Julian “Jerry” Liebman
Julian “Jerry” Liebman

The story of Jerry Liebman and/or Specs Howard and the Specs Howard school, all one and the same, is a great saga of Jewish Detroit and the city itself.   

Before the digital age, the only non-paper media was radio and television. And, anyone who grew-up in Detroit listening to radio knew the “Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts.” The more common reference was just “Specs Howard,” and everyone knew what you meant.

Specs Howard made news again last month. First, Howard — aka Julian “Jerry” Liebman — celebrated his 95th birthday. Mazel tov! 

There was also a report that the Specs Howard School will eventually close its Lahser Road location and, hopefully, affiliate its classes and programs with “another highly regarded school.” In short, another stage of evolution for what became known in 2009 as the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.

Specs Howard

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Liebman earned a degree from Allegheny College. He considered studying law, but bought a radio station instead, and began a 13-year career (1948-1970) as a successful disk jockey and announcer in Kitanning and Sharon, Pa., Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit. 

Liebman adopted his on-air persona, “Specs Howard,” in 1956. The name derived from his taste in eyeglasses. Liebman was also known as the “Kosher DJ.” An observant Orthodox Jew, he would not work on Shabbat.   

Liebman moved to Detroit but could not duplicate the same success that he had as an on-air personality in Cleveland. After a short run, Liebman returned to work in Cleveland, but his family loved the Motor City. Upon a friend’s suggestion, Liebman opened his school in Detroit in 1969; it became his full-time career a year later. 

Specs Howard

The Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts became a tremendous success. In an era when the radio and television industry needed thousands of announcers, technicians and engineers, Specs Howard was the place that produced them. Many prominent local media personalities and executives were Specs Howard graduates.

The William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History holds a wealth of information on Liebman and his school. Indeed, he is the subject of several feature articles in the Sept. 6, 1985, Dec. 24, 2009, and Mar. 3, 2006, issues of the JN. The story of his son, Jon Liebman, a very successful musician and former president of the Specs Howard School (1998-2008), is featured in the July 21, 2016, issue of the JN. All of these articles are very good reading. 

Jon Liebman

Keeping in the family tradition, Jerry Liebman’s daughter Shelli Liebman Dorfman has been a writer for the JN for over two decades, and scores of her stories can be found in the Archive.

What I found most interesting is the impact that Liebman and the school had upon Detroit’s Jewish community. For example, see the story about Lubavitch Rabbi Yitschak Kagan and his program, The Jewish Sound, on WKNR Radio (3/1/1985); Specs Howard donated use of a studio and an engineer for his show. Rabbi Herschel Finman, host of The Jewish Hour on WPON, took voice classes at Specs Howard (March 7, 1997). Specs Howard graduate Sari Zalesin was the NHL’s first female public address announcer for the Dallas Stars (Sept. 12, 1997).  

Or, note how often engagement announcements in the JN mention the Specs Howard School. When the betrothal of Stacy Arnoff and Brian Mingus was published in the Apr. 16, 2004 issue of JN, both were cited as graduates.

The story of Jerry Liebman and/or Specs Howard and the Specs Howard school, all one and the same, is a great saga of Jewish Detroit and the city itself.   

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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