Jim De Francesco Was a Voice for the Decades

Veteran Radio, TV and SandPaper Reporter Passes Away at 73
By RICK MELLERUP | Mar 14, 2017
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill Jim De Francesco

The Wicked Witch is dead.

Notice I didn’t add ding dong to that announcement, because The SandPaper certainly isn’t celebrating the passing last Thursday of Jim De Francesco, a member of the paper’s staff from 2000 through 2013.

We did want to celebrate his life and career, however, and a long and interesting one it was. I was assigned the story because I had known Jim longer and better than any other writer at the paper, having met him in 1991 when we sat next to each other in the men’s dressing room of Surflight Theatre, where we were both in the cast of an Our Gang Players’ production of “The Wizard of Oz.” I was the Cowardly Lion; Jim, as referenced in the lead paragraph of this story, was the Wicked Witch of the West, roles we reprised together several years later. He was so proud of that role!

I noticed at the time that Jim was extraordinarily organized. He’d carefully laid out his makeup and costume for the role several weeks before the show’s performances and had memorized his lines by the end of the first week of rehearsal.

I stayed connected with Jim via Our Gang for the next several years, appearing with him in shows such as “Oliver,” in which he played Fagin. At the same time I was listening to him on WOBM-FM radio, where he was a news anchor and feature producer.

Jim was made for radio. I’m not saying he had a face made for radio – in fact, he was a rather handsome, trim and well-groomed man, with his beard and graying hair making him look a little like the original “World’s Most Interesting Man” in the Dos Equis commercials. No, Jim had a voice made for radio, as sonorous and smooth as well-aged bourbon, sometimes compared to Walter Cronkite’s or Charles Kuwalt’s. Every time we heard his sign off, “Jim DeFrancesco, WOBM News,” I’d tell my girlfriend, who had seen him onstage, “That’s the Wicked Witch.” “No way,” she always responded, “he sounds so different!”

Actually, Jim made himself for radio. Thanks to a Press of Atlantic City article from several years ago written by another former SandPaper journalist, Donna Weaver, I know that Jim, while a sophomore in high school, rigged up a homemade radio transmitter using his home’s water pipes to reach about 15 blocks of his Philadelphia neighborhood. He did a show from 6 to 7 p.m. called “Cocktails and Classics” but was removed from the air by the Federal Communications Commission after they discovered his made-up call letters, WMAP, actually belonged to a station in the South.

Jim soon went on to work for a string of Philadelphia stations. It was in 1963 that he had his first truly big news story when he was sent to Washington, D.C., to cover and record Martin Luther King Jr. making his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jim and his wife, Ellie, moved to Ship Bottom in 1975, and he crossed over to TV. He started producing a weekly cable show called “Island Currents” from his Hogpenny Studios behind his home.

The organizational habits I had witnessed in Jim while performing with him in “Wizard” served him well on both radio and television, especially radio. He’d often have a single minute to describe a contentious town meeting and managed to get the important who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s and why’s into that 60 seconds without even seeming rushed.

When he came to The SandPaper, Jim wrote features, and many a “Neighbors in Business” story for our sister publications, the Tuckerton, Stafford and Barnegat Leaders. His crisp style translated to print – his articles were short and to the point, unlike those of this writer, who often rambles on. So, in honor of Jim, I’ll wrap this up soon. I must mention, though, that the multi-talented De Francesco was a command public affairs officer for the U.S. Defense Department for 34 years, had served as the media and community relations officer for Dover Township, and created numerous film and video productions over the course of four decades, including a 20-minute short, “It’s the Real Thing,” that won the Bronze Palm award at Berlin’s Young Filmmakers Festival and was later screened on PBS’s “Filmmakers in America” series.

Jim was 73 years old and is survived by his wife, Ellie, his daughter, Danielle, and his son, James.  Both of his children have launched backstage show biz careers.

See you over the rainbow, Jim. I won’t have any trouble finding you, not with your voice.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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