NEW ORLEANS — Bob and Jan Carr became household names in 1960s New Orleans by co-hosting countless radio and TV broadcasts.
Now in their 90s, they’re hosting a few more.
After settling into Christwood Retirement Community in Covington three years ago, Bob and Jan launched an hour-long weekly show called “Home at Christwood.” Broadcast throughout the Christwood campus and archived online, it features breezy interviews with residents and staffers framed by the cheery, back-and-forth banter that is the Carrs’ calling card.
Back in the ’60s, they called their popular WDSU morning show “Second Cup.” By that standard, what cup are they on now?
Bob laughed: “The last cup.”
Raising four kids on Bourbon Street, entertaining and informing successive generations of New Orleanians, traveling the globe — they’ve lived a full life.
In its final chapter, they’re still doing what they love to do, together.
At 93, Bob Carr’s mind, memory and wit are still sharp, even as he battles cancer. At 90, Jan Carr is as good humored as ever, even after a recent heart scare sent her to the hospital.
Before posing for photos at Christwood one afternoon, Jan took stock of her husband. “Fix your hair,” she instructed.
She first laid eyes on him in 1950, when Bob was riding on a ladder atop a fire truck crisscrossing the campus of Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They’d each enrolled at Carnegie Tech — now Carnegie Mellon University — with theatrical aspirations.
Bob soon wooed Jan with his dancing skills. Six months later, they eloped. Seventy years down the road, they still joke about how naysayers “said it wouldn’t last.”
After college, they settled into a sublet apartment on 20th Street in New York, trying to make it in show business. But they got no further than the summer Jan spent training with the Rockettes and Bob’s appearances in advertisements for Zippo and Coca-Cola.
A family friend of Jan’s grandparents who owned a radio station in Wheeling, West Virginia, got a license to launch a TV station. He offered Jan and Bob on-air jobs. They literally built their talk show, “Calling All Carr’s,” from scratch, helping assemble the cameras and construct the set. It co-starred a dog named Jillopy.
From Wheeling, they graduated to Huntington, West Virginia. Bob stepped away from TV for two years to sell stained glass. Ready for a change of scenery, they planned a move to Los Angeles. A friend working at WWL 870 AM in New Orleans asked if they had jobs lined up in California. They did not.
He promised them work at WWL. “We never thought we’d want to come to Louisiana,” Bob said.
They arrived in 1960. At the time, WWL broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel’s third floor. In the mornings, Bob was the on-air sidekick to Sid Noel, aka Morgus the Magnificent. He and Jan presided over their own shows, interviewing diners at the Roosevelt’s restaurant and celebrities booked at the hotel’s famous Blue Room.
Advertising guru Peter Mayer cast the couple in a commercial for Luzianne coffee and tea. In it, they introduced themselves individually: “This is Bob.” “And this is Jan.”
That became their catchphrase. At WDSU, they hosted “Second Cup” from a poolside perch on the Royal Orleans Hotel’s roof. Jan did a fashion-themed radio show from trumpeter Al Hirt’s Bourbon Street club, with Ronnie Kole on piano. They later joined the cast of WDSU’s “Midday” show.
In the early 1970s, after an ownership change at WDSU, the couple embarked on a different course. Bob went to work for the International House, the forerunner of the New Orleans World Trade Center. For 20 years, he led delegations of local business leaders on sojourns to India, China, Russia and other far-flung locales.
Jan went along as luggage wrangler, keeping track of a hundred or more suitcases for two-dozen travelers. “All that time that we did those trips, I never lost a suitcase,” she said.
At age 50, Bob flirted with the idea of becoming an Episcopalian priest. “Somehow I got the religion and veered off to the side,” he said. “But there was a lot more to it than finding God. You’ve got to sell your house, relocate. It ran out of steam. And I liked my job at the World Trade Center.”
They never gave up the broadcasting bug. Until Hurricane Katrina, they still hosted a Saturday morning radio show for WGSO. The storm damaged the station’s studio in Metairie. When it moved to Slidell under new owners, Bob and Jan decided to call it a career.
“That was our last hurrah,” Bob said.
Over the decades, the Carrs occupied a succession of beautiful New Orleans homes, starting with one on Bourbon Street. In his 2010 memoir “Raising Our Kids on Bourbon: A French Quarter Love Affair,” Bob recalled the joys, laughs, love and challenges of parenting four young kids in the city’s decadent heart.
He wrote the book despite never having read one in its entirety. “My dyslexia kicks in and I skip to the last chapter,” he said. “I can write, but I can’t read.”
They later moved to Prytania Street in the Garden District; Bob installed an underwater tunnel from the hot tub to the pool.
In 1991, they restored a grand three-story mansion on Esplanade Avenue that had been chopped into apartments. When they could no longer navigate the stairs, they moved to a one-story unit with a terrace at 1750 St. Charles Avenue.
In 2018, they decided that Christwood offered the right mix of independence and assistance for their twilight years. They were surprised to discover how many fellow residents recognized them.
“I don’t know why people still remember us,” Bob said. “It was the ’60s and ’70s when we were at our height, and that was a long time ago.”
Early last year, they were asked to record a birthday greeting for a friend of a friend. They revived their “Bob and Jan” act, pretending they were back on the roof of the Royal Orleans.
They realized how much they missed doing a show together. They tried hosting a podcast, but it didn’t catch on. “Podcasts aren’t our generation,” Bob said.
What worked was what has always worked for them: being themselves, bantering back and forth, taking an interest in the stories in their community.
“We turned it in on ourselves,” Bob said. “We talk to the people who live here, because everybody’s got a story.
“There’s a lot of people here that have been a lot of places. You don’t sit at dinner with somebody and say, ‘Oh, I was in India,’ and they go, ‘What? You were in India?’ Instead, you get, ‘I wasn’t in India, but I was in Saudi Arabia’ or something. That makes it fruitful to talk to people and find out where they were and what they were doing. There’s a lot of fertile material around here, even during COVID.”
Using his iPhone, he shoots “Home at Christwood” all over the campus. An IT staffer, Paul Krobert, helps edit and upload the show. “It’s all on this trusty phone,” Bob said. “It’s my lifeblood.”
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Bob volunteered to deliver newspapers, which were dropped off at Christwood’s entrance, to fellow residents. He was also diagnosed with prostate cancer, after already having survived cancer and a stroke more than a decade ago.
The radiation treatments are tough, so he eventually gave up his paper route. He’s also cut back on “Home at Christwood,” no longer taping a new show every week.
Scheduling interviews, doing research, being lively in front of the camera — it’s no small effort. Why does he still do it?
“Cause he likes to work,” Jan said.