Three things stood out on a cluttered stage on Saturday, all of which are classically Madison — a red Union Terrace chair, a stuffed Wienermobile and Michael Feldman.
The radio personality known for his “Whad’Ya Know?” show presented its final public radio broadcast to a crowd of more than 1,100 people in Shannon Hall at UW-Madison’s Memorial Union.
“Whad’Ya Know?” started in 1985 with Feldman as its host and played over the airwaves in many areas around the country.
Feldman began Saturday morning’s show saying, “This one’s for you, Jim,” and dedicated the final installment to his original on-air announcer, Jim Packard, who died of cardiopulmonary disease in 2012.
“We’re not even three minutes in and I’m crying,” on-air announcer Stephanie Lee said after Feldman’s tribute.
Wisconsin Public Radio executives told Feldman in March that his live comedy quiz show would be cancelled after airing on Saturdays for 31 years. Executives cited financial reasons for cancelling the show. It was one of the most expensive WPR programs to produce and only 100 stations across the country were paying WPR to run it.
In its heydey 15 years ago, 330 radio stations carried “Whad’Ya Know?” and 1.5 million listeners tuned in.
The popular show was inducted into the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City in 1997 and in 2003 was made into a board game by Madison-based Out of the Box Publishing — the same company that created the game Apples to Apples.
Despite declining numbers, many fans have far from abandoned Feldman, even at the end of a three-decade run.
That’s particularly true for Lee, who has only been with the show for a year.
“I went to a live show at Monona Terrace and I volunteered to read the four disclaimers,” Lee recalled. The four disclaimers are a quirky list of rules about the quiz show that an audience member reads on air.
When Lee read, Feldman liked what he heard.
Lee said that Feldman told her there was an opening for an announcing position and when she auditioned he picked her out of all the others who auditioned from across the country.
“I’ve listened to the show and was a fan,” she said. “I still can’t believe that this was something I got to do.”
Other fans weren’t going to let distance stop them from seeing Feldman give his shtick to the radio world one last time.
Rick Devoy traveled 2,100 miles from his home in California to see the show. Nathan Sunquist came from Dubuque, Iowa, and many others told the crowd that they were from various areas around the state, from Green Bay to Mukwonago.
You have free articles remaining.
As audience members flooded into the theater, they were each given a note card to write a question for Feldman. Sunquist’s question was what gift he should get for his wife for leaving her at home with their sick children.
“Probably a divorce,” Feldman said as the audience erupted in laughter.
As he wandered around the audience, Feldman noticed that several seats were empty in his “sold-out” crowd. One row in particular was missing a whole line of patrons.
“Why is this row empty?” Feldman asked. “Is it a protest for people who liked the programming change?”
Despite Feldman’s self-deprecating humor — like his reiteration that the set and all remaining “Whad’Ya Know?” prizes would have to be stored in his garage — Saturday’s show is unlikely to be the last hurrah for the program, which is trying to make a go of a different show format to continue the series.
“It’s not a farewell because I’m trying to do a podcast thing,” said Feldman.
On June 7, Feldman launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 for a “Whad’Ya Know?” podcast and by Saturday evening he had raised nearly $15,000.
According to the campaign page, the money will fund a cast, crew and tech for an initial 24-show season, which will then hopefully lead to a self-funding subscription model.
“We’re now close to our new goal of $15,000,” said Lee, who will co-host the podcast with Feldman. “But since we raised the $10,000 we initially needed, we’re doing it.”
The podcast will be recorded in front of a live audience at the High Noon Saloon in the fall, according to the campaign page.
“I have a lingering fear that I need an audience to survive,” said Feldman.
Appreciation for that audience — which surrounded Feldman and his cast and crew with boisterous applause — was a resounding theme of the day.
“I think I’m mostly so moved by everyone here,” Lee said. “It’s kind of the end of an era ... this was one of the longest running shows on public radio.”
Saturday’s final show also acknowledged musicians who contributed their talents to the program over the years by bringing them back to perform. Musical guests included Clyde Stubblefield of the original “Whad’Ya Know?” trio band, Ben Sidran and John Sieger.
By the end of the show, in addition to the many folks that Feldman thanked, he had a special message for the fans who have supported him all along.
“Thank you each and every one of you for being the best audiences a guy could hope for,” he said. “I’m your biggest fan.”