Bill Parker, a popular host at Classical Minnesota Public Radio in the 1970s and '80s, died on Jan. 15. Host Michael Barone fondly recalls Parker's time at MPR and working with him.
In the MPR Classical Music Department of the 1970s and '80s, Bill (never William) Parker was something of a savant — a ready and voluble source for an incredible amount of musical and cultural information. He had a wicked wit, a broad perspective on the history of art and music, a particular love of opera, and "a warm and friendly delivery when at that omnipresent microphone." He also created an early "product" that was quite popular in the broader scheme of MPR marketing and catalog sales: The International Guide to Building a Classical Library, a useful tool in the days before online reviews and sales. The success of this book, in its several editions, contributed to the MPR account in significant ways. (The last edition alone sold more than 30,000 copies.)
One commentator reflected:
"This was a to-the-point simple guide. Parker spelled out his parameters for recommendations clearly; he limited his recording choices to affordable and in-print recordings, but his choices were generally excellent. This was my first classical recording guide and in many ways — in its simplicity, brevity, sensible organization, conversational language and good selection of recordings — it's still the best. After CDs came out, the title was changed from 'record' to 'music.'"
Bill Parker came to work at MPR in the late 1970s, following a stint at a small commercial classical station in Syracuse, N.Y. He was a multifaceted host, appearing mornings or late evenings (Music Through the Night), basically pretty much any part of the day — although many might remember him as host of the midweek evening "opera slot" that MPR once maintained.
Former MPR music director Rex Levang recalls about Parker:
"He was always proud of his time at MPR. He said that his two youthful ambitions were to be a radio announcer and to work for the Metropolitan Opera. When satellite radio came along, he was hired to write scripts for the Met's satellite channel — so he achieved both of those goals. Less important to listeners, perhaps, but he did have a career outside of MPR, writing and consulting for record labels, and working at/managing record stores, which brought him in contact with artists like the King's Singers and the young, unknown Bruce Springsteen."
His record store retail and managerial experience included stints at Discount Records, Great American Music, Grand Music, and Best Buy stores in Minnesota and other states.
Parker's good friend, Kathy Johnson Ekberg, posted on his Facebook page:
"He did not want a funeral. He said that no one could make sure that it would be done correctly because he wouldn't be able to be present. He passed away at 5:30 pm listening to Handel. He started hospice recently, and declined so quickly that his parting shocked us all. It came very quickly, but his pain had increased so greatly that going on hospice gave him the choice of being more comfortable with more medication. His obituary will be in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sunday. He will be buried in Toledo, Ohio, with his mother and father."
People who go back a few years will remember Parker as one of that small group of voices that said "MPR" to listeners, along with myself, Gary Eichten and Arthur Hoehn, or — everybody will have their own names to remember — in those less complicated days.
RIP, Bill Parker.
Using the players above, you can hear Bill Parker taking questions from listeners with MPR News' Mark Zdechlik on the Midday program in 1994, and hosting a Live from Landmark broadcast in 1981.
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