Category Archives: Big Talk

Talkin’ Up The Talk

Big Talk has been a thing on Bloomington radio for a good eight years now.

I remember that first Big Talk, recorded in the cramped live air room at the WFHB studios in January 2014. My guest was Nate Powell, the noted cartoonist who’d illustrated the first volume of Rep. John Lewis‘s graphic novel memoir, March. (Lewis, Powell, and writer Andrew Aydin went on to produce two more volumes of the trilogy.) Lewis, of course, was the famed civil rights activist who served 33 years in the United States House of Representatives. Elected to the House 17 times from whatever district in Georgia the statehouse had mapped (or, probably more accurately, gerrymandered), Lewis previously had been a high ranking member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had been famously bashed on the head by an Alabama state trooper during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign. His skull was fractured and he feared at the moment of impact that his life was about to end. The march he was participating in that particular day became known as Bloody Sunday.

Nate Powell was a popular graphic novelist who’d already written and/or illustrated nearly 30 books including Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, and The Silence of Our Friends. He’d won the Ignatz and Eisner awards for best original graphic novel for 2008’s Swallow Me Whole.

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WFHB’s archives no longer go that far back so here’s the raw recording of that first Big Talk feature with Nate Powell:

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My second Big Talk guest ever was Charlotte Zietlow, the beloved (by most) and legendary local politician and activist who, with a motley crew of political outsiders including future Congressperson Frank McCloskey, transformed Bloomington from a Republican-led town to one run by Democrats in 1971. It’s remained that way ever since. That Zietlow guest spot began a relationship between her and me that only grew stronger as time passed and resulted in the publication in September 2020 of our book, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives.

Look for it in your local bookstore or online.

At the time of the Powell, Zietlow, et al interviews, Big Talk was an eight-minute feature on WFHB’s Daily Local News. It would go on that way for the next two and a half years, with a lengthy gap in 2016 for me to get the crap kicked out of me by lymph node cancer. As I recovered from chemoradiation therapy and got stronger and regained the 80 pounds I’d lost during treatment, I realized I wanted to take that radio spot to the next level and so applied to WFHB’s News and Public Affairs Committee for a half-hour slot in which I could make Big Talk a stand alone program.

The then-News Director, Wes Martin, did all the heavy lifting for me in that effort and I was thrilled to learn my new show had been approved. So, in August 2017, I aired my very first 28-minute Big Talk, with guest, Adria Nassim. Adria, too has become a friend. She writes a regular column for the Bloomington Herald-Times detailing life for people on the autism spectrum.

Alex Ashkin (R) with his recent guest, Wally Ouedraogo, co-owner of The Inkwell on Woodlawn.

Since then, Big Talk has aired weekly, every Thursday at 5:30pm, with a re-broadcast every Friday at 11:30am. Last year, I even recruited a semi-regular co-host, Alex Ashkin, a dynamic fellow I’d met hanging out in the Soma coffeehouse on Grant Street in downtown Bloomington. Alex is a lot younger than I am (and that I’d care to admit) and that’s the reason I asked him to come aboard. I’d been starting to feel as though the program needed a fresh voice, someone from a different generation and lifestyle who’d bring in a whole new slew of guests. He’s done just that.

Big Talk has put more than 250 guests on the airwaves here in South Central Indiana and, for that matter, on the internet around the world. Our most recent edition featured Kathy Loser, former librarian for the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation and current board member of the Monroe County Public Library. Kathy has strong opinions about…, well, everything, but especially about books and efforts by well-funded political activists trying to ban or restrict reading materials in school and/or public libraries. Like many — or even most — Big Talks, this edition was timely inasmuch as there appears to be a new wave of banning/restrictions around the country, most prominently the McMinn County, Tennessee dustup that came to light last month.

Books, Libraries, Reading, Banning: Kathy Loser

Anyway, all this is my way of crowing about my radio program. Thanks a lot for indulging me. And thanks even more if you tune in to WFHB, contribute to the station, or listen to podcasts of Big Talk.

