Classic Film : The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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The NPR weekly film-music program The Score just did an episode on Elmer Bernstein's entire career. It features his son Peter Bernstein as interviewee and co-commentator.

It's fascinating, right from Bernstein's blacklist woes to his versatility and his odd ability to often accidentally be in the right place at the right time.

It's listenable here:

http://www.thescore.org/elmer-bernstein-a-sons-perspective-2/

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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Seems that according to Wikipedia, Bernstein was wealthy commie who lived a full, rich life in Stinking, awful, Bourgeois AmeriKKKa.

He doesn't seem to have been "blacklisted" for long, primarily because Hollywood always needs composers/song writers, and nobody really gives a damn about what a composer/song writer thinks.

I'll listen to the interview later, when I can rouse more interest.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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I think you should listen to the program before making unfounded assumptions.
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You're letting your prejudices get in the way of the truth again

Completely wrong: Bernstein was never a communist and never even went to a single communist party meeting. He simply wrote some reviews for the Daily Worker newspaper in the 40s, which brought him to the HUAC's attention. Had he been a communist there's no way he'd have been hired by De Mille or John Wayne after he'd been greylisted, though both did occasionally lecture him on why liberals (which Bernstein certainly was) were almost as bad as commies.


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Thanks - his movie music is so memorable. And that discussion of his work was very touching about his personality, his career. I loved it.

I'm glad that over the past 15 years or so, there's been so much more attention to those who composed film (and television) music. They add so much to films - and so many of the scores written by Bernstein are in EVERYONE'S heads.

How could Bernstein have composed 230 scores for moves and TV in one lifetime? It's just amazing! And those scores are so disparate - the score for say, The Great Escape just doesn't resemble The Magnificent Seven in any way! The Ten Commandments and To Kill a Mockingbird? I'd never guess the same composer had created both.

Something never mentioned - is why the great film composers were almost EXCLUSIVELY of Jewish background until you had those such as John Barry and John Williams in the 1960s and later. Roy Webb (whom I assume to be Gentile, but may be mistaken) is the only great film composer who doesn't fit this. When I think of the great classical film composers, I think of Alfred Newman, Miklos Rosza, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Lionel Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Dmitri Tiomkin, Erich Korngold, Charles Previn. Whether or not they were devout, I don't know - but it's just remarkable how much those of Jewish background gave to the film world's music - basically they created it! (And I don't think the near universality of film composers' backgrounds was due to any bias in their favor - if that had been true, one would have seen it in other areas - yet movie directors, screenwriters, actors were of pretty varied (Caucasian) backgrounds).

On Bernstein's politics - it does seem he was wrongly swept up in the hysteria. There really were Communists in the film world - and given their intentions and secrecy - and what was happening in Europe, I for one think it was right that there were Congressional hearings to discover the extent and activities of the Communist Party in Hollywood (and other industries).

And just as now - those who don't want to employ or work with people for political reasons - may refuse to hire them, terminate them, exclude them. There is no basis for legal action on the basis of discrimination due to political views. The First Amendment restrains government (and those acting under color of law) not private industry - as the Hollywood studios were. I think it was rather natural that studios didn't want those who belonged to the Communist Party - who wanted a dictatorship of the proletariat and more pertinently, sought a film business that would resemble the state film propaganda industry in the Soviet Union.

But I have great sympathy for those wrongly castigated. And Bernstein seems to have been one - it's amusing that he wrote eight John Wayne films, and his career was saved by a right winger such as Cecil B. DeMille.

Wayne's interesting - I remember seeing a documentary about Carl Foreman - very much of the political left - and also a good friend of Wayne. When Foreman had great difficulty deciding what to do about the subpoena to appear and testify before Congress - and did NOT want to name his friends if asked - he had to decide whether to leave the country. Wayne PLEADED with Foreman throughout the night not to emigrate - to name names if necessary - that Communists could not be his true friends (due to their political intentions). Foreman described the hours-long wrenching discussion as ending almost in tears. But Foreman left anyway.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

I think the answer lies in the history of classical music in the US. Jews were welcome as performers and played in the symphonies, and as soloists and members of opera companies. But the conductors were virtually All Gentiles . The very few exceptions ,like Koussevitsky were fervent converts to Christianity. Symphonies were not looking for chances to program modern music and when they did, it needed a champion on the podium. Orchestras were supported by old mainline families and they were not eager to move Jewish composers ahead., unless they already had big reputations in Europe. After 1932 that was impossible.

