Thurston Briscoe, a former radio producer at NPR in Washington, D.C., an executive at WBGO/“Jazz88” in Newark and a longtime Montclair resident, died on Aug. 16, 2021, after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. He was 74.
Mr. Briscoe was born in 1947, in Great Bend, Kansas, to Magdalene and Alfonzo Briscoe. He graduated from Great Bend High School in 1965. He played drums in the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps.
He attended Wichita State University, majoring in theater and speech therapy, and hosted classical and jazz shows on the university station, KMUW. He had been a lover of music on radio stations from Memphis to Mexico since his boyhood.
Mr. Briscoe served in the Army in a K-9 unit in Seoul, South Korea, and then returned to Wichita State to complete his bachelor’s degree. He played Othello in a college production and kept the poster on his wall, and made friendships in Wichita that lasted for decades.
He moved to Eugene, Oregon, where beginning in 1976 he hosted a weekly jazz show on KLCC, the local NPR station. Soon he was also reporting on public affairs and became a full-time producer of features and documentaries.
In 1980 NPR in Washington, D.C., hired him to join the arts unit of the newly created daily show “Morning Edition.” He became the associate producer of the NPR performance series “Jazz Alive!” and then returned to “Morning Edition” to head the arts unit.
In 1990 Mr. Briscoe accepted a job at Newark’s WBGO “Jazz 88,” the 24-hour station with a jazz, news and rhythm and blues format. For 23 years he served first as program director and then vice president of programming and production.
He managed the on-air staff and regular and special programming, where he championed live remotes and performance series. He was executive producer of NPR/WBGO’s “JazzSet,” whose host, Branford Marsalis, gave him the affectionate on-air name Thurston Briscoe the Third.
During his tenure, WBGO, one of the most-listened-to jazz radio stations in the country, reached out to the world via wbgo.org. The station began to webcast its programming and launched a stream of new releases by young artists entitled the “Jazz Bee.”
Throughout his career, with his natural friendliness and interest in people, Mr. Briscoe mentored many new public radio producers and managers nationwide, especially African American producers. He was a role model with legendary warmth and presence.
Mr. Briscoe radiated his enthusiasm for life and people as well as music. Jon Schwartz, who hired him at KLCC, recently said, “Most of all, I remember how his face would light up when he would see you.”
Mr. Briscoe is survived by his wife, New Jersey State Sen. Nia Gill; her son, Bradley, and grandson, John; his brother, Phillip, and sister-in-law, Louise Allen Briscoe of Seattle; and cousins Elsie Wickliffe of Hutchinson, Kansas, and Mickey and Pat Gomez of Wichita, Kansas.
Due to COVID-19, an in-person service is not planned at this time. Donations in his memory may be made to Jazz House Kids (jazzhousekids.org), 347 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042.