Bill Thissen – a former ICRT newscaster and the host of Jazz Flavors, Taiwan’s longest running radio jazz show – died Saturday at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in the capital. He was 72.

Bill worked for ICRT at its various locations for 29 years until his retirement in 2013. For nearly three decades, Bill was a welcome voice to listeners across Taiwan and the world. Listeners around the island woke up to Bill’s voice to hear the morning news. His knowledge and assuring voice always made the news more enjoyable. Besides being a trusted and integral member of the ICRT Newroom, Bill hosted Jazz Flavors, a two-hour Sunday night show that began in 1985 and went on to become the longest-running program at the station.

In Bill’s memory, ICRT’s DJ Terry Engel will air a special tribute to Bill during his Morning Show on Monday, July 21.

ICRT’s sincere condolences go out to all of Bill’s family and friends. Bill, we will miss you deeply.

We’ll be updating this post throughout the coming days with archive photos and audio recordings of Bill during his time here at ICRT, starting with this humorous clip of Bill, discussing his early days working at ICRT.

Remembering Bill Thissen

Diane Baker worked in the ICRT news department from 1989 to 1999 and hosted “AsiaNation” for the first two years it was on the air. She wrote an obituary on Bill for the Taipei Times, where she now works.  ICRT asked if she could expand upon that story with a few personal remembrances.

Bill Thissen, who died at Taipei Veterans General Hospital on July 12 at the age of 72, was an ICRT newscaster and the host of “Jazz Flavors” for almost three decades. He was born William Henry Thissen on April 27, 1942, in Clara City, Minnesota, and had four brothers and three sisters.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from St. John’s University before teaching in Marion, South Dakota, and New Buffalo, Michigan.

He moved to Taiwan in 1977 with his first wife, Pat, to work at the Taipei American School (TAS), where he taught music, including band and choir classes, and directed school musicals.

Moving to Taiwan was not the first big adventure that Bill took his family on. Former ICRT DJ and morning host Rick Monday recalls Bill talking about driving his family from Minnesota to the Panama Canal and back in a Volkswagen.

In 1984, Bill left TAS to join ICRT as a newscaster and host of a weekly classical music show. The following year, he convinced the station’s management to let him produce a weekly jazz show.

The two-hour-long “Jazz Flavors” eventually became not only ICRT’s longest-running show, but also the longest-running radio show in Taiwan.

Bill delighted in introducing the show’s listeners to jazz classics and master musicians as well as to newcomers to the genre. However, his definition of jazz for the show could range widely, encompassing both blues and Latin influences. He mixed the music for each show with snippets of erudite commentary and humor. He encouraged his listeners to attend performances by visiting artists at Taipei’s theaters and clubs and he also championed local musicians and bands, both Taiwanese and expatriate.

In a tribute posted on Facebook, musician Rick Taira wrote: “If you were a jazz musician in Taiwan, there was no telling when Bill might walk in on one of your performances. When he showed up, you perked up on stage and displayed your best bebop chops. Bill knew his stuff and was not one of those flavor-of-the-month kind of guys.”

Bill resigned from ICRT at the beginning of August last year. He had been ill, but told very few people. The final edition of “Jazz Flavors” was on August 25, which Bill had not advertised in advance. That wasn’t part of his personality.

Bill worked a variety of shifts for the ICRT newsroom, which was a 24-hour operation covering both a FM and an AM channel when he joined the station.

Over the years he did newscasts on the AM channel, and anchored evening and morning shows and top-of-the-hour five-minute newscasts on the FM side. He co-hosted the “ICRT in Taichung” week in 2002 and 2004 that featured interviews and talks with Taichung Mayor Jason Hu. As morning anchor, Bill was part of the team that won ICRT a Golden Bell award in 2008.

ICRT newsreaders and anchors have always had to do a little bit of everything — from writing stories, recording audio or editing stories from reporters or news agencies such as The Associated Press, to voicing the advertisements and promotions the station airs. Flexibility and coolness under pressure are necessary and Bill had both.

The news department, when the station was at its original location on Yangmingshan, began small, but grew over the years in the number of people, the programs it produced and the length of its newscasts, before contracting at the end of 1990s because of budget cuts. However, big or small, the level of camaraderie in the newsroom has always been a key factor in its success and the lives of the people who worked in it. Throughout all the personnel changes over the years, Bill was a mainstay of the newsroom.

When I was working as senior news producer on the-then hour-long evening shows that Bill co-anchored in the mid-1990s, what I remember most about Bill was his unflappability. He always sounded relaxed and comfortable reading the stories, even when handed a late addition to the script just moments before he had to read it. Very little seemed to faze him.