So Hollywood and Broadway offered a livelihood, absolutely necessary for refugees to keep their visas. Hollywood was Jewish friendly, especially behind the scenes. Broadway, the step up from the Yiddish theaters and Tin Pan Alley was already being transformed by Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers , Oscar Hammerstein et al.


This last bit is my own theory, and I've never seen it substantiated but my ear tells me the link is there and I'd love to research it. It is a historical fact that the cultural ear worm for Ashkenazy Jews was klezmer music the Yiddish popular music played at weddings and celebrations. Leonard Bernstein's father fought him having a career in music , partly because his cultural reference for professional musicians was the semi- nomadic klezmer bands, not well- respected figures in Eastern Europe. Even the conservatory trained Jewish musicians from Gremany and France were familiar with Klezmer music. My theory is that those joyful sounds formed the basis of music scores for cartoons as well as tin pan ally and comedies and it was natural that they moved into film where that sound seemed right to the writers and producers who grew up with the same sounds.

It was a toss-up whether I go in for diamonds or sing in the choir. The choir lost.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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Yes, I think Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway musicals (especially pre-talkies) -- both completely dominated by Jews (immigrants and the sons of immigrants) -- was/were the precursor to film music for talkies.

Interesting concept about klezmer music and its possible relationship to cartoon music (and then other things), and therefore possibly a bridge to (Jewish-composed) talkie film scores.
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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I'm glad you enjoyed it, trpdean.

My local NPR classical-music station has only been carrying this weekly program for about five or six months. If it's on, I usually just listen to it as background, not really paying too much attention. But this episode was so good, I now want to go back and look through their six years of previous subjects and listen to those that might be equally as good and informative.
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein


Wayne's interesting - I remember seeing a documentary about Carl Foreman - very much of the political left - and also a good friend of Wayne. When Foreman had great difficulty deciding what to do about the subpoena to appear and testify before Congress - and did NOT want to name his friends if asked - he had to decide whether to leave the country. Wayne PLEADED with Foreman throughout the night not to emigrate - to name names if necessary - that Communists could not be his true friends (due to their political intentions). Foreman described the hours-long wrenching discussion as ending almost in tears. But Foreman left anyway.


Actually, Wayne went to see Foreman to ask him to have his name removed from the credits as the screenwriter of High Noon. Wayne was afraid that Foreman's name on the screen would hurt his friend Gary Cooper and his chances for an Oscar. Foreman very properly refused -- but he understood where Wayne was coming from, particularly since Wayne knew how people like Foreman had been caught up in some starry-eyed idiocy about Communism in their youth, but had long since left the party. Wayne in his way was simply being pragmatic.

Meanwhile, Foreman had just started a production company in 1951, one of whose members was Cooper. Cooper came under heavy pressure to quit the company and finally did so only after the attacks from imbeciles like Hedda Hopper became too great. But Foreman understood. I never heard that Wayne tried to argue Foreman out of leaving the country (at least not in any meaningful way) but if so it was largely moot since Foreman had already been effectively blacklisted and had no options. He had to sue the State Department to get his passport back.

One other interesting aspect to Foreman. One of the people who quickly abandoned him was that great fighting liberal Stanley Kramer, who had produced High Noon, Cyrano de Bergerac, Champion and Home of the Brave, all films Foreman had written. Kramer may have loudly espoused a "social conscience" but as soon as Foreman ran into trouble with HUAC he lost no time in tossing him overboard. Foreman of course moved to Britain where he eventually emerged from the blacklist (after giving secret "purging" testimony to HUAC in 1956, though too late to receive credit, or the Oscar, for co-writing The Bridge on the River Kwai with fellow blacklistee Michael Wilson; they both received their Oscars posthumously in 1985). He a successful writer-producer of many major films and head of the British film industry before returning home in 1975. His first wife had divorced him because she disliked living in the bombed and rationed England of the early 1950s, but Foreman later remarried and had a new family. One day in the 1960s, when he was in Hollywood on business, he saw Wayne in a restaurant and introduced him to this family, whom he had brought over on the trip, and they had a friendly meeting. That very same day, Foreman went to Columbia studios and found himself riding in an elevator with none other than Stanley Kramer -- who looked down and away and couldn't bring himself to say anything to Foreman. You can never tell about people and their ideologies.