Jim Manion, Raw

A few years ago, perhaps 2018, give a take a year, I was sitting in the reception area at WFHB waiting for my Big Talk guest to show up for recording that day when the station’s music director, Jim Manion, strolled in. He carefully noted that we were alone and proceeded to confide a secret. He was thinking of retiring, he told me. No one was to know.

To that end, Manion added, he wondered if I’d consider interviewing him on Big Talk when the time came and after he’d made his announcement. Well sure, I replied. Heck, Manion’s one of founding members of the WFHB family. He was in at the very beginning, ab ovo as it were, when a crew of young dreamers came up with the bright idea to start a community radio station here in Bloomington, Indiana.

People like Brian Kearney and Jeffrey Morris and others were excited to start an FM station that’d add the the tiny but growing list of other such radio outlets, supported by listeners, without commercials, and playing something more — a whole hell of a lot more — than the two-minute, 30-second bubble gum pop hits the Top 40 stations had been airing throughout the 1950s and ’60s. “There was a real creative renaissance going on at the time,” Manion has been quoted as saying regarding the FM radio revolution of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That crew formed a nonprofit organization in the mid-’70s and started the byzantine application process for an FCC license. It’d take them nearly 20 years to get approved and go on the air.

That’s Manion, 3rd from the right, with (gasp) dark hair, in WFHB’s early days.

When WFHB went on the air in December 1992 for a test run and in January 1993 for real, the station’s headquarters and studio were crammed into a tiny cinderblock shack underneath the WFHB broadcast tower off Rockport Road southwest of the city proper. It’d be another year before the station found a proper home in the city’s old firehouse behind what is now known as the Waldron Center. Ergo our corporate moniker, Firehouse Broadcasting.

I could have rubbed my hands together in greedy glee at the thought of steering Manion through the history of WFHB as well as his own colorful life. Manion reminded me the day was years off before he retreated into his grotto-like office. I never forgot about his proposal but, as the years passed, the idea became more and more just that — an idea, a wisp, a dream. Retirement, for me and my contemporaries, remained a distance prospect, something we knew was to come, but, like kids, we could still pretend it was in the far future.

At our age, Manion’s and mine, the years pass as months or even weeks did when we were in our teens and twenties. Next thing I knew, earlier this spring, an email came from Manion telling me the day was at last approaching. He would retire at the end of May 2021.

It was time to set up that Big Talk he’d suggested, his valedictory.

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And so we aired Part 1 of the life and times of Jim Manion and of the radio station, WFHB, a week ago, Thursday, May 20th. Today, we aired Part 2. As with all my recordings, I carefully snipped out all the ums and ahs and ers, all the coughs and belches and lip smackings, all the “Oops, did I say that? I meant to say….” misspeaks and recants. But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced I ought to put up the raw audio of Jim’s and my conversation. It took place, via Zoom, on Wednesday, May 12th, 2021, starting at 12:30pm. Jim had to squeeze the interview in between a scheduled meeting he’d had with station general manager Jar Turner and a doctor’s appointment. I was afraid we’d be rushed but, no, Jim was voluble and expansive. We went on and on and, of course, I was able to turn the interview into a two-parter.

So, give a listen to the unedited chat. If you love WFHB, if you love Bloomington, if you love Jim Manion, you’ll love it.

Hot Air: The Game, Stop

I have a mental block when it comes to understanding much of anything to do with economics, macro-variety. Mostly it’s because I see economics as a contrived, flawed, crooked game. The whole scheme for centuries has been molded and manipulated by the haves in order to keep them that way. The entire foundation of economics is based on the unspoken philosophy that holds, Hey, we’ve got dough so that means we’re smarter people, more hard-working people, better people; if you haven’t got dough, too bad, you deserve your lot in life.

