Joe Frank

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Joe Frank
Joe Frank in 2010 (cropped).jpg
Birth name Joseph Langermann
Born (1938-08-19)August 19, 1938
Strasbourg, France
Died January 15, 2018(2018-01-15) (aged 79)
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Show "Work In Progress," "In the Dark," "Somewhere out There," "The Other Side" "Unfictional-KCRW"
Station(s) KPFA, WNYC, KCRW, NPR
Country US
Spouse(s) Michal Story

Joe Frank (August 19, 1938 – January 15, 2018) was a French-born American radio personality and humorist known best for his often philosophical, humorous, surrealist, and sometimes absurd monologues and radio dramas.[1]

Early life[edit]

Joe Frank was born Joseph Langermann in Strasbourg, France, near the border of Germany to father Meier Langermann (then age 51) and mother Friederike (then age 27), while in transit from Germany, where they were living, although they were Polish citizens. Being Jewish, his family was fleeing Nazi Germany and moving to New York City, where they arrived on April 12, 1939. Legislation to allow the family and others into the country was passed by the US Congress twice, the first having been vetoed by President Roosevelt.[2][3][4] His father died when Joe was five years old.[5] The next year his mother married Freddy Frank and changed Joe's last name.[6]

In his twenties, Frank studied at Hofstra University in New York and later at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He taught English literature at the Dalton School in Manhattan and, at the time, became interested in the power of radio.[7]

Early radio career[edit]

In 1977, Frank started volunteering at Pacifica Network station WBAI in New York, performing experimental radio involving monologues, improvisational actors, and live music during late-night, free-form hours. In 1978, he moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as a co-anchor for the weekend edition of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, his first paying radio job.

During this period he wrote, performed in, and produced 18 dramas for the "NPR Playhouse," which won several awards. His 1982 monologue "Lies" was used, without permission, as the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese movie After Hours.[8] (He later settled out of court for a "handsome" settlement.)[9]

KCRW, 1986–2018[edit]

In 1986, on the invitation of Ruth Hirschman Seymour, the general manager of NPR's Santa Monica, California affiliate KCRW, Frank moved to Santa Monica, where he wrote, produced, and performed in his own weekly hour-long radio program, "Joe Frank: Work In Progress."

While at KCRW, Frank received several accolades.

Joe Frank continued to work at KCRW until 2002, and his work evolved, as evidenced by the diverse series he produced. The first was "Work in Progress," then "In The Dark," followed by "Somewhere out There", and finally "The Other Side."

In 2012, Frank began to periodically produce half-hour shows for KCRW's "UnFictional" series. He continued to produce all-new shows for the series until soon before his death.


Since 2002, Frank has performed on stage at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Illinois; at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco; and in Los Angeles at the Hammer Museum and Largo at the Coronet, as well as other venues.

His 230-hour body of work continues to be re-aired on the Pacifica Radio affiliate station KPFA in Berkeley, California and many NPR stations including WNYC New York, and KCRW Santa Monica. The radio station at the University of California at Davis, KDVS and the independent station WFMU in Jersey City also re-air shows.

In 2012, Frank returned to KCRW for episodes of the station's "UnFictional" program.[10][11]

Frank had surgery to treat colon cancer in May 2014.[12] Frank was hospitalized in December 2015 due to a gastrointestinal perforation following a routine medical procedure.[12] His colon cancer returned in July 2017, and had another surgery to excise a tumor in his colon in October 2017.[12] He died on January 15, 2018 after failing to recover from the surgery.[13][14]

Radio programs[edit]

Frank's radio programs are often dark and ironic and employ a dry sense of humor and the sincere delivery of ideas or stories that are patently absurd. Subject matter often includes religion, life's meaning, death, and Frank's relationships with women.

Frank's voice is distinctive, resonant, authoritative, and, because of his occasional voice-over work, often oddly familiar. At the 2003 Third Coast Festival, he explained that he was recording in Dolby and playing back without it, which created Joe's now familiar intimate and gritty sound.[15] A 1987 Los Angeles Times article described it as a voice "like dirty honey" and "rich as chocolate."[16]

The repetitive cadence of the music and Frank's dry, announcer-like delivery are sometimes mixed with recorded phone calls with actor/friends such as Larry Block, Debi Mae West and Arthur Miller (not the playwright), broken into segments over the course of each hour-long program.

Frank's series "The Other Side" included excerpts from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's Dharma talks at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In an interview on KPFA's "Morning Show," Kornfield was asked about working with Joe Frank. Kornfield explained that, although he had never met or talked to Joe Frank or heard his show, he didn't mind Frank using the lectures and that many of his meditation students had found Kornfield through the show.

Other work[edit]

  • He can be heard on the song "Montok Point" on William Orbit's album Strange Cargo Hinterland.
  • He can be heard on the song "Ocean" on Brazzaville's album 2002.
  • The Decline of Spengler stage play, New Directions 48, New York City
  • A Tour of the City stage play (Tanam Press, New York City), produced by Theatre Anima at Hangar #9 in the Old Port, Montreal, Canada, in 1990, directed by Jordan Deitcher.
  • The Queen of Puerto Rico and Other Stories. (William Morrow, New York City, 1993). A collection of short stories: Tell me what to do—Fat man—Night—Date—Walter—The queen of Puerto Rico—The decline of Spengler. ISBN 0-688-08765-5 Out of print.
  • Four short films for television based on his radio shows were written by Joe Frank, directed by Paul Rachman and produced by Propaganda Films in Los Angeles. "Memories by Joe Frank" in 1992 for CBS Television as a pilot, "The Hitchhiker", "The Perfect Woman", and "Jilted Lover" in 1993 for the series "Inside Out" on a cable network.
  • Filmmaker Chel White created three short films based on segments from Joe Frank's radio shows, two of which include his voice. The films are "Dirt"[17] (1998) and "Magda"[18] (2004) from Frank's show "The Dictator", and "Soulmate"[19] (2000) from "Emerald Isle".

