Lloyd Moss, a WQXR host of five decades who brought an irreverence and genial wit to the once staid universe of classical radio, died on Saturday at his home in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. He was 86 and had Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Anne Moss.
Moss came to WQXR in 1954 and by his retirement on Sept. 29, 2006, was one of the longest-serving classical music hosts in the United States. Like many radio personalities of the era, he worked as a voiceover artist and actor, with various credits in television and radio during the 1970s and '80s. Moss was also known for his eclectic outside pursuits: as a children's author, editorial cartoonist, classically-trained trombonist and even a one-time model.
"He was one of the first irreverent announcers. No one did that in the '50s on WQXR," said Anne Moss, referring to the somber, serious reportorial manner of the day. "Lloyd was a segue to a more relaxed and conversational style.”
WQXR host Jeff Spurgeon said Moss's subtle deadpan style could made you sit up and listen. "My favorite example is something he tossed off one day after a cheese commercial,” said Spurgeon. “The spot ended, and Lloyd opened the mic and said, 'What a friend we have in cheeses.' And then he simply gave the weather forecast and introduced whatever piece of music came next, never even winking an eye to the audience."
Moss's interest in music began as a child in Brooklyn, where his father owned a beauty shop that played WQXR on the radio. He attended the Metropolitan Vocational High School in Manhattan (later the High School of Performing Arts) and played trombone in a dance band, for which he arranged the swing tunes of the era. He entered New York University as a music and art major but his studies were interrupted at the age of 18 when he was drafted into the Army and then assigned to an infantry division in Seoul, South Korea. This, however, served to launch him into his career in radio.
While in Seoul, Moss played trombone and sang in a show band to entertain his fellow soldiers. Once, a colleague heard him speak into a microphone and said that his voice needed to be on the radio. Moss took the advice, transferred to the radio unit and began work for Armed Forces Radio, where he did imitations and other comic routines. “From the very beginning it was a love affair between me and the microphone," he told Spurgeon in an interview in 2006.
After his return to the U.S. in 1946, Moss worked as a radio announcer for stations in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Long Island, as well as WNYC, before joining Voice of America. Because Moss had learned Japanese during his stint in Korea, he was able to get a job as a producer for the Japanese desk. That came to an end when the network moved to Washington, DC. Moss auditioned for WQXR, was hired a relief announcer in 1954, and joined the staff in June 1955.
WQXR Archive Collections
Moss remained an afternoon host at WQXR until 1971, when he left to pursue acting and voiceover work. “I eventually was so busy with the outside work that I couldn’t juggle both,” he said. But he continued as a freelance host, starting with "First Hearing," an hour-long weekly program featuring a changing panel of experts who give their opinions of new, unidentified recordings. At its peak the show was syndicated to 80 "good music" stations, making it the most widely heard classical music program. The Washington Post once described it as having “the stimulation of a slightly contentious scholarly forum.”
Moss also hosted “This is My Music,” a popular show in which celebrities, artists, academics and politicians talked about their favorite music (1979-1987). A partial list of the notable guests includes Gore Vidal, Benny Goodman, E. L. Doctorow, John Simon, Bella Abzug, Malcolm Forbes, Eartha Kitt, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Marvin Hamlisch, Tony Bennett, Gloria Vanderbilt, Charles Aznavour, Alan Dershowitz, Maurice Sendak, Marcel Marceau and Barbara Cook.
During the nearly two decades when Moss was not a full-time announcer, he narrated ads for products like Listerine. His screen credits included a role as a book publisher in the soap opera "As the World Turns," and as an Israeli diplomat in the 1982 movie “The Soldier.” He also was an off-camera voice in “The Color of Money” and he narrated PBS "Live from Lincoln Center" salutes to John Huston and Billy Wilder.
Listen to a 1980s-era Demo Tape featuring Moss's voiceover work:
After a surgery in 1989, Moss returned to WQXR as a full-time announcer and held the 3 to 6 pm slot until his retirement in 2006. In the 1990s, Moss began working as a children’s author, starting with Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, an introduction to the instruments of a chamber orchestra (1995, Simon & Shuster), and followed by Our Marching Band and Music Is. Moss also wrote a weekly editorial cartoon for the Croton-Cortland News, in his Croton-on-Hudson home, which grew out of satirical sketches with which he entertained his WQXR co-workers.
Lloyd Moss reads from his children's book in 2000 (WQXR Archive Collections)
“I never had the privilege of meeting Lloyd in person, but most certainly loved listening to him on WQXR when I moved to New York in 1995,” said Graham Parker, the Vice President and General Manager of WQXR. “His was a voice of a golden generation and his perspective on music and New York so utterly captivating.”
Parker remembers reading to his own children Moss’s Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, a book that has been translated into several languages and is now in its 15th printing. “One of the greatest and most joyful books to introduce the youngest of new audiences to music and instruments, ”Zin” is a masterpiece in poetry, illustration and integrity," said Parker. "I wish he had written more!”
Others, including WQXR co-founder Elliott Sanger, have remarked on Moss’s acerbic wit over the years. In Rebel in radio: The Story of WQXR, Sanger described Moss as someone who "had he gone on the stage, would have been a matinee idol and, who is undoubtedly our announcer who can do so many different kinds of programs with equal skill and who our listeners either adore or hate."
In an e-mail Monday, WQXR host Elliott Forrest noted: "I have had many role models and mentors in my blessed life. I will always consider Lloyd Moss at the top of the list.”
Moss is survived by his wife of 55 years, Anne Moss, and four children, who live in the New York City area and in Hawaii.
Please share your own memories of Lloyd Moss in the comments box below. A special thanks to the NYPR Archives for their assistance.