Feldman (left) found a new home for his show, which was canceled in June.
Just after noon on Sept. 3, Michael Feldman looked out over 250 fans gathered in front of the cramped stage at Madison’s High Noon Saloon.
“Thank you for being here,” he said, “Although it’s not hard to get a Wisconsin crowd in a bar at 12:01.” Loud laughter. The excited audience had been waiting for this moment since June 30, when Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? made its last broadcast.
For 31 years Wisconsin Public Radio produced the program, distributed nationally by Public Radio International. At its peak, Whad’Ya Know? had 1.5 million listeners. But radio has been grappling with the rise of streaming and podcasts. One recent study showed that 21 percent of Americans don’t even own a radio. Among those age 18-34, 32 percent do not.
So Feldman came out of “refiredment,” as he calls it, to relaunch Whad’Ya Know? for podcast and live YouTube. (The channel is WhadYaTube.) Two podcasts were recorded back-to-back Saturday, each about 40 minutes. Future podcasts, featured by Public Radio International, will be recorded every two weeks.
Feldman warmed up his mostly middle-aged audience leisurely, as if savoring the fact that it had all come together — a radio show without radio. “No one knows we’re doing a podcast, so don’t use the P-word,” he quipped. Later he asked audience members, separately and collectively, “Have you ever listened to a podcast?” Most had not. “Would you listen to this as a podcast?”
Wearing a dark short-sleeved shirt and headphones, Feldman polled his partners from behind a desk with a glaring lamp. Mic checks were finished. His regular jazz duo, John Thulin and Jeff Hamann, was in place. Back also were the flanking pink flamingos and stuffed emu, fixtures from the radio studio.
“We’re here?” asked Feldman. “We’re all here!” Cheers, sustained applause. His daughter Nora ranged the room, taking photos. Feldman looked slightly anxious but embraced by the crowd’s warmth.
“We think we have about seven people watching this on YouTube,” he added.
“My dad is one of them,” said announcer Stephanie Lee, now elevated to co-host. “Hi, Dad!” Halfway through the show, Feldman asked Lee to defend her millennial generation, her attempts eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Next, Feldman let audience applause decide whether the show would play old or new theme music. Thulin’s new theme won easily. Feldman concluded it was “Very nice, very podcast-y.”
Starting time had long passed. “We don’t have to start at 12. That’s the beauty of the podcasting model,” said Feldman.
Rick Devoy, a fan from San Luis Obispo, California — with close-cropped gray hair, jeans and dark polo shirt — practically bounced in his seat. He’d been a guest on Feldman’s last broadcast, and he wanted to be on the first new show. He would be.
Feldman noted a few changes. In addition to hosting, he was now technical producer, “because I had to buy the equipment.” Not quite a joke. The audience’s traditional pastries were gone, but there were other refreshments.
“It’s a tradeoff,” he said. “Do you want doughnuts or a full-service bar?”
“Both!” said Lee.
Then, at 12:14, the music started and the revived Whad’Ya Know? began.
“I thought I’d never see you guys again,” said Feldman. “Ever. Ever.”