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Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Michael Feldman’s Silver Jubilee

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Popular culture is a fickle thing, and the relevance of its entertainers can peak and fade quicker than Snooki’s sobriety. That’s what makes Michael Feldman’s 25th anniversary as host of the “Whad’Ya Know?” radio program so extraordinary.

Feldman’s radio career was born right here in Milwaukee, when he won one of WOKY’s guest DJ contests while he was still a student at Washington High School. “It was the rock station in Milwaukee at that time,” Feldman explains. “I wrote this letter about how I studied elocution by putting pebbles in my mouth down at Bradford Beach. I won and went on and got to play “Louie, Louie” and dedicated it to my high-school buddies. Life was good.”

After earning an English degree at UW-Madison in 1970, Feldman began teaching at an alternative high school. In 1978 he volunteered at the local community-sponsored radio station, WORT, filling in on Friday nights. Soon he had his own call-in show called “Thanks for Calling.” “People would call in with all kinds of problems,” Feldman says. “I’d have no answer for them, but I would say, ‘Thanks for calling.’ That was pretty much the start of my legitimate career.”

Feldman then found himself at Dolly’s Fine Foods in Madison, hosting a music and talk show program from 6-9 a.m. called “The Breakfast Special,” after which he’d go teach at the alternative high school. After a failed attempt “driving cab,” Feldman got a couple of shows on Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR), then another one down in Chicago.

When Director of Wisconsin Public Radio Jack Mitchell made the journey to Illinois to convince Feldman to come back to WPR in 1985, Feldman made a proposal that he thought no producer would possibly agree to: a weekly live call-in show, complete with a band and an audience, designed for national release. To his surprise, he got the gig.

“Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know” is a two-hour comedy show that features Feldman as host and Jim Packard as announcer, along with the Whad’Ya Know Trio (musical coordinator and pianist John Thulin, Milwaukeean Jeff Hamann on bass, and Clyde Stubblefield on drums). The show normally opens with “All the News That Isn’t,” Feldman’s list of fictional headlines taken from current events. Twice during the show, the “Whad’Ya Know” quiz is played, which is not really a serious test of knowledge, but rather an opportunity for Feldman to interact with members of the audience and on-air callers. Rounding out the program’s regular features, “Town of the Week” and “Thanks for the Memos,” is perhaps the show’s most popular segment, in which Feldman interviews a notable guest. When asked what his favorite interview has been, Feldman says, “There have been lots of them, but I always think of Kurt Vonnegut. He was great.”

“Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know” is broadcast weekly each Saturday at 10 a.m. from Monona Terrace in Madison, but the radio show often goes on the road to perform at theaters throughout the country. The show airs each week on more than 260 Public Radio International stations, reaching more than a million listeners throughout the country.

On Friday, Aug. 13, Feldman celebrates his 25th year hosting “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know”from the Wisconsin Union Theater. For more information, visit: www.notmuch.com.

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