But while there were some hard-line Communists in Hollywood in the 40s -- people like John Howard Lawson, Ring Lardner, Abraham Polonsky, Dalton Trumbo and some others -- HUAC's hearings were not legitimate and certainly not conducted with an eye to being serious investigations. They were headline-grabbing stunts, with the greatest harm coming in their second round of "hearings" beginning in 1951, which is when hundreds of people lost their livelihoods because of HUAC's effort to steal headlines from Senator Joe McCarthy (who, contrary to what many people believe, had absolutely nothing to do with investigating Hollywood). It was well known that HUAC was a dumping ground for many of the House's crooks, dolts and racists. The Committee was a disgrace from its first day to its last, and their attacks on Hollywood self-serving nonsense.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Hi trpdean,

Good points about the differences between Bernstein's scores. Unlike other composers, I don't think Bernstein's scores have a recognisable signature that makes you know instantly that this is his work. He certainly did create some very varied work.

These are my favourite Bernstein scores. All are very unique and all pretty powerful in their own way.


The Age of Innocence
The Ten Commandments
True Grit
Far From Heaven
To Kill a Mockingbird
Ghostbusters





Go to bed Frank or this is going to get ugly .

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

A lot of Bernstein scores have similar sounds though. A lot of his western scores, particularly those for the John Wayne films he worked on, have similar themes, sounding very Magnificent Sevenish.

A bunch of scores he did in the 80's were also very similar sounding, especially since he constantly used the odnes martenot during that period.


"You're dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway". - Walt Disney

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

His scores for "My Left Foot" and "Da" are very similar.

Side note: Forty years ago, I worked for an NPR affiliate station that was own by my local school district. My wages were paid by a grant from CPB, which I also I believe paid for the NPR programming. Our pay was so low, one day the union representing the school employees called asking us to join the union to demand higher pay. We all explained that they couldn't afford to pay us anymore and we remained the only job title in Range 01. Kids working in the school cafeteria made more than us.

I was a producer of the Broadway/movie musical show and the guy who is my housemate did film music and opera programs. We were all canned when the station was sold to CSULB and the switched to a Jazz format. That's show biz!😰

🎭All the world is a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

I was influenced early in life by Elmer Bernstein. Just about everyone knew his "Magnificent Seven" music, as it was heard continuously on the cigarette commercials. But I had a couple of close encounters with him in 1968-69 that were great.

The city of Long Beach recreation department hired Bernstein to conduct the local symphony in a film music concert in the park. He not only played his own music, but the music of others. I was advised by my music teachers, who were in the symphony to go, an d I loved it. The next year, I also went to the dress rehearsal and the concert the next night.

The really cool thing at the time was Elmer loaned his concert arrangement of the "Magnificent Seven" to my high school, which was very advanced for us kids, but we loved it. I was so grateful that we were given this opportunity.

In September of 2001, I was able to thank him for his music and kindness at a Los Angels County Art Museum retrospective of his films. He remembered the concerts fondly, and was gracious to a gushing fan.

All the world is a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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That's very cool that you met and spoke to him, L.

Yes, I was trying to remember where the Magnificent Seven score was repeated so often. Cigarette commercials! Then once they were outlawed in 1971 we didn't hear it anymore on a regular basis.

Such a great, iconic, groundbreaking score -- and I loved finding out (from Peter Bernstein) the reason why it sounds the way it sounds!
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

I think that the theme was a hit single when the film came out.

Bernstein was master of so many genres .

It was a toss-up whether I go in for diamonds or sing in the choir. The choir lost.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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For some reason Wikipedia doesn't mention that (although it does mention the Marlboro commercials).

