Rip Off the Hood of Your Desoto and Send it In

Here’s a little on my friend, the late Fred Runde Jr, raconteur and DJ about town. Fred was a cute old man, and girls loved him in that way that they can only care for kindly old gents. He liked to surround himself with young female cohosts whenever he could, and for years he used the voiceovers with a cute lady named Ann Marie, long after she graduated and moved on. One of his big triumphs was organizing a “big band dance” with a live band on Georgia Tech campus and getting a lot of students to put on suits and come swing dancing. He was always smiling, and really just a joy to be around.

Because of the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time, I got to spend a lot of time with him in the 80’s and 90’s and got to know him then. When I had a radio show on at noon on Saturdays I was in the right place to field the call one day when he didn’t feel well and couldn’t make it in, and I agreed to do his show for him that night. That began it all. He actually listened and really enjoyed what I did that night. It pleased me to no end, because at the time I was maybe 20 years old, playing big band music from the 30’s and 40’s and Fred thought I acquitted myself nicely. To hear the man chuckle and say “you done good!” was quite a motivator. When I subbed for him, I always wanted to make him happy and to hear that from him.

In the 90’s when I did Reality Break it was at 5 PM on Saturdays. For the era when I was actually in the studio doing it live, I’d be breaking things down when Fred got in to get ready for his show at 7 PM. We’d hang out and chat while we did our various tasks. He told me stories about his days in radio. One was about a drunken engineer that would come in and rotate the entire air studio 90 degrees. When he went on a bender, his juniors would rotate it back so the air talent could look off of the roof of the hotel where the studio was at the ladies sunbathing by the pool. We talked about jazz, about drama and theater and radio interviews. He’d generally be listening to my show as he drove in, and he would critique my interviews when he got there. If Fred, who cared little to nothing about science fiction, thought it was interesting I knew I had done a good job.

When his wife passed away, we sent him a card but by that time I hadn’t been around Fred in a while. I was out of town and hadn’t seen him in a while. Although he was already an old man when I first met him, the first time I saw him after our return to Atlanta he seemed especially frail. I guess he was around 86 at that time. We talked a little, but it was never the same as being around him consistently, telling radio war stories and laughing it up. He had been fighting a battle with cancer, and only a few days before learning that he had died, I got an email saying he was done with chemotherapy and would be returning to his radio show soon. A few days later he was gone.

Saturday nights just won’t be the same without him, without him playing “Take the A Train” as his theme song and chortling between songs. Here’s a link to the video of the NBC news story of him (9 MB MPEG file). As a little known secret, the night Fred was supposed to meet the camera crew was during the first Freaknick. Traffic was so bad that he never got in, so I ended up doing his show that night. In the video, all the incidental shots like the clock striking 7 and the album spinning were done with me setting them up. Later on, they met Fred and just interviewed him with all that other stuff already in the can. They took the audio from my stint as well, and it always made Fred mad because back then he didn’t like playing vocal songs. In later years, he played mostly music with singers but back then he didn’t like that his moment of glory had this background music he never would have played. That’s Fred for you.

It’s times like this I wish I believed in an afterlife, because I like the thought of Fred reuniting with his wife, tooling around in a Desoto in heaven listening to Bix Biederbecke on the radio. He had a long and active life, with more successful careers than anyone I know. Rest in peace, Fred. I miss you and I’m glad I got a chance to know you.