Just this past week some weird Wall Street thing went on that I’ve struggled to grasp. That is this whole GameStop phenomenon. I have long been unable to wrap my modest cerebral cortex around the very idea of short selling. I’ve tried to read explanations of it and within seconds my eyes glaze over and I start wondering if perhaps I should clip my toenails. BTW, toenail clipping is out for me for at least the next couple of months due to restrictions placed on me in the wake of my right hip replacement in late December. I am walking, though, and exercising and, slowly but surely, getting back to some modicum of normality I haven’t felt in nearly a decade. Here’s my new gadget:

I sometimes think about that long screw connecting my new plastic joint cup to my hip bone and start shuddering. The very idea that a piece of hardware store merchandise is inside me — permanently — doesn’t quite sit terribly well with me. Then I shake my head and worry about other things, like trying to persuade The Loved One to clip my toenails. (She does, happily. Bless her.)

Anyway, GameStop and short selling. I was listening to On the Media with Brooke Gladstone today. She covered it all because it is perhaps the definitive third decade of the 21st Century media story, inasmuch as the players involved used what-the-hell-ever social media to upend the market for a few days. She had a guest on, some fellow who writes about the economy, meaning I’ve never heard of him although, acc’d’g to Gladstone, he knows his stuff. She asked him the perfect First Question: What is short selling?

I’m a huge advocate of First Questions, employing them on my Big Talk weekly radio interview program on WFHB, 91.3 FM, Bloomington. First Questions are those queries about concepts and things that we all talk about regularly and confidently that we know what we’re talking about but…, well, maybe we’re not so smart about them as we’d like to fancy ourselves.

This fellow launched into a lengthy explanation of short selling, in keeping with economist-talk. Economists cannot, psychologically or biologically, explain anything in simple understandable terms. Y’know, because then it might dawn on the rest of us that the game is rigged. It’s like priests and ministers talking about god and existence. They go on and on for hours, dancing around the conclusion that, golly, we just don’t know.

Toward the end of the economist’s disquisition he said, and I paraphrase, in short selling, somebody borrows a bunch of stock from somebody else and sells it at, say, twenty bucks a pop. They’re hoping the stock’s value is tumbling so they can then turn around and buy back those shares for a ten-spot each. Then, when they return the stock to its owner, they’ve ended up making ten dollars on each share.

If I were a cartoon character, a lightbulb would have gone on over my head. Aha, I though, now I get it.

The economist continued: short selling is good for the market because it keeps certain stocks from becoming overvalued due to irrational exuberance, although why that’s important remains unclear to me. And, trust me, I wont be delving any deeper into these things because…, economics, right?

But I get it — as much as I care to get it — now. Short selling. Makes sense. And it sucks to high heaven. All I could think of was any system that rewards people for the woes and misfortunes of others is sick, probably fatally so. You, the short seller, are hoping an entire company — investors, managers, laborers, plus their families, their butchers, their mortgage holders, etc. — suffer the collapse of said biz just so you can make a few bucks betting on that failure.

My pal, the Lake County Republican, tells me capitalism ain’t perfect but it’s the best thing we’ve got. For my money, if that’s true we’re in a world of shit. I wouldn’t brag about it.

Hot Air: TalkLink

Hey, I invented a word!

What it means is you can click your way clear to hearing yesterday’s Big Talk featuring Courtney Payne-Taylor, skateboarder, motivator, and founder of GRO (Girls Riders Organization).

And here’s a vid from the GRO archives:

Hot Air: The Comedy Apocalypse

Admit it: Never in your wildest nightmares did you foresee nuclear war starting thanks to the intransigence of two dick-waving, delusional clowns playing chicken with each other.

All this time, you thought armageddon would be prosecuted by serious statesmen, speaking in hushed voices, imploring each other over their hotlines not to allow the world to descend into inferno. Y’know, like in the movies.

Fail Safe

But…, oh yeah…, both Moscow and New York City were fried anyway so…, y’know….

A Different Success

The voiceover on the promo for my Big Talk radio interview show (the dulcet-toned Cindy Beaule, BTW) tells us the show features Bloomington souls who are “creative, exciting, successful.” My guest on yesterday’s show doesn’t have a paying gig and doesn’t have a permanent address (very often, she doesn’t have a place to sleep at night). She doesn’t have health insurance, a bank account, or even a full set of IDs (they were swiped). Her name is Peggy. She’s homeless.

