David Miller (1928–)
David Freeland Miller, who maintains a broadcasting studio in his Little Rock (Pulaski County) home, is producer and host of Swingin’ Down the Lane, a one-hour program that is broadcast weekly on more than forty National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates and independent commercial stations. The program is also heard on stations in Perth, Australia, and Hamburg, Germany.
David Miller was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on April 6, 1928, the third of four children of Alan and Margaret Miller. He received his secondary education at the Pingry School in Elizabeth. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton University and master’s and PhD degrees, also in psychology, from the University of Michigan.
While still pursuing his doctorate, Miller was appointed in 1953 as research director in the Detroit, Michigan, office of J. Walter Thompson, Company, at that time the largest advertising agency in the world. In 1955, upon earning his degree, he entered the U.S. Army as a private and was assigned to the engineering psychology branch at the Franklin Arsenal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After being discharged in 1957, he resumed employment with J. Walter Thompson, first in the company’s New York office and later in the Detroit office. In 1963, he was named manager of the marketing research department of Chrysler Corporation.
In 1967, he moved to New York to become executive vice president of Louis Harris and Associates, a public opinion research firm. In 1969, he joined RCA Corporation and was named marketing director for that company’s SelectaVision consumer electronics products, assigned to both the New York and Indianapolis, Indiana, operations. In 1975, Miller joined Gulf Oil Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the public affairs staff. Later that year, he transferred to Gulf Refining and Marketing Company in Houston, Texas, where he headed the company’s marketing research activities. He came to Little Rock in 1979, joining the R. D. Doubleday Company and heading up its research operation. The company established the Arkansas Poll, which involved public opinion surveys on political and social issues. He reported results of these polls as part of the news coverage of KATV, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock.
In 1981, Miller established his own company, Miller Research Group, Inc. Over the next fifteen years, the company grew to include fifteen full-time staff members. The company maintained a national client base with emphasis on automotive research. Miller specialized in moderation of focus groups, conducting more than 1,200 group sessions. In 1996, he sold the company to the firm’s marketing director and formed David Miller Enterprises, Inc., with two divisions. The division called Everything in Moderation served clients who needed a focus group moderator. The other division, Swingin’ Down the Lane, related to his activities in the music field.
Miller became interested in American popular music at an early age. He played clarinet in his school band and wrote a column about big band music for his high school newspaper. He set this interest aside as he pursued a career but later rekindled that interest, prompted in part by his employment at RCA. As a fringe benefit, managers could select fifteen recordings from the RCA catalog each month. Miller’s employment coincided with a major effort by RCA to create long-playing records containing big band material that originally appeared on 78 rpm records. Over three years, Miller built up a sizable stack of these re-issued recordings.
Miller’s role as a radio broadcaster began in September 1983. His program, which highlighted big band music, was broadcast from a North Little Rock (Pulaski County) commercial station. Two years later, when that station changed its format, Miller offered the program to KUAR-FM, an NPR station in Little Rock. Over time, the number of stations carrying the program grew dramatically.
The program was originally billed as A Sentimental Journey with David Miller. Miller’s comments accompanying recordings from that period tapped into nostalgia, since many in his audience had grown up during the big band era. The program acquired a new title, Swingin’ Down the Lane, in 1989. The popular 1923 song “Swingin’ Down the Lane” became the program’s theme song. Miller placed less emphasis on nostalgia and assumed more of a role as music historian, presenting biographical sketches of bandleaders, instrumentalists, and vocalists and providing background notes on the tunes that dominated the airwaves during the big band era.
While living in Indianapolis, he had developed a course on the big bands, which he offered to students at a local university. In Arkansas, he continued to make presentations to civic clubs and other public gatherings. He also began teaching a course at LifeQuest, a Little Rock continuing education program.
Throughout his career, Miller has produced well over 1,700 hours of broadcast material. A typical episode contains forty-five to fifty minutes of music, with the remainder devoted to commentary. Over the years, he has conducted interviews, either in person or by phone, with performers, biographers, and adult children of the great performers of the big band era. He has featured interviews with bandleaders Larry Elgart, Orrin Tucker, Del Courtney, Van Alexander, Si Zentner, and Buddy Morrow; instrumentalists Clark Terry, Paul Tanner, Buddy DeFranco, and Myron Floren; and vocalists Frankie Laine, Linda Ronstadt, Bea Wain, Margaret Whiting, and Jo Stafford.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, big bands were often hired to play for the entertainment of cruise passengers. Miller accompanied these bands, giving lectures about the big band era in general and providing biographical material about the specific bands on board. On four occasions in 2002, Miller lectured aboard the American Orient Express, a train made up of restored cars from the heyday of passenger train travel. This “jazz train” ran from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Washington DC with a jazz trio aboard. Other musicians performed at stops along the way.
Miller’s wife was Florence Latitia “Tish” Pierce Durbin Miller. (Each was married previously.) He has two children. In 2021, he was inducted into the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2022, he published a book, Close Encounters: Music in My Life.
For additional information:
Martin, Karen. “David Freeland Miller.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 2, 1994, High Profile, pp. 1D, 4D.
Miller, David F. Close Encounters: Music in My Life. N.p.: 2022.
Rengers, Carrie. “Pollster Out of Closet as Big Band DJ.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 7, 1993, pp. 1D, 6D.
Swingin’ Down the Lane. http://www.swingindownthelane.com/ (accessed September 8, 2020).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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