'Composers Datebook' Producer John Zech Retires

Dec 11, 2018

Classical music radio listeners in Minnesota and around the country got a bit of sad news recently. John Zech, morning host on Minnesota Public Radio and producer of Composers Datebook (heard on Classical 101 and other stations), has announced he is stepping away from radio. 

Zech recently wrote about his departure:

Dear friends, I think Groucho Marx said it best: 

"Hello, I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going. I'm glad I came, but just the same, I must be going."

You might have heard that I have been out on a medical leave these past few months. First, I discovered I had throat cancer in March. Fortunately, my team at the Mayo Clinic was able to remove it surgically and follow-up visits show that it is all gone.

Then, as I was recovering from that procedure, I lost what was left of my hearing (a big double whammy for a radio guy!). A cochlear implant in July has given me some functional, synthetic hearing, and I am very, very grateful for that. However, I do not have the ability to hear or appreciate music, and without that I can't be a classical radio host anymore.

So, I'm afraid the time has come for me to say goodbye. It's been a great privilege for me to be your early-morning companion for all these years. And even though I was getting up before the chickens, I can truly say I have always enjoyed going to work and being a part of your lives.

Please know that I am in good health and good spirits, with good friends and family around me. So now I'm looking forward to new challenges and possibilities in this next chapter in my life. Thank you for all of your kind words, support and good wishes.

All the best.

Classical 101 morning host Boyce Lancaster remarked on the news: "John Zech and I began our radio lives in similar fashion, doing news and announcements in school before heading into the work-a-day world. We then both discovered that getting paid money to say words was a much better way to earn a living.

"I have listened to, enjoyed and admired John's work for many years," Lancaster continued. "I know that his listeners and colleagues alike will miss having his companionship each morning." 

Rest assured that Composers Datebook will be continuing with an interim host. John Birge will produce the feature as the search for a permanent host continues. Birge has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service.

Birge played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

We appreciate your patience, understanding and support during this transition.

If you would like to share your gratitude and best wishes with John Zech, we encourage you to send him an email. He'd love to hear from you.