Peggy

Peggy, though, is extremely creative — she finds ways to go on despite all the aforementioned snags. She’s  exciting as she conveys an irrepressible hope that things are going to turn out just fine, eventually. And she’s successful: like you, like me, she gets up every morning bound and determined to make something of this day.

Peggy told me her story in a noisy room at the Shalom Center Wednesday. You can hear the eight-minute feature on that chat I cobbled together here. You can catch the full interview with her here.

And the next time I hear some SOB talking about how lazy the homeless are or how they’ve brought all their problems on themselves, he just might walk away with a bloody nose.

Can Canon?

Next week my Big Talk guest will be candidate for US Congress from Indiana’s 9th District, Dan Canon. The New Albany lawyer made a national rep for himself when he argued for marriage equality in the US Supreme Court case, Obergefel v. Hodges, which decision, BTW, came down just a tad over two years ago, on June 26, 2015.

Canon

[Image: Adam Brodsky/Rhymes Against Humanity]

Catch Big Talk Thursday, July 13th, on the WFHB Daily Local News at 5.

Talk, Talk

We can kid each other all we want about how the Democratic Party might make the white working class fall in love with it again. We’ve been flooded with articles, essays, and think pieces suggesting all the Dems have to do is coo sweet nothings into blue-collar America’s ear.

Then again, there’s this:

Democratic liberals have spent years responding to the racist and bigoted attitudes of many white working class voters by calling them racist and bigoted, which has alienated them.

— From Agenda, “Primary Colors: On Democratic Presidential Politics,Neoliberalism, and the White Working Class,” by Osita Nwanevu

I’m guessing those folks aren’t going to be swayed no matter what the Democratic message might be.

 

Hot Air: Suckers

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along.

— Carl Sagan

Sagan died in 1997 so this quote is, at the very least, nearly a quarter of a century old. “Vigilance, dedication, and courage.” A triad of qualities in frightfully short supply for, at the very least, a quarter of a century. And now Sagan’s worst nightmare has come true.

Bad Business On Big Talk

Emma Johnson of Kite Line and I touched, if ever so briefly, upon the horror show that is our holy land’s prison system. Slamming people behind bars is big business in America today. Bad business, at that.

She joined me on Big Talk yesterday afternoon. Catch the podcast of the WFHB feature here and the entire original interview with the co-host of Kite Line radio here.

Smart Cookie

Well, sure, Leo Cook is out there. He wouldn’t deny it. He couldn’t deny it.

And why should he? The only sane people in this mad, mad, mad, mad world are those who are at least three degrees off center.

Leo’s latest mad foray into media-megastardom is hosting kids’ spots on WTIU’s The Friday Zone. Here are a few pix from the set of one of Leo’s upcoming edu-tainment show-gram episodes:

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Food Or Not Food?

A Blip > A Flop

Vindication for all those who swore to high heaven that a Bernie Sanders presidency would have been better than a L’il Duce reign: The events of the past seven months have proven them righter than right.

I was skeptical of the prospect of Sanders taking over the Executive Branch while both houses of Congress were in the hands of the hijacked GOP. He’d be utterly powerless, an afterthought, a sure bet to go down in flames in 2020. All that might have been true had he snatched the Dem nomination and gone on to beat the man who is now President Gag.

Superior

Yet, a President Sanders would not have benefited from Russia’s terrifying disinformation and hacking campaign. And he wouldn’t be gutting the EPA, Planned Parenthood, the renewable energy industry, the Justice Dept.’s civil rights arm, or all federal depts.’ civil rights arms, for that matter. He wouldn’t be surrounded by social Darwinist billionaires in his Cabinet, he wouldn’t be pushing us toward war with either N. Korea or Iran — or both. He wouldn’t have made a shambles of the State Dept. and vandalized pretty much every relationship we have with all the major nations of Earth (save one).

A Sanders presidency might have been a mild punchline for late night monologuists. L’il Duce‘s threatens the very future of this holy land. Sanders’d have been better by a factor of thousands, even if he turned out to be a toothless four-year blip in the history of the presidency.

