Thurston Briscoe, a former producer at NPR and PD at WBGO in Newark, N.J., died Monday. He was 74.
The cause of death was throat cancer, according to a WBGO remembrance. He also had Alzheimer’s disease, according to an obituary.
Former colleagues remembered Briscoe for his warm, friendly presence and big, welcoming smile. His obituary said that he had a “natural friendliness and interest in people” and “mentored many new public radio producers and managers nationwide, including and especially African-American producers.”
“He was about as good a colleague as you could ever hope for,” said Don Lee, who worked with Briscoe at NPR.
Briscoe was “one of the first people who made me feel welcome at NPR,” said Lee, who had kept in touch with Briscoe since starting at the network in 1982. “He was a genuine guy, and what you saw is what you got from Thurston,” Lee said. “And it was all good. So that’s why so many people have such warm feelings toward him.”
“He was one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” said John Ogulnik, also a colleague of Briscoe’s at NPR. “He was just a kind, considerate, warm colleague who cared about everyone around him.”
Born in Great Bend, Kan., Briscoe became interested in radio in the ’50s listening to a transistor radio that picked up a Black-operated station in Jackson, Miss. The station played a lot of James Brown, who other stations weren’t playing as much at the time, he said in a 2003 feature in the Wichita State University alumni magazine.
Briscoe would go on to work in public radio for more than 40 years, getting his start as a student DJ at KMUW in Wichita, Kan., according to the magazine.
In 1976 he joined KLCC in Eugene, Ore., where he hosted jazz and public affairs programs.
After four years, he was hired at NPR, where he spent about 10 years working at first in production roles on the nascent Morning Edition — where he would eventually lead the arts unit — and later on the music program Jazz Alive.
Briscoe spent most of his career at WBGO, where he started as PD and later worked as VP of programming and production. He developed broadcasts such as Live at the Village Vanguard, oversaw the creation of The Checkout with Josh Jackson and conceived and executive-produced The Jazz Bee, a 24-hour HD2 web stream.
“Coming from NPR, he understood the importance of keeping the audience informed while they enjoyed the music,” says WBGO News Director Doug Doyle in a station remembrance. “He hired me more than 22 years ago because he wanted a strong local news presence at the station. He’s one of the main reasons WBGO News is so respected in the public radio world.”
After more than 23 years at WBGO, Briscoe went on to work as a media consultant and most recently as VP of station relations and audience research for Living on Earth.
He is survived by his partner, N.J. state Sen. Nia Gill; his brother Phillip and sister-in-law Louise Allen Briscoe; and cousins Elsie Wickliffe and Mickey and Pat Gomez, according to the obituary.
Due to the pandemic, no in-person service is planned at this time. Donations in Briscoe’s memory may be made to Jazz House Kids.