Bill was one of the first people I knew to get a bread-making machine. I do not remember who was the first at ICRT to get one, Bill or Tim Berge, then a traffic reporter, but I do remember their bread-making rivalry. Perhaps it had something to do with them both being from Minnesota.

However, listening to them discuss the merits of various bread mixes and their culinary experiments opened a whole new perspective on their personalities. For a while, Bill would show up almost every day with a loaf of homemade bread, and rave about how good it tasted. Sometimes he was even willing to share a piece (though rarely a full slice). If he had been paid to do advertisements for breadmakers at the time, most people in Taiwan probably would have ended up buying one.

He also loved chocolate, and was not discriminating about what kind. Having a box of Lotte choco pies, a bar of chocolate or some cookies next to his computer keyboard seemed to be as crucial as cups of coffee for getting Bill through a shift.

Bill had a great sense of humor and enjoyed teasing and being teased. There were always a lot of newsroom jokes aimed at the DJs and vice versa, as well as ribbing about sports teams with Todd Van Wyk, who was ICRT’s sports reporter for many years, and Bill took full part.

One thing I remember Bill did not have a sense of humor about was wedding photographers. For many years, he lived in a house on Yangmingshan that was across the street from the main entrance to the Chinese Culture University and had a back yard, a rarity for Taipei. He could get pretty angry about the predilection of some wedding boutiques and photographers to disregard that they were on private property and just take over his backyard for photo shoots, without bothering to check if anyone was home or ask for permission. He especially hated waking up to find them in his yard — as the newsroom often heard about.

He loved living in that house and on Yangmingshan, but eventually had to move because the area was scheduled to be redeveloped. For a few years he lived in an apartment building that was just a few minutes walk from what had once been the Beitou train station. Once the Beitou MRT station opened, he bragged about being able to get to downtown Taipei so quickly and the convenience of getting around the city on the MRT.

Bill loved talking about “the old days” in Taipei, such as the way the city would completely shut down for the full length of the Lunar New Year holiday, but he also enjoyed the changes brought about as the city grew and developed, except perhaps for the ever growing number of cars and motorcycles on the roads. He loved discovering new restaurants and revisiting favorites.

Bill maintained a strong interest in theater while he lived in Taiwan, both as an audience member and a thespian. Former TAS teacher John Dankowski — another long-time Taipei resident — recalls he and Bill playing some bit parts in local movies made in the late 1970s. Bill also acted in some amateur theatrical productions, including a version of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” that ICRT produced in the late 1980s. Directed by fellow newsman Scott James, Bill played Felix to Nick Gould’s Oscar.

He served as master of ceremonies or host for many programs by foreign jazz and blues artists, as well as local musicians, including the Parliament Festival in September 1990 that brought BB King and Ray Charles to Taipei, and the Mercedes Amateur Jazz Competition in September 2008. He also took part in many community and charity fundraising events over the years, both for ICRT and on his own.

Bill was invited to be part of an “Evening of American Music” presented by the American Institute in Taiwan Kaohsiung Branch Office on November 15, 2009, with US conductor/composer William Henry Curry leading the Kaohsiung Symphony Orchestra. Bill narrated the words of Martin Luther King Jr. for Curry’s “Eulogy for a Dream.” The show was broadcast by the Public Television Service the following spring.

His voice was also in demand among local companies looking for narrators for their English-language corporate videos, DVDs and other promotional materials. Bill enjoyed doing voice-over work, except when it was grammatically incorrect and he was not allowed to alter the wording. As a former teacher, that really irritated him.

Outside of work, Bill loved living in Taiwan, although he also enjoyed traveling, including going back to the US to see relatives and friends. In addition to his love for music — though perhaps not every genre — he had a keen interest in current events, politics and nontheism.

Bill was very proud of his two daughters, Katrina and Andrea, and the women they became. He was thrilled to be a grandfather twice over, thanks to Katrina, and very happy when Andrea returned to Taiwan several years ago to work as a corporate lawyer in Hsinchu.

And then there was Rose Hsu, with whom he shared the past 14 years. Whenever I would run into them around Taipei, their quiet contentment and enjoyment of each other was very clear.

Bill leaves behind Rose, daughters Andrea and Katrina, Katrina’s children, his brothers Mark, Gregory, Steven and Robert, and sisters Marilyn, Rita and Genevieve, and many nieces and nephews — as well as many, many friends, both those he knew personally and those who only knew him as a warm and friendly voice on the air.

He is missed.

His funeral service will be held at the Taipei Second Municipal Funeral Parlor on Xinhai Road on Sunday, July 27, beginning at 1pm.