Hot Air: Big Talk Goes To The Big House

I’ll be recording this week’s Big Talk this afternoon at the WFHB studios. My guest will be Emma Johnson, one of the founders of Kite Line. A “kite” in prison lingo is a message. It can be a slip of paper or a whisper, and it’s often passed through many hands or ears until it gets to the intended receiver. Kite LIne is a weekly radio program on WFHB dealing with prisoner issues, both inside and out. First question I’ll ask Emma: “Why should we care about prisoners?” I hope to learn a lot. Tune in Thursday at 5:00pm when, it is to be hoped, you might learn some little thing about this holy land’s prison state.

The Old Roundhouse At Stateville Prison Outside Joliet, Illinois

Politics

A couple of book quotes that reflect upon our current political state:

1) Last year, plenty o’folks hollered about the tyranny of party politics, as if elections can be won and policies implemented simply by having some charismatic or “straight-talking” soapboxer fill a few arenas during election season…, hey, wait a minute…, that’s wtf happened isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s wtf happened. Still, I don’t see President Gag’s election and his establishment of a Reich as a historic touchstone marking the end of organizational politics. If the sane among us are going to beat the Warthog-in-Chief come 2020, we’ll have to work like a well-oiled machine. In other words, a Party.

Massachussetts congressbeing Tip O’Neill was the dictionary definition of a party pol. The old Speaker of the House was a blustery, back-slapping, deal-cutting, insider’s insider who’d go toe to toe with the Republican opposition during the day and then knock back a few pops with those same rivals until late into the night.

Friendly Rivals: Ronald Reagan (L) & O’Neill

The Republican Party began to change back in the 1970s with the influx of the well-organized fundamentalist Christian Taliban. The Democratic Party followed suit the next decade, transforming itself inversely. The rise of the likes of Gary Hart and then Bill Clinton heralded the Dems’ new method of selecting Mr. Right. They didn’t come up through the ranks, doing grunt work, stuffing envelopes, and sweating in telephone boiler rooms. No, they depended on so-called new technologies and innovative strategies for their ascensions.

O’Neill mourned the passing of the old breed and was skeptical that the new now had the answers. He said:

… [M]any never came through the organization, never rang a doorbell in their life, never were a precinct worker, never stayed late at the polls, never brought people to an election, weren’t brought up in the realm of party discipline.

— as quoted in David Broder’s Changing of the Guard: Power and Leadership in America

2) Speaking of that Republican flyover population, so many of whom constituted something Dick Nixon called the “Silent Majority” and would come to be the money tree that Roger Ailes and his Fox News outfit shook with vigor, as far back as the 1970s viewed the mainstream media with loathing. Here’s an example of their propensity to kill the messenger. In his book, Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right, Dominic Sandbrook recalls the tale of Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil. Sandbrook calls him, “the bourbon-swilling, cane-twirling darling of the southern and western white working classes.” He writes of Knievel’s bigger-than-big, much anticipated televised leap over the Snake River Canyon in his rocket-powered bike, the Skycycle. It turned out to be a glorious flop. Sandbrook writes:

In the event, the Skycycle failed even to make it off the ramp properly, and as the chastened Knievel was whisked away in a limousine, the crowd turned ugly, smashing the televison crews’ equipment, gutting the concession stands, and setting cars on fire.

From Knievel To Trump: A Straight Line

Hot Air: Ups & Downs

If you’re anything like me, you’re riding the President Gag roller coaster these days.

Truly, my emotions are running riot. One day down, the next day up. On Monday, say, I’m afraid this vaudeville  presidency will be the death knell for America. On Tuesday, I might think, Hmm, maybe we can wrest control of one or both houses of Congress in ’18 and get the White House in ’20 and in a few years we’ll all have a good laugh about this burlesque regime!

You know, mood swings are a clear sign of depression.

And if you’re not depressed yet, well….

Hondo Harangue

Here’s the link to yesterday’s Big Talk featuring Hondo Thompson, the new main stage emcee for the John Hartford Fest, now in full swing at the Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground.

And after you get your aural sip of him from the WFHB feature, you can grab a Hondo big gulp here for the unedited, full-length interview I did with him this week.

