Answers aren’t important to Michael Feldman, host of Whad’ya Know?, American Public Radio’s hit comedy, quiz, and call-in show. The question’s the thing: Do more Americans have bowling balls or obese dogs? What’s the difference between flotsam and jetsam? How many inches above the knee can U.S. postal workers hem their skirts, shorts, and culottes?
”My trivia is very important stuff,” says Feldman, 43. ”And the other trivia is garbage.” Part David Letterman, part Groucho Marx, he spends much of his two-hour Saturday-morning show chatting up the audience at the University of Wisconsin lecture hall in Madison, where he tapes. ”If you don’t wish to be spoken to,” he warns, ”assume the fetal position.” The production is as extravagant as duct tape. ”I have Kleenex if anyone needs it,” Feldman says from his onstage Naugahyde diner booth.
The Milwaukee-born radio veteran has made the show a patchwork of silly moments. There is his traditional greeting: ”So, whad’ya know?” To which the audience hollers, ”Not much, you?” There’s the ”All-the-News-That-Isn’t” monologue. (”Well you know how it is when you’re (deploying) one last major movement of troops before you say goodbye,” he said recently. ”’Cause after Jan. 20 it’s strictly Civil War miniatures for Citizen Bush.”) There are the offbeat guests, like home-improvement author David Owen. (”I was moved by your chapter on dry-walling,” Feldman offered.)
Whad’ya Know?, which began airing in 1985 on 13 Wisconsin stations, is now heard on 150 outlets, reaching 500,000 listeners each week. They probably don’t tune in for the caller prizes — although pink lawn flamingos, Uncle Milton’s Live Insect Habitat, and odorless fish ties do mesh perfectly with the show’s antiglitz, off-the-wall persona. As Feldman puts it, ”My saving grace is a dysfunction that compels me to free-associate under stress. Until radio, it was a liability.” We’re all ears.