But you're right, and it peaked at #35, in January 1961:

http://www.billboard.com/artist/278257/al-caiola-his-orchestra/chart

http://miamivice.wikia.com/wiki/Theme_from_The_Magnificent_Seven

Peaked in the UK at #29 in May 1961: https://books.google.com/books?id=ACEEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA24
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Elmer's swinging singles

The single versions were both electric guitar pop reworkings, the most popular by Al Caiola (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drE96RI9A6A), with another by the John Barry Seven (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb3FtDzex_w). Curiously there wasn't a soundtrack album for the film until the 1994 re-recording, with the original tracks not released until 1998 - before then just two cues were included on the Return of the Seven LP released in 1966 (which was misleadingly reissued as being the soundtrack to the first film).

And let's not forget this attempt to cash-in on John Leyton's popularity as a singer and get a hit pop song from one of Elmer's ditties after it had been given the Joe Meek treatment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1odhfNgK6E


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: Elmer's swinging singles

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God, those things are cringe-worthy. I feel embarrassed to have even been alive then.
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Re: Elmer's swinging singles

Then you probably don't want to hear what Artie Butler did to True Grit on the LP to get down with those crazy kids in 1969:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Va1GnlOcE

It's one of the legendary WTF is that crap? re-recordings. Any resemblance to the score is purely accidental.

There wasn't a proper release of the actual score until 2013, although Bernstein did re-record eight cues from it alongside The Comancheros in 1985.


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: Elmer's swinging singles

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Now this one caused me to erupt into endless peals of laughter.

Pretty sure they got the title wrong.


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Re: Elmer's swinging singles

No, that genuinely is from the Artie Butler LP. Generations of Bernstein fans who bought that LP in good faith only to throw it at the wall or take a hammer to later polyvinyl editions had a similar "This has to be some kind of ****ing mistake" reaction (I'm sure Addison did when he heard it). Only the two Glen Campbell versions of the title song bear the slightest resemblance to the score in the film.


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: Elmer's swinging singles

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To be honest I liked the farting sounds at the end. That was a nice touch.
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Re: Elmer's swinging singles

You made it to the end? Even 99.9% of the people who bought the album never managed that before furiously turning it off. For decades it was a mainstay of .99c and .49c cutout bins across America.

among film score lovers it is one of the most legendary atrocious cover versions of a complete film score (and there were quite a few in the late 60s - Leroy Holmes' LP cover version of Alex North's The Devil's Brigades, a combination of Mitch Miller-like vocals and jazzed up instrumentals, is another notable travesty ).


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

LMay...

** cough** "people we've met" still active ... (( cough ... hint ,,,cough..))


Great story and worth the re-telling !

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Elmer Bernstein was the composer for the 1960 Tony Curtis/Debbie Reynolds comedy, The Rat Race.

But what you may not realize upon watching the film, is that Bernstein also played a small, but critical role as a musician/criminal... Memorable scene. See it if you get the chance.


Don't mess with me, man! I know karate, judo, ju-jitsu..... and several other Japanese words.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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Haha. Interesting tidbit, Z.
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Elmer Bernstein in From Noon and Hawaii

Bernstein and co-lyricist Alan Bergman also cameo in the From Noon Till Three as a pair of song pluggers demoing the film's title song.

Footage of Bernstein conducting the recording session for his terrific score to Hawaii:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl57SwVXRw0&list=PL1480A27DA5F8C18F&index=120


"Security - release the badgers."

Re: Elmer Bernstein in From Noon and Hawaii

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Thanks for that link, Trev -- I enjoyed watching it.
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Re: Elmer Bernstein in From Noon and Hawaii

What a terrific thread! :)) I loved each post. There are so many knowledgeable people on this site! :)

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Among the interesting aspects of Bernstein's career is that, while he had 15 Oscar nominations, including for such famous compositions as The Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird, his only win was for Thoroughly Modern Millie -- an Oscar even he remained puzzled about for the rest of his life, since he didn't regard it as being anywhere near his best work, nominated or not nominated.

Bernstein started out scoring the music for major studio films like Saturday's Hero and Sudden Fear but after refusing to name names before HUAC during its early 50s rampages (his only connection to Communism was that he had written a few music reviews for The Daily Worker), he found himself "graylisted" -- not quite blacklisted, able to get some work in the open, but basically only at the fringes of the industry. It was during this time that he wrote the music for two of the great low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s: Cat-Women of the Moon and Robot Monster (both 1953). His music for the former at least isn't bad, suitably eerie and, I guess, feline in its tone. Cat-Women is also the film in which his name is misspelled in the credits, as "Elmer Bernstien". Think he was using a pseudonym?