Talk to you later.

Hot Air: Eyes & Ears

You get the Big Mike treatment two ways on this first day of June:

First: The latest installment of Big Mike’s B-town runs in today’s Limestone Post magazine. I profile Michael Waterford, who — as we speak — is fixin’ to kayak down the entire length of the Mississippi River. He was my guest on Big Talk back on May 4. Here’s the link to that chat on WFHB, 91.3FM.

Second: The latest edition of Big Talk runs this afternoon at 5:00pm on ‘FHB. My guest will be Hondo Thompson, the new main stage emcee for the John Hartford Memorial Festival, taking place — again, as we speak — at the Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground in Bean Blossom, just north of Nashville, Indiana. I never knew much about Hartford until I set Hondo up for our Tuesday morning recording. Turns out he was quite a known guy in the bluegrass/newgrass/Americana music rackets. Hondo’s a big aficionado of said strains and he’s got a jillion stories to tell. So tune in this afternoon or click on the links I’ll post tomorrow AM for both the 8-minute radio feature and the entire original interview.

Gentle On My Mind

This song made two guys rich. One was John Hartford who penned it, and here’s the backgrounder on it: Hartford had just seen the movie Dr. Zhivago, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. He fell in screen-love with the female lead and told a pal, “I’d drink Julie Christie’s bathwater.” He promptly sat down at a picnic table and wrote, in 20 minutes, “Gentle on My Mind,” an innovative folk-y, roots-y, ‘grass-y thing that broke all the rules. Among Hartford’s crimes and misdemeanors:

  1. The song — as written — ran for four minutes, an eternity in those AM pop radio days
  2. It didn’t follow the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/solo/repeat roadmap supposedly vital to a hit record — he employed a series of rapid-fire poetic stanzas, each leading to the climactic title line
  3. It had a banjo part

Julie Christie As Lara In “Dr. Zhivago”

The other guy who raked in the dough thanks to the song was Glen Campbell, whose 1967 version of it became a monster hit. Before G-on-M-M, both Hartford and Campbell had been mildly successful in their chosen musical arenas but after Campbell’s 45 charted, each became a big time star.

Give a listen:

 

Hot Air: We Have Met The Enemy…

… And He Is Us

We can cry about Russia and Fox News and Republican gerrymandering all we want. Go ahead, if it makes you feel better.

And believe me, that’s all we have left — making ourselves feel better. This, while our holy land becomes something ugly. We’re fiddling and diddling as the homeland burns.

We blame all the electoral and cultural shocks that’ve rocked us the last few years on media manipulation and foreign agents and dumb luck. Oh no, it’s not us, we tell ourselves. The Will of the People has been subverted. When we get everybody up off the couch and out to their polling places — next time, always next time — we’ll show ’em!

Stop. Just stop.

With the election victory yesterday of Greg Gianforte after he’d pounded some annoying reporter to the floor the day before, it has become crystal clear. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

We, the whole of us, have tipped the scale toward assholery. The majority of Americans, it can now be stated with complete confidence, are self-involved, brutish, thuggish, greedy, small-minded twits, stuck in a sub-adolescence where tough cowboys and virtually illiterate plutocrats are heroes. Role models even.

Make no mistake, we’re going to pay a price for this de-evolution. Oh sure, many of us have paid through the nose for it already but the nation still stands.

Our comeuppance will come from without.

Stoned Talk

Here are the links to yesterday’s Big Talk with Limestone Post editor and publisher, Ron Eid.

Because our audio processing software decided to go on a bad acid trip when Ron and I sat down for our tête à tête Monday afternoon, much of the original interview was lost or unusable. I wasn’t able to salavge, for instance, Ron’s hosanna-singing for the likes of Lynae Sowinski, his editorial director, Emily Winters, his spanking new marketing director, and editorial assistant Dason Anderson.

Next week I’ll welcome a guest interviewer, the inimitable Hondo Thompson, who’ll grill one or two big shots from the upcoming annual John Hartford Fest.

Talk to you.

 

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