Public radio host Michael Feldman comes to Ohio
one last time with Whad'Ya Know,
the call-in quiz show that just celebrated its 30th anniversary. A live broadcast of the show takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 23, the State Theatre. Feldman will talk with Dr. Oz's buddy and Wellness specialist Dr. Michael Roizen. He's
also lined up locals such as writer Anne Trubek, Platform Brewing and musicians Hey Mavis. He spoke to us via phone from his Madison home where he said he was "working on my ad libs."
How often do interviewers start with the question, “Whad’Ya know?”
About every other one.
And how do you respond?
I do the obligatory, “Not much. You?” I feel like they would hold it against me if I didn’t respond. People do it to me all the time. It’s cool. It’s a blessing and a curse that will follow me through my days.
You studied English in college. What drew you to the world of broadcasting?
I have never seen a want ad for an English major. I suppose that’s been said before, but it’s as true today as it ever was. The great thing about radio is that all you had to do to get the Class C license you needed for radio was to write your name in English. That was the only requirement, so college was great preparation for that.
Were you ever interested in TV?
The other thing that people say to me is that I have a face for radio. We tried to do TV things along the way. We did a thing for Disney one time and some other station groups. They all drove me back into radio pretty quick.
What do remember from the first Whad'Ya Know?
The first one we had a belly dancer. Talk about being on radio and not realizing it. I thought it was cool, though, because you could hear the coins jangling. I thought that would be very evocative. In the beginning, we did visual things like that on radio. We bowled in the studio and we had a tap dancer come on. The program director said, “Maybe not.” I went into auditory responses.
How’d you conceive the program?
I had done an earlier show at WHA in Madison. It was this hodge podge show from a bar on Saturday morning. It was pretty good. We got nurses coming off their shifts and drinking Bloody Marys with our audience. They weren’t always paying attention to my wit. Some of it was funny because I heard a lot of laughter. It could have just been the Bloody Marys. I then went to WGN in Chicago and was back in Madison after a year. They offered me a chance to come back on air in Madison, and I came up with this idea of doing this national call-in quiz show. That was Whad’Ya Know.
I don’t think most of the show is scripted. How’d you learn to think off the cuff so effectively?
It’s a nervous reaction. It’s a dysfunction and I’m embarrassed to talk about it. I’m only comfortable in front of large groups of people. One to one, I can’t even look at the person I’m talking to. It has to be at least six people before I can feel comfortable. I tend to free associate and go from one thing to another. I was a teacher for awhile and it didn’t work as well in the classroom.
What was your first meeting with the late Jim Packard like?
We were walking our dogs by the railroad tracks before we were working together. He had a dog which he named Radio, which I thought was presumptuous. I had my mutt Rocky. He had been on every radio station in Madison and the surrounding areas doing his form of rock ’n’ roll. I knew who we was, but I didn’t know him from around the station. He was a nice guy. It was like Groucho and his sidekick George Fenneman. It wasn’t intentional but it worked out that way. Jim had a good low-key delivery. He would stick things in there. I would try to go over him and he would go under me. It was good.
Who’s your favorite guests on the program?
I interviewed [writer] Kurt Vonnegut one time. That was a thrill for me. When I was teaching school, I taught his books. I told him, “I taught you in high school.” He said, “Wait. You were my teacher in high school?” I don’t know how old he thought I was. I explained that I taught his books. And I asked him what motivates him to write. He said, “Feeding my goddamn family.” You gotta respect that. He talked about the art of writing — and he went to school as an engineer — and he said that as far as writing goes, never use a semi-colon because all it does is show that you went to college. I think that’s great. That’s good advice. It’s right to the point. I try to live that way.
When did you start taking the show on the road?
The first show was back in the ’80s. We went to Ames, Iowa, and I don’t think they knew we were coming. There were very few people there. That was the first one.
You’re here in advance of the Republican National Convention. What’s your take on all the controversy surrounding the Trump campaign?
I think if I don’t get my show renewed, there might be riots in Cleveland.
It sounds like you’re encouraging that.
I’m not encouraging it. I’m saying there will be. I think it will be good to be there before but not so much during [the RNC]. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at some point in history until this season played out here.
The current tour serves as a farewell tour. What has the experience been like?
It’s just one show. I try not to think about it because it makes it hard to do. To do what I do you have to suspend disbelief and so does the audience. If it gets too real, it’s like a wake. It’s like, “Let’s do a two-hour wake and the guy is still alive and walking around.” I try to avoid all that kind of stuff.
What do you have planned for the final broadcast in June?
My youngest daughter did the poster for it. We used the format from The Last Picture Show
. We’re still planning the show. That’s a tough one to work around. It’s at a big theater and it will be filmed. I got a T-shirt cannon. That’s the only thing I have planned. I’m trying to promote my next venture. They read, “Whad Ya Know 2: The Undead.” I want to ride this undead wave. There’s got to be something after this even if we’re zombies. We’ll shoot out 300 of them and probably kill a few people in the front row. What a way to go.
We live in an on-demand world. Is there no hope for terrestrial radio?
Even the fact that you call it terrestrial radio kind of makes me gulp. It’s true. Everything now is narrow casting. You go to someone on an elliptical machine for half an hour and that’s your audience. I come from broadcasting where there’s an audience in front of you and people listening. It’s difficult for me to adjust to podcasting.
So what do you do plan to do next?
I’m probably going to pitch another show to Wisconsin public radio and see if we can do something like this show but maybe in an hour format and turn it around as a podcast.