I’ve been gone from Philadelphia for 10 years, living in Montana, Louisiana and New Mexico. Admittedly there are few things I miss about my hometown, although when I return for a visit, the memories - good and bad - flood over me, especially when I do things that are, well, alien to Albuquerque (like riding the subway or actually walking to and from my appointments). One thing I do not miss is the weather. Recently I saw the film “The Wrestler” that was filmed in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey. Most of the outdoor scenes were filmed while the weather was gray, rainy and cold, reminding me of those bitter days when the temperature hovers just above freezing with the rain falling relentlessly and beading on the surfaces of cars splashing through puddles that form just about everywhere, it seems. Whew! Those days I definitely do not miss. As in inveterate listener to radio, I have, over the years since I left Philly, tuned in to a number of stations with a special interest in jazz. Although there has always been at least one station (and sometimes several) within the NPR network to enjoy in my previous homes, none match WRTI-FM in Philadelphia. And of all the folks that served up the music on “RTI” none were as memorable as a man named Harrison Ridley Jr. I learned recently from a friend that Harrison passed away a month or so ago. His obituary in the on-line site, “All That Jazz” was re-printed from the Philadelphia Daily News. It was as beautiful a remembrance as I’ve read of late and brought back many memories of nights spent with friends over dinners listening to Harrison’s program, sometimes with a cold rain falling on the streets where I grew up.In my book titled Settling Scores: A Life in the Margins of American Music
I paid tribute to Harrison. Following is an excerpt, written upon my arrival in Louisiana from Montana in 2001.
“For many years radio station WRTI-FM, owned and operated by Temple University, valiantly endeavored to present “America’s Classical Music–Jazz” to listeners in Philadelphia. They, like most radio stations in the United States dedicated to a jazz format struggled against indifference and ignorance, but they hung in there until the mid-1990s when the university administration formed a partnership with radio station WFLN-FM, an independently owned classical music station that, like WRTI, was losing audience and sponsor support. The result of this partnership, known by the call letters WRTI-FM, is a radio hybrid with classical music in the morning and afternoon and jazz in the evening with Salsa on Saturday nights. Throughout this transition and new program format, Harrison Ridley Jr. remains a presence on-air, as he selects thousands of tunes from his vast personal record collection of “straight-ahead jazz,” big band and vocal music and weaves them into intelligent reassuring programs, his distinctive voice flowing if not smoothly then soothingly across the wire. Harrison is a passionate student of the jazz traditions and clearly enjoys sharing his knowledge of this music with his dedicated listeners. One of the charming things about Harrison is the way he sometimes tells his stories: steeped in history and rich with personal observations yet blessed with the occasional malapropism. One of my favorites is his way of announcing a timeless standard, ‘That was what a difference do a day make,’ the meaning clear and endearingly rendered.”
Rest in peace, Harrison, you were a true Philly icon.