Wiseacre Host Michael Feldman, Whose Whad'ya Know? Show Makes Radio Waves in Madison, Wis.
06/04/1990 at 01:00 AM EDT
Whad'ya Know? airing weekly from Madison. Wis., could be called a radio quiz show, but only to the extent that a banana split, extra nuts, could be called a dairy product. Knowledge is pretty much beside the point. When 41-year-old host Michael Feldman, a sort of Garrison Keillor-meets-Groucho Marx, calls out "Whad'ya know?" to open the show, the audience shouts back with one mighty Wisconsin voice, "Not much. You?"
This much is known: Whad'ya Know?, which airs on 104 public radio stations, is one of the medium's strangest hits since Keillor's Wobegon began. An iconoclastic mix of trivia questions (""What is the current power-tie color in Washington. D.C.?"). odd-lot guests and glazed doughnuts (provided gratis to Whad'ya's live audience of 150), the program is mostly a showcase for Feldman's wisecracks. "I never know what to give a planet who has everything," he fretted as Earth Day approached. "I thought of another moon, but I think that would detract." Donald Trump, he announced, will "celebrate Earth Day by planting Maria Maples." Ba-dum-bum, etc.
Feldman's droll delivery is to be expected from a fella who, growing up in Milwaukee, was too skewed to be class clown—"I was the class innuendist," he says. The son of an accountant and a homemaker "whose secret ambition was to be a mother," Feldman seems to have made a point of neither dropping out nor fitting in. In the '60s. while attending the University of Wisconsin, he tried living off the land. He planted beans but couldn't figure out when to harvest them. So he turned to handicrafts. "I made necklaces out of beans, because we had all these beans," he says. He also sold snoods—tiny hair nets—crocheted by his first wife. Unfulfilled, he became a teacher. Still unfulfilled, he made one of his first, fuzzy forays into radio in 1978 with a morning program that aired from a Madison eatery, Dolly's Fine Foods. "A misnomer." Feldman says. "It wasn't fine. It wasn't food—but there was a Dolly."
Feldman still lives modestly in Madison with his second wife, Sandy, 37, a physical therapist better known to Whad'ya Know? listeners as Consuela. But with TV and book versions in the works, Whad'ya Know? is beginning to look like a cash cow—a sort of Dairy Home Companion. Public radio's new hot host seems to both resent and relish the comparisons with Keillor. "That's the currency now in radio," he has said. "You're spoken of in terms of Keillors. "How many Keillor units is he?' " Feldman, in fact, came face to face with the great Wobegonian in a hallway after a Madison function years ago. "I said, 'I do a radio show from a greasy spoon on Madison's East Side,' " says Feldman. "He said. 'Do you know where the men's room is?' "