A little more than a quarter-century ago, an adventurous former English major and failed cab driver turned his gift for gab into a small-time radio show. Now 26 years old, Michael Feldman’s Madison, Wisc.-based talk/quiz/music show “Whad’Ya Know?” is still on the air, regularly touring these great United States in search of the odd, unusual and downright ridiculous.
Over the years, the show has garnered a cult-like following of trivia junkies, lovers of Americana and Feldman groupies. Feldman’s quick wit is always at the show’s core, and off-kilter guests provide him plenty of fodder. Airing on WJCT 89.9 every Saturday from noon-2 p.m., Feldman’s show will be staged live at downtown Jacksonville’s Florida Theatre. Guests include local bluegrass trio Grandpa’s Cough Medicine and University of North Florida biologist Quincy Anne Gibson.
Folio Weekly recently spoke with Feldman about his audience, his fondness for reptiles and his career options when his show finally tanks.
Folio Weekly: This is your second visit to Jacksonville. How was your first? Do you recall?
Michael Feldman: It was good. The highlight was probably the fish camp — we went to Clark’s Fish Camp — and it was great right up until the rattlesnake.
F.W.: Here in Jacksonville, you have a two-hour spot on local affiliate WJCT, longer than even the legendary “Car Talk.” How do you rank?
M.F.: I really need like three or four hours to get it all out there, but we rush through and cram it into two.
F.W.: What is your most memorable experience on the radio?
M.F.: Most memorable. Gee, that’s a tough one.
F.W.: Because they’re all so memorable, or because they’ve all been forgotten?
M.F.: Well, you need to get into therapy to go through it all. I tend to cancel things out as soon as they happen. I did enjoy piloting the Goodyear blimp when I was in Canton, Ohio.
F.W.: Do you still modify the show as you go?
M.F.: It’s pretty much ossified.
F.W.: Has the audience changed, or has the demographic remained consistent?
M.F.: They’ve gotten a lot older, I’ve noticed. More people with walkers. More people come in busloads.
F.W.: So what happens when your audience, you know, dies off?
M.F.: We are hoping that they have reproduced. Our audience has always been strange, ’cause families come and bring their kids, the 8- and 9-year-olds up through the 12-year-olds. So the kids always come, but then we lose them for a while — during puberty and high school — but they come back to us after graduate school. So we do have a slow-rolling turnover.
F.W.: So you have a future in this business.
M.F.: More past than future.
F.W.: You have had, over the years, a number of women who profess to being attracted to either your voice or your physical features.
M.F.: Isn’t that funny? I haven’t seen that at all — and I’ve really been looking for it.
M.F.: Usually, they like [co-host] Jim Packard. That really is a stunning thing for me. I can hardly ever recover from that … I did have some older ladies fighting over me one time. We had a woman about sixtysomething say, “I’m your biggest fan.” And a 70-year-old woman leaped up and said, “No, I am.” And then there was an 80- or 90-year-old woman who said, “I am 90 years old,” or whatever, “and I am, by far, [your] oldest and biggest fan.” That was kind of exciting — for a moment. I feel like the surviving guy in a nursing home.
F.W.: If you were not doing radio, what would you be doing?
M.F.: I do have a teaching certificate. I never renewed it. And I do have a taxi permit. Once again, I think that’s something you gotta go in every couple of years and show ’em you can see signs and things. I possibly could renew those. I’m not sure. Other than that, I’m not prepared to do anything.
John E. C