It was the superb composer Victor Young who was really responsible for getting Bernstein back into major motion pictures. In 1956 Cecil B. DeMille asked Young to score The Ten Commandments, but Young was too busy on other projects, primarily Around the World in Eighty Days, and recommended Bernstein. DeMille sent for Bernstein and after talking with him hired him to write the score. Bernstein reminded DeMille of the accusations that had been made about him but the deeply conservative director told Bernstein he had already had him checked out and knew he wasn't a Communist. Good for C.B. to give a man a fair break despite their political differences (Bernstein was a liberal), but were it not for Victor Young -- who died later in 1956, before receiving his only Oscar, for Eighty Days -- Bernstein would probably have not been thought of, let alone hired, by DeMille, and it might have been years before his career got back on track...if ever.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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Hi hobnob, thanks for your comments. I also recommend listening to the program. For instance, that's not quite how Bernstein came to score The Ten Commandments ....
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Nice tribute to a great composer.
Five or six bars of his music can bring a flood of memories for the movie he was writing for.

Interesting interview. I know his son is a good composer too, but I was was not aware that he did
some orchestration on his fathers work.
Learning at the feet of a giant. yes?

Thx for the link.

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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Thanks to all who contributed to this wonderful thread about one of the two or three greatest film composers who ever lived. But I feel called upon to make a small correction.

The Score is not an NPR program. It's produced by the public radio station in Portland Oregon -- KQAC-FM -- which is the flagship of a statewide network of repeaters that rebroadcast the signal.

KQAC, as best I can determine, is not an NPR affiliate. It carries no NPR programs. Just classical music in all its forms 24/7.

http://www.allclassical.org/



Most of my friends who have inferiority complexes are absolutely right.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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Well, "NPR" is in effect shorthand -- the majority of radio stations that air the show are NPR stations.

A certain amount of NPR's content is not produced by NPR (but by other American public radio producers), but the large majority of the radio stations that air the non-NPR-produced shows are still NPR stations.

The only reason that KQAC is no longer an NPR affiliate is that due to operating cuts its NPR membership was discontinued in 1993, but it still receives some funding from NPR's creator (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KQAC
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

It's not widely known but NPR charges its affiliates a fortune for its programs, and it's a sliding scale that's not based on the total audience, but on the total geographic area and potential audience the station can reach.

That's why the Houston NPR affiliate - KUHF-FM - which has a broadcast area covering nearly two dozen counties around Houston - pays more than a million dollars a year just for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. It's all based on potential audience - not the actual audience. Oh, a package of other programs are thrown in for free.

This is the biggest reason so many public stations don't carry NPR. It's too expensive. It's a lot cheaper to do your own programming the way that Oregon station does.

And by the way, NPR isn't the only public radio network. There are a bunch of them. Ten national networks and several dozen state and regional networks around the country.


Most of my friends who have inferiority complexes are absolutely right.

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein


And by the way, NPR isn't the only public radio network. There are a bunch of them. Ten national networks and several dozen state and regional networks around the country.


In terms of actual networks, there's only NPR and Pacifica nationally. There are other content creators/producers and syndicators (for instance PRI and APM), and local and regional networks, but the only national public radio networks are NPR and Pacifica, and of those two only NPR has stations that are largely devoted to classical music.
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Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

Angelofvic, just wanted to let you know, I posted your information on the Elmer Bernstein program over on the Film Score Monthly message board (which I also belong to), and got a lot of grateful responses -- many of us over there were completely unaware of NPR's "The Score." Thanks for posting!

Re: The fascinating career of Elmer Bernstein

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That's great news, Peter; thanks for sharing.

As I mentioned above, my local (statewide) classical-music station has only been carrying the program for maybe five or six months. They chose it as the eventual replacement (after trying out a program called Dinner Party Download that they later nixed) for Car Talk when that show stopped being broadcast.

I see that the program's website says:


Would you like to hear The Score on your local radio station? Contact your station's program director to recommend adding The Score to their broadcast schedule.

http://www.thescore.org/stations/

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