Before starting his radio career, Michael Feldman — host of the comedy/quiz program Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? (which airs Saturdays at 3 p.m. on WVXU) — was an English teacher.
“When you teach the main thing you do is think about how to get out of it, which you can do,” he says. “I thought about recycling aluminum cans.”
Instead he started volunteering at the local listener-sponsored radio station in Madison, Wis.
“I started doing a Friday night call-in show for the bedridden and the geriatric,” Feldman says. “After that I started doing a morning show while I was still teaching ... from a greasy spoon in Madison, Dolly’s Fine Foods. That was sort of my big break.”
Feldman went on to land a commercial radio gig at WGN in Chicago doing afternoon drive. He was let go after a year.
“When I was down there, they came to me from back in Wisconsin and said, ‘Do you want to come back?’ ” he says. “I didn’t know. They said, ‘Think about it.’ After I got fired it was easier to think about it. So I had a meeting with Jack Mitchell from (Wisconsin Public Radio).”
On the drive up from Chicago, Feldman began to lay what would become the ground work for his current program.
“I made up something that I thought was rather preposterous: a weekly two-hour show, live audience, live band, taking phone calls and doing it as a quiz as a way to get people to call in without talking about major issues.”
Known for his quick wit, Feldman says his broadcasting style was influenced by the Rock DJs of the 1960s as well as Groucho Marx.
“I was always a fan of Groucho Marx as a kid,” he says.
“He did a quiz show — I (watched) it on TV, but it started as a radio show. That may have been in the back of my mind (when formulating Whad’Ya Know?). I told (Mitchell) about it and he said, ‘Well, why don’t we try it,’ and so I kinda had to do it.”
That was in 1985. The show went out nationally in 1986 and is currently distributed by Public Radio International (PRI), the network that sort of competes with National Public Radio (NPR). The show is broadcast live on Saturday mornings from Madison, though some stations (like WVXU) opt to run it at other times. Periodically the show hits the road, as it will Saturday when Feldman and his crew do the program in downtown Cincinnati from the Aronoff Center.
The Whad’Ya Know crew includes announcer Jim Packard as well as musicians Jim Thulin (piano), Jeff Hamann (bass) and Clyde Stubblefield (the legendary beat-keeper for James Brown who came up with the much sampled “Funky Drummer” beat). The trio plays Jazz numbers between the show's features.
Feldman actually isn't a Jazz aficionado but is quick to add, “I like (the trio). I probably don’t have a big Jazz collection. I probably have two or three CDs that are Jazz. I like these guys, and I’ve known John for a long time. He was on my earlier shows. To me it seems like a natural (fit) ... and they’re very good. I like what they play.”
Among the show's more popular features are “All The News That Isn’t,” the interview segment and the infamous quiz portion, which is played twice during the show. Another favorite segment is the “The Town of The Week,” in which Packard spotlights a randomly chosen hamlet somewhere in the U.S.
“We usually run out of time,” says Feldman of the segment. “Jim gets very annoyed. He does. That’s his baby.”
Though it’s always somewhat of a challenge to leave the cozy confines of Madison, Feldman likes doing the road shows.
“It’s labor-intensive compared to our weekly show, which is more like sleepwalking,” he confesses. “I do a lot of research for the towns that we go to. I try to have a sense of what I’m getting into and know what the issues are: the hot buttons, the local personalities, the historical and all aspects (of the city). It gets very psycho-sociological, the preparation, but it’s really fun to do because, first of all, people are happy to see me.”
Not that the fine folks of Madison aren’t thrilled with the host.
“They’re not unhappy to see me, they just have other things to do,” he says. “It’s very invigorating (to travel) to other places and see what’s going on. It’s actually been very reassuring about America, doing all these road shows. It’s been great.”
MICHAEL FELDMAN’S WHAD’YA KNOW? will broadcast live Saturday from the Aronoff Center for the Arts, Downtown. Attendees are seated at 10:30 a.m.; the broadcast starts promptly at 11 a.m. Buy tickets and get venue details here.