Alvin Eugene Christian Jr. — better known as Alan Christian by Baltimore radio talk show listeners — lived for interviewing guests who could be described as unconventional. From a woman who claimed to see the Virgin Mary at an area church to a man who consistently told Mr. Christian that his head was on the moon, many guests were welcomed to join him on his AM broadcasts.
One of Mr. Christian’s favorite moments entailed interviewing a woman who was writing a book when she revealed she had a pet lion cub that she had lent to a zoo in Frederick. So he persuaded her to drive with him to pick up the lion, which sat in his lap as they drove around.
“People were going nuts looking at him,” recalled his wife, Margie Christian. “He was just being real quiet with him, and the lion liked him. He just settled down on his shoulder and went to sleep. He said that it was just nice, that it was just laying on him and sleeping on him. He kind of enjoyed it.”
Mr. Christian, who could be heard on AM radio stations such as WBAL 1090, WERQ 1010 and WFBR 1590, died of heart problems Oct. 5 at the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center Rehabilitation Services in Glen Burnie. He was 81.
Mr. Christian also founded his own public relations company and served as a consultant for Advocates for Homeless Families and a number of political campaigns, which is how Larry Gibson befriended Mr. Christian.
“He was a brilliant mind, and I was the beneficiary of that and of his friendship, and I don’t know why,” said Mr. Gibson, a professor at the Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore,who said he had known Mr. Christian for at least 30 years when the former was the campaign manager for former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke. “I don’t know why we clicked, but we did.”
The eldest of three children born to and raised by Alvin Eugene Christian Sr., a coal miner and the former Josephine Hudspeth, a nurse, Mr. Christian grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming. He attended the University of Utah, the University of Wyoming and Utah State University, studying biology, pre-medical and political science, but eventually left without earning a degree.
“He was restless,” Mrs. Christian said from her home in Hanover. “He always wanted to learn. It didn’t matter what it was. Everything was so interesting to him that he just boinged around to everything he liked.”
In 1966, Mr. Christian ran as a Democrat for a U.S. House of Representatives seat but lost to William Henry Harrison III, the great-great-grandson of former U.S. President William Henry Harrison Sr. and the grandson of former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.
In 1967, Mr. Christian was hired by Metromedia Radio News to cover the Pentagon and the 1968 presidential campaign before being promoted to Washington bureau chief. He joined WCBM 680 in 1971 before moving in October 1974 to WBAL 1090, where as the host of “The Alan Christian Show,” he talked about national and local political issues. But Mrs. Christian said her husband got the most joy providing features for listeners.
“One thing he did was he interviewed a man in England that was the clock keeper for Big Ben,” she said. “He was interested in how they would take care of that, and he said it was fantastic. He would have joke nights. He would interview Steve Allen and people like him. But he never saw himself as a radio host. He always saw himself as an entertainer, and he said, ‘I love entertaining people.’”
One of Mr. Christian’s fundamental tenets of talk radio was giving all listeners a forum to air their opinions, his wife said.
“He always gave people the chance to talk,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s important that you can talk to somebody and say what you think without feeling attacked, without getting yelled at.’ He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to talk to people.’”
In October 1990, Mr. Christian pleaded guilty to embezzlement and violating the Maryland Securities Act in connection with an effort to buy WITH 1230 as the flagship for his Atlantic Coast Radio network. He received a five-year suspended sentence and was fined $679,894.
In March 1992, Mr. Christian won a $14.5 million court judgment against a man he said promised to provide financing for his proposed purchase of area radio stations, but produced nothing.
“At night, I would go check on him, and he would be so stressed out that the bedsheets would actually be soaked with sweat,” Mrs. Christian said of her husband’s legal troubles. “… He was relieved that it was over because the more that we went to court, it just kept upsetting him because he felt bad for what happened. But we got through it.”
Mr. Christian returned to the airwaves in October 1992 for one hour every weekday on WERQ 1010, but retired after a year.
“I think he was just tired,” his wife said. “He said it was just time to stop.”
Mr. Gibson, the University of Maryland law professor, credited Mr. Christian with serving as an adviser when the former was a consultant for Marc Ravalomanana’s successful campaign to become president of Madagascar and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s to become president of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa.
Mr. Gibson said Mr. Christian was also instrumental in strategizing and contacting state legislators to change the name of Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. He also helped erect the National Katyn Memorial, a 44-foot-tall, flamelike monument in the Inner Harbor East at Aliceanna and President streets dedicated to the nearly 22,000 Polish military personnel who were executed by the Soviet Union in the Katyn Forest.
“He was well versed in a lot of things, and he was interested in just about anything,” Mr. Gibson said. “He had this fast-speed mind that in maybe about two or three days, he would start from not knowing anything about a very complicated matter to understanding virtually everything.”
Mr. Gibson said the most humbling aspect of Mr. Christian was his avoidance of publicity.
“He was willing to do all of that and to the whole world be anonymous,” he said. “No one would know all of this. People think I’m brilliant. Now the whole world will know that I’m not so brilliant. My brilliance was having a friend called Alan Christian.”
Mrs. Christian, who first heard her future husband on the radio in 1974, met him in 1985, and the couple dated until marrying Jan. 20, 1990, at Wesley Grove United Methodist Church in Hanover.
“It was love at first listen,” she said with a laugh. “A lot of women liked him, but he said he liked me because I wasn’t phony.”
The Morning Sun
Mrs. Christian said her husband enjoyed taking care of their fish, was interested in the history of Maryland, listened to jazz and classical music, and watched theater arts and professional wrestling.
Mrs. Christian also introduced her husband to faith when she began in 2006 to attend Arundel Christian Church in Severn and then Glen Burnie. Mr. Christian acknowledged that he was not much of a believer, but remained open to learning, said Brian Hamilton, a former pastor there.
“He had questions about theology and God and the philosophy of life,” said Pastor Hamilton, who is now pastor at Red Brush Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. “So we ended up helping each other. It was fantastic. I really enjoyed it I could talk with him for hours. He was a wealth of information, but at the same time, he had a humility about himself. He didn’t mind saying, ‘Hey, give me your take on things. I don’t quite understand that or can’t wrap my mind around that.’”
Pastor Hamilton said he began teaching a course in 2012 based on the work of Daniel Wallace, a senior research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary who had traveled the world finding copies of the New Testament.
“The copies of the New Testament that this guy digitalized from all over parts of the world were consistent with what they contained as far as substance,” Pastor Hamilton said. “So I think that persuaded [Mr. Christian] because he wasn’t really sure that he could trust the Bible that we have today. The next thing I know, he was teaching the class for me.”
Besides his wife, Mr. Christian is survived by four nieces, three great-nephews and two great-nieces.
A memorial is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 10 a.m. at Arundel Christian Church in Glen Burnie. The memorial is open to the public.