Gene Klavan

On the Passing of a Broadcast Giant and a Good Man

by Bob Bruno

 The world accepts, even admires, imitations, but it adores originals.

 Gene Klavan was an original.

 He gave joy to a delighted and appreciative generation of radio listeners who were captivated by his sophisticated, yet childlike, humor. Gene never tired of making faces behind the teacher’s back.

 No one was safe from the terrible, swift sword of Klavan’s very funny tongue. Remember the officious sounding Program Director who always called him “Germ”…who couldn’t remember his own name, much less the call letters of the radio station… and who, whenever he had properly chastised Gene for some weakly concocted offense, would issue forth a dramatic exit line…and walk right into Klavan’s closet?

 Well, that cartoon character was me… and I could not have been more thrilled or honored to have joined the pantheon of fractured characters created in Klavan’s fertile brain.

 Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions to determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The questions were, “Did you bring joy?” and “Did you find joy?”

 Did Gene find joy in his lifetime? Only he could have answered that…but there is no doubt that he gave joy….in great and generous quantities.

 Gene Klavan was a great artist who used every inch of Mr. Marconi’s audio stage to create great radio, the likes of which we may never see again.

 We had our differences on occasion, but Gene was there for me at a time when I needed a friend very much. I will always be grateful for his compassion and wise consul.

 I am truly sad that he is gone.

 To Gene’s beloved Phyllis, his sons and family, I extend my deepest sympathies on their great loss.

 For those of us who remain, we are each left to covet our own special memories of Gene Klavan as a man and as a performer. His timeless, brilliant on air antics will surely surface in our minds from time to time. When they do, we might enjoy an unexpected, but much appreciated, chuckle…we might even shed a tear.

 Radio has lost a rare talent. Most likely we will never experience a creative force like Gene Klavan on radio again in our lifetimes. Like every great artist, Gene was the real deal; a genuine, once in a lifetime, American original.

 We will miss him of course, but we will also miss all of the endearing characters that he created out of not-so-thin- air for our listening pleasure. They became so real to us in that we welcomed each of those slightly loopy folks into our homes and ultimately into our hearts.

 And now, sadly, we have to say a final good bye to our dear Gene…and to Mr. Nat, Isadore Isobar, Mrs.Wesley Chester… and Trevor Traffic too.

 Thanks for the memories. May you all rest in peace.


 Bob Bruno

Bob Bruno

Editors’ note: Bob Bruno retired as WOR Radio Vice President and General Manager in 2007. He had joined WOR as Program Director in 1978 after three years as PD of WNEW-AM; Gene Klavan had switched the year before from WNEW to WOR where he remained for three years. Bob Bruno’s eulogy at a memorial service for Gene in April, 2004, was delivered on behalf of himself and on-air personality Joan Hamburg who has been broadcasting for WOR since the early 1970’s.

Gene Klavan, Radio Show Host


Gene Klavan

Gene Klavan, who first as half of the radio show “Klavan and Finch” and then as a solo performer, brought slicing wit, a knack for voices and peppery irreverence to New York morning radio audiences for 25 years, died yesterday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. He was 79 and lived in Manhattan. The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, his son Ross said.

From 1952 to 1968, Mr. Klavan was the comic half of Klavan and Finch, heard on WNEW, then one of the leading AM radio stations in New York. With Dee Finch as straight man, Mr. Klavan changed into the voices of wacky characters like Trevor Traffic, Mr. Nat, Sy Kology, Victor Verse and Emilio Percolator. The sound of a slamming door signaled a character’s arrival.

Mr. Klavan’s shows were an integral part of the personality of a station known for its polish and for standards by America’s great songwriters. He, however, became famous for zaniness and a comic irreverence that sometimes extended even to his sponsors. His success as a pioneer shock jock, tame by today’s standards, was suggested by an article in The New York Times in 1971 that reported that a third of that 24-hour station’s revenues were generated by his four-hour show. When he threatened to fire the fictional Trevor, the station was deluged with calls. “Music was secondary,” he said in an interview with The Times in 1983, referring to his show. “It was all ad lib.”

