It has already outlasted TV's Ed Sullivan Show (which aired for 23 seasons) and Merv Griffin Show (22). Now, as Madison-based radio quiz show Whad'Ya Know? marks its 25th anniversary, host Michael Feldman is on the verge of surviving Larry King Live (ending this fall after 25 years).
Upon hearing this, Feldman laughs in mischievous delight. "Merv Griffin is an interesting one," he notes. Around the time Feldman was born, Griffin had a monster hit with "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts."
Even if that novelty song didn't set Feldman's career trajectory, his response exemplifies the agile mind that has driven Whad'Ya Know? for a quarter-century. At 36 programs per year, that amounts to 900 shows - and counting. "When you think about the 900 shows, it seems a little bit ridiculous," he says. "I remember when we did the 500th show and it seemed like an insurmountable object."
Scheduled for Aug. 13 at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Whad'Ya Know Silver Jubilee will feature Feldman, regulars Jim Packard and John Thulin, and guests including alt-country icon Robbie Fulks. "I think he has the best country voice since Hank Williams himself," Feldman says of Fulks. "He's a great songwriter and one of the most dynamic performers I've ever seen. Period."
Feldman attributes the enduring appeal of Whad'Ya Know? to consistency. Going back through old tapes to compile a commemorative double-CD titled The First 25 Are the Hardest, Feldman was amazed by "how much I've said the same things in slightly different fashion for 25 years."
Yet his audience keeps showing up and tuning in. "I think we buried a few of them," Feldman says, but "we are getting a second generation - the kids who were forced to listen on their way to soccer." If he loses that demographic when they hit adolescence, "we get them back in graduate school," he muses. "If we could have a sociologist examine some of this data, we could conclude something."
His own enthusiasm for Whad'Ya Know? is sustained by his daughters, he says. Their births, in 1991 and 1993, provided a trove of new material: "I got a little Erma Bombeck, I would say, for most of the decade." Now it's payback time. "I've got to put two girls through college," Feldman notes. "That's motivating."
For the 25th-anniversary show, Feldman promises "fun for the entire family. And we're going to hang around on the Terrace afterward 'til all hours, and a good time will be had by all."