Sunday, July 7, 2002
Ask radio quizmaster Michael Feldman "Whad'ya know about Lawrence?" and his responses reveal the answer: very little.
"You have an electric chair there," he says.
"Livermore is there ï¿½ the laboratory," he says.
When hints are dropped about Lawrence's ties to the Civil War and William Quantrill's raid, he replies, "Yeah, but I heard the story from the Missouri side."
With Michael Feldman, veteran host of Public Radio International's "Whad'ya Know?," one is never sure if he's playing it straight or pulling your leg. It's a trait that has allowed Feldman to make a living for 17 years with a weekly radio show that combines live music and audience and telephone call-in participation.
The show is carried by about 320 stations across the nation.
"We've been on long enough to carve out an audience for ourselves," he says. "We're audience-friendly."
Feldman and his merry band of tricksters ï¿½ announcer Jim Packard, pianist John Thulin, bassist Jeff Hamann and drummer Clyde Stubblefield ï¿½ will set up shop Saturday morning in the Lied Center and broadcast their show live from its performance hall. The pre-show will start at 9:30 a.m.; the broadcast will be from 10 a.m. to noon.
Feldman says he writes his own material. An assistant, however, researches every imaginable topic ï¿½ from apples to astrophysics ï¿½ and provides him with "reams of information" that he uses to create his quizzes and monologues.
While the weekly shows are largely impromptu, Feldman says he crams for his road shows by reading up on the cities in which he will appear. The packets on Lawrence that were prepared by his research assistant remained unopened as of Tuesday.
"We go on the road eight times a year," he says, adding that this year he's played "Chicago, Two Falls, S.D., Youngstown, Ohio, and I sort of black out after that."
Feldman graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1970 with an English degree and worked as an English teacher and cab driver before settling down with the radio show. After nearly two decades, nothing seems to rattle him once the microphones are turned on.
"No one's given birth (during the show). We had one woman in labor," he says. "And we had people who should have been at their wedding. They were getting married that morning ï¿½ it was the groom (in the audience). The bride was not a fan."
He also remembers the time a fire alarm sounded in the middle of a live broadcast. Feldman found himself in a quandary: Should he stop the program and shoo his audience out of the venue, or go on with the show?
"I locked the doors," he says, adding that he was glad it turned out to be a false alarm.
When a contestant gives a mindless answer or tries to upstage him, Feldman just takes it in stride.
"It's just radio. I just try to move things along," he says. "Occasionally I have someone who is taking shots at me ï¿½ or (worse), is being funnier that I am."
Outside of the broadcast, Feldman's life centers on his wife and two daughters. Tuesday afternoon he was taking his 8-year-old daughter to the movie "Hey Arnold! The Movie."
Feldman has written several books, including "Whad'ya Know?" "Whad'ya Knowledge," "Thanks for the Memos" and "Wisconsin Curiosities." He has released recordings of the broadcast, the latest CD being "Road Kill," and is working on a card game version of the show.