Eugene Kantor Klavan was born in Baltimore on May 4, 1924. He attended Johns Hopkins University, but quit to enlist in the Army. He served in the Pacific during World War II and later was an entertainer for the military.

He began his radio career in Baltimore and Washington, but came to New York on the strength of an offer from Channel 11. A friend intercepted him and told him that WNEW’s highly successful radio team of Rayburn and Finch was breaking up after five good years. Gene Rayburn was going to NBC. Mr. Klavan auditioned for the job on the theory, he told The Times in 1971, that “if I died up here on TV, I was really dead; on the other hand, if I died on New York radio, nobody’d be the wiser.”

Finch retired in 1968 and Mr. Klavan continued the show alone as “Klavan in the Morning.” In 1977 he moved to WOR-AM and left radio in 1980. Mr. Finch died in 1983.

Mr. Klavan later worked as a host for the American Movie Classics cable television channel, as a columnist for Newsday, a comic commentator for WCBS-TV and a semiprofessional photographer. He wrote two books, one on his years with WNEW and one on the news media.

In addition to his son Ross, who lives in Manhattan, Mr. Klavan is survived by his wife of 57 years, Phyllis; his sons Scott and Laurence, of Manhattan, and Andrew of Santa Barbara; his brother, Bennett, of Chicago; and three grandchildren.

Gene Klavan – Geoff April, 2004

Gene KlavanGene Klavan, one-half of the 1960s morning radio show “Klavan and Finch,” died on April 8, 2004 from complications of multiple myeloma. He was 79.The Baltimore native was studying at Johns Hopkins University when World War II started. Klavan quit school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He served in the Pacific campaign and later entertained the troops.When the war ended, Klavan launched his radio career in Baltimore and Washington. He moved to New York in 1952 and joined straight man Dee Finch on the WNEW-AM morning show. For the next 14 years, the duo improvised the popular four-hour program, which featured wacky characters like Mrs. Wes Chester, Sy Kology, Trevor Traffic and Victor Verse.Finch retired in 1968, but Klavan continued to entertain listeners on “Klavan in the Morning.” He moved to WOR-AM in 1977 and remained on the air for three more years as the voice of the afternoon drive time. Finch died in 1983.After he retired from radio, Klavan hosted for American Movie Classics and worked as a columnist for Newsday. He also published two books: “We Die at Dawn” and “Turn That Damn Thing Off.” Klavan fathered four sons: Ross, Scott, Laurence and best-selling author Andrew Klavan.Posted on April 12, 2004 11:43 PM

Gene Klavan

Online Staff
Apr 13, 2004

Gene Klavan, who for 25 years was one of the top names in New York radio, died Thursday April 8 in New York City after a brief illness. He was 79.

From 1952 to 1968, Klavan was the comic half of WNEW’s highly rated “Klavan and Finch,” a show that became a model for morning radio. The show was done entirely without writers — Klavan and Dee Finch were able to improvise and ad lib every day through four hours of irreverence.

When Finch retired in 1968, Klavan became his own straight man and continued the show alone as “Klavan in the Morning.” In 1977 he moved to WOR and left radio in 1980.

In his later years, Klavan was host for TV’s American Movie Classics, a columnist for Newsday and a comic commentator for WCBS-TV.

He was the author of two books: “We Die at Dawn,” an account of his years on WNEW, and “Turn That Damn Thing Off,” a book about media.

Baltimore native attended Johns Hopkins U. but quit to join the Army during World War II, serving in the Pacific. He began his radio career in Baltimore.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Phyllis; four sons; three grandchildren; and a brother.

Copyright © 2004 Reed Business Information

Editor note: Thanks to Bill Diehl for finding this Klavan & Finch billboard. (posted 1/28/12)

Klavan and Finch billboard


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