Monday, February 23, 2009

Radio Future - The Best Show on WFMU

I've been looking for a good excuse to post about my favorite radio show/podcast and to start posting about other podcasts in general, and today I have it! So without further ado, here is the first installment of Radio Future, a continuing series of SCnP podcast recommendations:

I started listening to The Best Show on WFMU in Novemeber of 2006, and except for a period where I didn't have a portable mp3 player of any sort, I haven't missed an episode since. The show is broadcast on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on WFMU, a station I've mentioned here ont he blog before. Most episodes go something like this: Tom Scharpling, the host, chooses a topic (usually some variation on "tell an interesting anecdote from your life") and takes calls regarding said topic, using his callers as a springboard for his own musings, which are almost always hilarious. Tom is one of those guys who can talk entertainingly about anything, whether it be some caller's story about their family, his latest visit to Panera Bread, or the dumbest member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. His gruff yet endearing personality is the heart and soul of the program.

While unplanned calls from real people make up the bulk of the show, almost every episode features a call from Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster playing one of a menagerie of characters from the fictional town of Newbridge, NJ. These calls, more like epic two-man comedy routines, usually last over half an hour, with Scharpling playing the straight man to Wurster's cavalcade of deeply delusional and often dangerously unhinged characters, such as Roland "The Gorch" Gorchnick, a geriatric, chain-swinging maniac who claims to have been the inspiration behind Fonzie from Happy Days, or a Grateful-Dead-loving, Dr.-Seuss-hat-wearing stoner, known only as Bryce, who lives in a lean-to in the woods behind the Lady Foot Locker in the Newbridge Commons Shopping Center.

If this sounds like the sort of thing you've heard before on Morning-Zoo-Crew-type shows, don't be fooled. There is nothing like this anywhere else on radio (or anywhere, period). Each Wurster call builds slowly, with the conversation moving hither and yon like a meticulously-conceived and well-executed prog rock song, all the while maintaining a jazzy spontaneity that can sometimes veer into straight-up improv. Also, the more you listen, the more you get drawn into the different characters' often-intertwining backstories. One of the program highlights of last year was the Newbridge Mayubernatorial Debate, which featured at least a dozen characters from the show's ten years on the air, all debating one another and all played by Wurster live in the studio!

Words really can't do this show justice, so I'll just go ahead and link you up. Clocking in at three hours of "mirth, music and mayhem," the entire show is podcast here (minus the music; you have to tune in live to hear that, and trust me, Tom has impeccable taste). If that's too much of a time commitment for you, a bi-weekly "greatest hits" podcast featuring classic Scharpling & Wurster routines and other great bits from the show's archives just started today. That can be found here. (Remember that excuse I was talking about in the first paragraph? This is it.)

If you want/need to know more I've included a few more links to various articles written by better journalist than myself:

TBSOWFMU in The New York Times
TBSOWFMU on The Onion A.V. Club blog
TBSOWFMU on Wikipedia

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