyc from NYC

I discovered "Nimet" one night in high school - in the 1960s & became instantly hooked. I learned so much from her - about music, life, story-telling, great voices, great music. Welcome back!!! You were missed!!!

Oct. 26 2011 07:04 PM
Michael Meltzer

You are being much more honest and forthcoming than anyone has a right to ask of you, Kudos!
Please think about repeating the red-eye Beethoven 32 Piano Sonatas series you did just before the WNYC takeover. It grounded and centered everything else and was a winner. Didn't anyone tell you?

Oct. 26 2011 05:23 PM
Nora from Bedminster, NJ

Nimet - thank you for many late night drives from the city back to NJ and the nights I stayed up "being busy"! In addition to your wonderful professional career you are a kind and thoughtful person; I'm fortunate that Daria brought us together, Nora

Oct. 26 2011 09:50 AM
af from ny

Nimet, it's been great having you back, but I miss your programming of the music, especially those "theme" nights!

Oct. 26 2011 12:31 AM
Ken

Nimette is our living treasure, Lets BRING back New York at Night .
I love you NeMette KIsses

Oct. 25 2011 08:34 PM
LES from WDC

Only found her recently. She is wonderful.

Oct. 25 2011 06:31 PM
Josh from Larchmont, NY

I Agree with you, Paul.
I really miss the old piece that started the show. And what happened to the Name, New York @ Night. Come on WNYC why couldn't you keep the ding at the beginning of the hour (The Gong). And I really miss the piece at the beggining of Symphony Hall. And as a bonus, they got rid of the Office Hour at 10am. I think these things should be addressed by the new owners

Oct. 25 2011 05:05 PM
Virginia Reed

Nimet, I heard that first morning broadacast and thereafter retired to your late night broadcasts until you left the air. Your charm and comments warmed the late hours and I am truly delighted that you 've returned to all of us.

Oct. 25 2011 02:41 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

But but but you saunter through Sanders!!!

You are the only "DJ" that I turn up the volume from the music's level when I hear you speak.

There was a recent "news" item about some British "researchers" that claim to have constructed the most relaxing music ever created. On reading the story and viewing the video I wasn't sure if it was one of those old infomercials that had a heavy accented Brit pushing some Ronco gadget or the Monty Python skit on the joke that killed anyone that heard it. In any case, they didn't test their ambient's ambiance against your silken enunciations.

Oct. 25 2011 11:00 AM
Tor B.i from NYC

I and my husband just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE you, heavenly lady, everything you say and put on radio!!! Please never, ever stop your work on the WQXR. Many thanks and love!

Oct. 25 2011 09:18 AM
Chris from Cooperstown

I listened to you for many years and are so glad you are back. I was thrilled to meet you at Glimmerglass Opera (now Festival) two years ago.

Oct. 25 2011 08:23 AM
Stu Chamberlain from West Sayville, NY

Nimet, I was a reasonably faithful listener (I worked late evenings at another radio station), and I was once honored to meet you in the lobby of Avery Fisher when I was on my way to work. And then my friend and colleague Palmer Paine told me he'd helped you practice for that audition. I'm SO glad you passed!

Oct. 24 2011 11:09 PM
Frank Feldman

When I hear your voice after the first piece on the new overnight show, i.e., that it will be you tonight, I am in heaven. It was Debussy En Bateau for the longest time, no? So, I am deeply curious: you DO have an accent, a beautiful, lilting accent and manner of speaking. Where is it from? Where are you from? Did you you make that up too? If you did, don't ever change! You are a wonder and a godsend to late-night listeners. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Oct. 24 2011 09:18 PM
paul kerzner from Ridgewood< NY

Nimet: I miss the former signature piece that began your nocturnal visit over the airwaves.
What happened to June LeBell -she was QXR's female version of the venerable Lloyd Moss. Paul kerzner Ridgwood, NY

Oct. 24 2011 07:54 PM
Cathryn D'Arcy from Chattanooga, formerly of NYC

Dear Nimet:

You were a godsend when in December 1980 I would return home after a stint with my aunt in New York Hospital's ICU, your voice over the airwaves helped me become calm and the music helped me to keep everything in perspective.

When my aunt finally returned home, I would have her listen to you to do exactly the same thing.

From her and me, I humbly thank you.

Cathryn Collins D'Arcy

Oct. 24 2011 07:00 PM

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