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Jazz radio fixture Leah Tourkow dies at age 91


– She was an insomniac who loved taking late-night jazz requests from hospital emergency rooms and bagel factories.

So much so, she was a disc jockey on the radio for 63 years.

She is one of eight people credited with saving public radio in Fort Wayne in the late 1970s, but her life wasn’t just a voice over the airwaves.

She was a member of B’nai Jacob Synagogue, served on the board of directors of Hospitality House International as well as the Three Rivers Festival, and was a past president of the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary.

And Leah S. Tourkow was an incessant writer of letters to the editors of local newspapers.

Tourkow, 91, died Monday at her home.

She was best known for being a radio personality on WBOI-FM, which she helped found, as well as WGL-AM.

Tourkow got her start in the career at, of all places, a VA hospital in Fort Wayne in the days after World War II. The then-state-of-the-art facility had an in-house radio that Tourkow, then 24, used to play government-produced radio programs about benefits available to veterans.

In 1978, she and seven others rescued a small radio station at IPFW and moved it to a spot at the old YWCA on Wells Street. That station eventually became WBOI.

In the meantime, Tourkow got a gig running a talk show at WGL. “Jazz Classics,” which began at 11 p.m. on public radio station WBNI, went off the air in January 2011, ending the show’s 33-year-run.

It also brought to a close her 63-year-radio career.

“I’m 87 years old,” she exclaimed when asked by The Journal Gazette’s Frank Gray right before her final sign-off. “Enough already.”

Still, she wrote, as she had for years, letters to both The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel.

Some of those letters told of her time in radio. Some decried business owners moving out of Fort Wayne or lauded those who stayed in town.

And her interest in music was passed down to her family. Her son, Ralph Tourkow, was the founder, business manager and bassist of local bands like The Answer Band, the Remnants and Scratch N Sniff. He died in May 2013 at age 63.

Leah Tourkow is survived by a daughter and another son.

A funeral service will be at 4 p.m. today at Jewish Cemetery on Old Decatur Road.

Preferred memorials can be made to B’Nai Jacob Synagogue.