Irwin ‘Alan’ Field, a retired radio host who showcased the Great American Songbook and also composed commercials, died of respiratory failure March 22 at Howard County General Hospital. The Columbia resident was 89.
Born Irwin Fenster in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the Bronx, he added the name Alan as a middle name and changed his surname.
“In college [City College of New York], I majored in speech and dramatics,” he told The Sun in 1995, adding that five days after graduating from the school, he signed up for a two-year hitch in the Army, which he served in Germany.
While in the military, his parents moved to an egg farm near Vineland, New Jersey. His father, Elchanon Fenster, a window cleaner, purchased the farm during World War II as a work opportunity for relatives fleeing the Holocaust in Europe. His mother, Celia, was a homemaker.
After his military service, Mr. Field lived on the egg farm and picked up gigs as a piano player while awaiting word on applications for graduate school in the arts at both Boston University and Columbia University.
“I couldn’t think of anything else I could do in southern New Jersey while waiting — except maybe radio,” he said.
He found work as an announcer and pop music disc jockey at $30 a week at an AM station in nearby Millville, New Jersey.
Both colleges accepted him for graduate study. “I ended up just not going,” he said, adding that radio work was more appealing to him.
He spent about a year in Millville and moved to stations in Torrington and later Waterbury, Connecticut.
Mr. Field joined Baltimore’s WITH-AM in 1959 and held down the midnight to 6 a.m. pop-music shift. In a few months he was at the WCAO microphone as a weekend disc jockey.
In 1960, he took over the weekday morning drive-time show but lost it in the next ratings period. He was given the 9 a.m. to noon slot.
“I became a housewives’ jock,” he said in a 1965 Sun interview, recalling a regular top-rated request feature called the “Housewives Hotline.”
In the Sun interview, he said he had a fishbowl full of postcards sent in by listeners. He drew a name, called the person who’d written him and then tried to guess their weight based upon their voice. He awarded the caller 1,000 trading stamps, an early form of loyalty points, for each pound he was off.
He was once wrong by 100 pounds. The caller gave the stamps to her Catholic religious order.
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“We were a pretty hot station,” he said. “I was not terribly enamored of rock ‘n’ roll,” but noted that after Detroit, Baltimore was one of the earliest cities to embrace the Motown sound.
In the 1960s Mr. Field also worked in the music industry. He composed a “Run Right to Read’s” jingle for the then popular drug store chain. In 1963 he also wrote a song, “The Same Kind of Girl” for singer Jimmy Jordan, who was born James O’Day.
In the early 1970s Mr. Field began doing freelance announcing. He wrote a ditty for an Anne Arundel County car dealership. He said that jingle, “Nobody Has What Tate has,” haunted him.
Mr. Field, a community theater performer, worked with the Theater Upstairs in Columbia, Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre in Laurel and the Towson Dinner Theatre, among others.
In 1979, when WAYE-AM adopted a big-band music format, he returned to the radio.
He developed a daily contest called the “Mystery Voice,” usually a performer in an obscure Broadway show. Callers would then guess the singer’s identity.
“Our names were associated as a team at several Baltimore stations,” said radio Baltimore personality Ken Jackson.
The Morning Sun
“Alan was a consummate old school, no gimmicks, professional program host,” Mr. Jackson added. “In addition to his broadcasting credentials, I always suspected his first love was the theater.”
Mr. Field moved as radio station owners and tastes changed.
“There’s very little room left for the kind of music we play,” he said in 1995. “The music gets me high. I can come in dead tired and put on the first record and feel up.”
Mr. Field was a devoted fan of composer Stephen Sondheim and mentioned “Sunday in the Park with George” as a favorite.
Mr. Field moved on from WWLG in 1993, taking his Broadway and Hollywood albums with him. He often played musical obscurities. He also reviewed local theater and was a regular at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre. He ended his career playing show tunes on Saturday mornings at a Harford County radio station in 2022.
Survivors include his wife of 64 years, Lucille Desky Field, a retired Howard County General Hospital worker; a son, Michael Field of Pikesville; a daughter, Julia “Julie” Field of Concord, Massachusetts; and a granddaughter.
Services were held March 23 at the Sol Levinson and Brothers Funeral Home.