Boston jazz radio host Eric Jackson’s death at 72 hit me hard — not just as a longtime listener from a family of fans, but as someone who knew him personally and guest-hosted his show, Eric in the Evening on WGBH, countless times.

I heard Eric first over the winter of 1977-78, my freshman year in college and his at WGBH, where he was doing a show called Artists in the Night.

As a jazz-obsessed teenager from Edgartown, I was already electrified to be in the radio-rich Boston area. I had even picked my school largely because Harvard had WHRB, the oldest college radio station in the country and thus (I reasoned, correctly) the one with the biggest collection of jazz LPs.

It sounds pathetically hand-cranked in this digital-streaming era, but by age 17 I wanted more than anything to play jazz records on the radio and tell listeners who was making this extraordinary music. Unfortunately, the jazz department at WHRB was not quite ready to go co-ed, so it would take a little longer to start my radio career.

But sometime over that first winter, I heard Eric Jackson on the air.

Late one night, WGBH was playing something gorgeous and completely new to me. Resonant bass, surging piano and an unexpected chorus of voices that wove wordless syllables around the instruments — the music pulled me upright in bed, eager to hear the track announced so I could find the record myself.

I never did buy McCoy Tyner’s Inner Voices album, with Ron Carter on bass, but I can still hear the warm voice from the radio, telling me the song was called For Tomorrow and then, “I’m Eric Jackson.”

Like thousands of other jazz lovers, night owls and insomniacs around New England, I was hooked. Eric’s friendly, enthusiastic and approachable personality, along with his wide-ranging taste, a deep understanding of the music and that warm, wonderful voice, helped me get through many a late-night study session — and strongly influenced my own announcing style, once I finally got on the air at Harvard.

In 1981, the year I graduated, WGBH moved Eric to prime-time weeknights and named the new show in his honor, introducing him to a wider audience that was happy to follow All Things Considered with an evening of good music. The show was a boost for jazz in Boston. Musicians and club owners loved Eric’s support of the local scene and visiting artists, who would often stop by for interviews between club sets.

Diehard aficionados and casual listeners alike soaked up Eric’s stories, not only about musicians but about his growing son and his father, Sam Jackson, considered New England’s first black radio announcer, who was an annual Father’s Day guest on Eric in the Evening.

My mother was also a fan and occasionally called Eric from the Vineyard to talk about her aspiring-DJ daughter.

For my part, while holding down a day job at Rounder Records, I kept on spinning jazz, segueing between assorted college stations and WBUR, where I wound up with a Friday all-night jazz show (and met the guys from Car Talk).

Somewhere in there, Eric heard me too and gave me a call. As personable on the phone as he was on the air, Eric Jackson said he wanted me to guest-host his show.

When I made my debut on Eric in the Evening, there was a little item about it in the Gazette. It would be the first time Vineyarders could hear me on the air, but far from the last.

By the late 1980s I had become what Eric called his “first-call sub” — the person he most preferred to host the show when he went on vacation or needed an evening off. These were some of the best nights of my life. WGBH, with its 100,000-watt transmitter, was the big rig of public radio — and I was licensed to drive it through all six New England states at once.

Whether I was alone in the studio with a stack of records or interviewing guests such as Gary Burton, Illinois Jacquet, Dave Frishberg and Rebecca Parris, I was doing what I loved most: sharing the joy of jazz as widely as possible.

Eric encouraged and mentored me, explaining that while the early part of the show was better for more accessible music, I could get a little wilder as the night wore on. Sharing my appreciation of avant-gardists like Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who didn’t get much airplay because a lot of listeners found them jarring, Eric told me he enjoyed the fact that my shows were a bit more “out” than his, because I could get away with it as a substitute.

Only a move to California in the 1990s would get me off the WGBH airwaves for good.

By then, public radio was already transitioning to news and talk after the Persian Gulf War. WGBH was still invested in its music shows, but renamed them to capture every possible listener: Eric in the Evening became Jazz with Eric in the Evening.

The squeeze on cultural programming worsened as the centuries turned. Jazz with Eric in the Evening was down to three hours a week when Eric Jackson died earlier this month.

But the worlds of music he brought New England listeners — like me, my mom and more friends than I can number — and the deep good will that was Eric’s hallmark both on and off the air, still stir my heart. I’m deeply grateful for the honor and delight of being Eric’s first-call sub, and I’ll always remember the gentle sign-off he gave us at the end of every show: “Have a good night, a peaceful night, and I’ll talk to you a little later on.”

Archived interviews by Eric Jackson with jazz musicians are posted at