Obituary: Jim Nayder / Radio's 'annoying music' specialist

June 22, 1954 - June 27, 2013

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Jim Nayder, whose ear for music that might set a dog's teeth on edge led him to found "The Annoying Music Show" on public radio, died June 27 at his home in Chicago. He was 59.

The cause was a heart attack, his daughter, Blair Nayder Botti, said.

Mr. Nayder was a jack of all trades -- producer, announcer, program director, fundraiser -- at the Chicago public radio station WBEZ-FM. He was announcing one day in 1996 when the next show on the schedule was not ready. "Hey, Jim, can you fill it in a little?" a producer asked.

Usually, Mr. Nayder played music in such situations. That day, he played Slim Whitman -- a country artist not afraid to seem corn-pone -- yodeling "It's a Small World." (Whitman himself died last month.)

"Welcome to 'The Annoying Music Show,' " Mr. Nayder ad-libbed.

He knew he was playing with fire: Not a few sophisticates consider the Whitman song obnoxious even when not accompanied by yodeling. The reaction was fierce and immediate. Phones lit up, faxes rolled in -- and it turned out more people loved the concept than loathed it.

So was born one of radio's oddest shows. It appeared off and on at first, then became a regular feature of five minutes or so on the local station. By 1997 it had been picked up by scores of public stations around the country.

Mr. Nayder said there was a fine line between genuinely annoying music and just plain bad. Annoying music, to him, had to be produced in "a sincere and honest effort" in a recording studio -- a definition that excluded novelty records.

The show spawned annoying CDs, some of which honored holidays like Christmas or the birthdays of President Richard M. Nixon and Elvis Presley. The happy buyer of a Christmas CD wrote to say that the roaches in his kitchen died after just a few playings. Few listeners had heard Donald Duck's version of "Amazing Grace" before Mr. Nayder unearthed it in one of the dusty record stores he haunted.

James Joseph Nayder was born in Chicago on June 22, 1954. His father was a construction union boss, and he attended Catholic schools before spending two years at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill. He then decided to study for the priesthood and enrolled in what is now the St. Joseph College Seminary of Loyola University in Chicago.

After changing his mind about a religious career, he earned a film degree from Columbia College Chicago and a master's in communication from Northeastern Illinois University, also in Chicago. He began at WBEZ as the producer of a show on Chicago history.

His marriage to the former Laurie Brown ended in divorce in 2011. In addition to his daughter, Mr. Nayder is survived by a grandson.

Mr. Nayder battled alcoholism, and used his experience to start a half-hour show in 1992 in which tapes of addicts talking frankly were played. The show, "Magnificent Obsession," was heard before dawn on Sundays, when Mr. Nayder knew that alcoholics can feel desperate.

In 2003, Mr. Nayder started an Annoying Music Hall of Fame. His first award was to Slim Whitman for lifetime achievement.

"I feel like the band conductor on the Titanic," Mr. Nayder said in making the announcement. "The band was very courageous."

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