Documentary film[edit]

A feature-length film, Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There, about Frank's life and work, is scheduled for release in 2018. The film was completed prior to Frank's death and includes interviews with collaborators and other radio personalities.[20]

Inspiration to other artists[edit]

Frank's body of work has inspired a variety of other artists including:

  • Ira Glass of radio's "This American Life" worked under Frank as one of his first jobs in public radio, and credits Frank as his greatest inspiration.[21]
  • Jad Abumrad MacArthur genius fellow most known for being the co-host and producer of WNYC's "Radiolab".[22]
  • David Sedaris, writer [23]
  • Troy Schulze, a theater artist in Houston, Texas, who created the show "Jerry's World" (2003) for Houston-based theater group Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Utilizing material from several Frank shows, the piece was deemed Best Original Show in Houston in 2011 by the Houston Press.
  • Jeff Crouse, artist and technologist, created "Interactive Frank," which uses content from the Web to dynamically create a Joe Frank Show. "The user types in a sentence, and Interactive Frank takes over, scouring the Web for another sentence that follows a sentence with the last three words. Frank can also find streaming audio to accompany the generated narrative based on a word analysis, and it can read the narrative using an online text-to-speech generator."[24]
  • Filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Ivan Reitman, and Martin Scorsese have optioned or bought stories from Joe Frank's radio shows (although the terms for Scorsese's film After Hours were settled after production had already begun).[8]

Blue Jam, a late-1990s series made by British comedian Chris Morris broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the UK, shares parallels with early editions of mid-1980s Work in Progress shows.

Voice-over and acting work[edit]

Joe Frank has performed voice overs for commercials including Zima and the Saturn Corporation. And he was the voice of the computer in Galaxy Quest and provides voiceovers for:

  • "Wild Rescues" on "Animal Planet"
  • "Conspiracies" on A&E
  • "Ends of the Earth" on the Learning Channel
  • "Hurricane X" on the Discovery channel
  • "Deus Ex" voices of characters such as VersaLife Receptionist Girl Destiny Savannah and Researcher Stacy Webber in 2000.[25]
  • "Sexy Beast" film as the narrator on the trailer, which was nominated for best film trailer in 2004.
  • "W/ Bob & David" narrator in the first episode, 2015.

He also had a small acting role in The Game.[26]


  • 2003
    • Third Coast International Audio Festival Lifetime Achievement Award[27]

During NPR Playhouse[28][edit]

During Work In Progress[edit]


  1. ^ Peabody Awards Web site Archived 2008-07-26 at the Wayback Machine. – search for Joe Frank
  2. ^ Congressional Record on 1940 May 2 (86 Congressional Record 5425 (1940), page 5469): By Mrs. O'DAY [Caroline Love Goodwin, congresswoman from New York]: H.R. 9651: A bill for the relief of Meier Langermann, his wife Friederike, and son Joseph; to the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization.
  3. ^ The Senate passed the bill on 1940 June 22 (86 Congressional Record 8909 (1940), page 8974). President Roosevelt vetoed the bill on 1940 July 2 (86 Congressional Record 9142 (1940), page 9146). Quoth his message: 'Meier Langermann, his wife and son, formerly of Germany, although citizens of Poland'
  4. ^ Congresswoman O'Day submitted an identical bill the next day (86 Congressional Record 9231 (1940), page 9244) A reading of the bill on 1940 September 30 (86 Congressional Record 12842 (1940), page 12870) noted: "Meier Langermann, his wife Friederike, and son Joseph, as of April 12, 1939, the date on which they were admitted temporarily to the United States." Congress passed it on March 6, 1941 (87 Congressional Record 1902 (1941), page 1906).
  5. ^ NYC Death Index Results
  6. ^ Joe Frank :: News and ReviewsLA Weekly – "Joe Frank is Off the Air"
  7. ^ March 7, 2000 article by Susan Emerling.
  8. ^ a b Hearst, Andrew (May 27, 2008). "The Scandalous Origins of Martin Scorsese's After Hours". Panopticist. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  9. ^ Susan Emerling (March 8, 2000). "Public radio's bad dream". Archived from the original on September 19, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Radio Icon Joe Frank Returns to KCRW". 2012-07-19. 
  11. ^ "UnFictional". 2012-11-09. 
  12. ^ a b c "Joe Frank Medical & Recovery Fund". Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  13. ^ Smith, Harrison (January 17, 2018). "Joe Frank, boundary-pushing storyteller whose medium was radio, dies at 79". The Washington Post. 
  14. ^ "Radio Artist, Writer Joe Frank Dies At 79". Retrieved 2018-01-19. 
  15. ^ Third Coast Archives – scroll to bottom for speech.
  16. ^ Diamond, Jamie (1987-11-22). "Radio Noir". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  17. ^ IMDb
  18. ^ IMDb
  19. ^ IMDb
  20. ^ IMDb
  21. ^ The Sound of Young America
  22. ^ The End Is the Beginning On The Media.
  23. ^ Sedaris discusses Joe Frank
  24. ^ Real Time Art Project Site home of Interactive Frank, a project by Jeff Crouse
  25. ^ "Deus Ex (2000) Windows credits". MobyGames. 
  26. ^ Joe Frank FAQ on WFMU
  27. ^ ThirdCoast audio archive site
  28. ^ WFMU bio
  29. ^ Guggenheim Fellowship site Archived 2008-08-07 at the Wayback Machine.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]