Blood is in the water over at public radio, where top brass has apparently decided that Jesse Camp didn't teach big broadcasters enough lessons back in 1998. Officially, it's the "Public Radio Talent Quest," but Ira "I Am Shattering" Glass is calling it "This American Idol." The game is that people submit a short radio piece, and after a couple weeks of voting, the field starts to narrow and a panel of radio experts/personalities choose the best. If you win—and three people will—you get 10 grand and a mentor, who will help you produce a pilot of your show and shop it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The big questions, as per the "Talent Quest" website: "Do you have what it takes to be public radio's next great host? Do you have that most elusive of qualities - hostiness? Now is your chance." And just what is "hostiness"? No better way to know then to dig through the submissions, all of which are available for streaming along with comments from their creators and banter between friends.
On the whole, it seems that kids (and olds) have learned about as much about NPR house style from the SNL parodies as they have from the actual programming. Let's see... anemic tonal detachment? Check! Coffee house world music? Check! Subordinate clauses, apposition, and em-dashes? Ballin'! Film professor Jeff Midents crams fifteen clarifying phrases/clauses into his two-minute riff on green-eyed artist Nawi Oleen which averages out for one every ten seconds, enough to give the boy Robert Siegel a run for his money.
Which is not to say there's not life out there. Peep "soultalker" a.k.a. The Pleasure Activist on the topic of liberation and sexuality: "I LOVE 'BODY JOY.' WHAT A GREAT, GREAT NAME FOR A BUSINESS." Also check out GW affiliates Gabe and Kibs' "After the Fact" with Ulysses McLoud, a fictional high school teacher fired for refusing to grade his students ( "It reminded me of one of my favorite books by Nathanial Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter....I'll admit it, I was sick of these kids getting dehumanized").
Then there's the almighty Nurmi Hasa, a self-proclaimed lover of literature who "divides his time between Second Century Rome, fin-de-siecle London, pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg, and 21st Century Cascadia." Make sure to actually listen to this one; doggie starts his piece with a fireside chuckle, then purrs his way slowly through the rest like a big furry cat:
You know, I often feel as though I'm living more than one life, which makes me sort of an intellectual bigamist, I suppose. I mean, there's my real life and my life in books, not to be confused with the lives I lead in music and British television shows.... [My life in books] isn't organized by date or event, it's organized by writer. As in, 'before Hildesheimer,' or 'after Saki.' And I don't read books; anyone can read books. I read writers. If you grab me, I'll track you down and inhale everything you've ever written. Which I suppose makes me an intellectual stalker as well as a bigamist. Like most folk in the rain soaked northwest I always have a tome or two going...Mr. Hasa has a friend in one Linda Lowen, a 46-year-old semi-professional radio worker who can be seen telling him in a comment thread that his submission was the first she'd heard to give her "a chill, a good one, the kind where your soul shifts and you feel it."
If you're wondering where exactly Linda felt that chill, look no further than her submission, a politically porny yarn about a house by the sea occupied by five wives/mothers who have put their lives on hold for the duties of family. Over a pale, quiet piano, Linda describes her "Momma, I'm So Sorry" fantasy, in which she pairs each of her little women with a "brilliant," "talented" young man, who is paid a cool million to do her bidding so that she can explore her passions. "After six months, with a woman unfettered to do whatever she could dream of doing and a man saddled with what most women do every day," Linda says, her p's and t's light as a feather, "I'd see what those lives were like now that they had been changed by living in each other's shoes. All this would happen in my house by the sea."
Another thing that would probably happen there is drowning, right fellas? According to her bio, Linda was raised Jewish by her "Japanese mother and Brooklyn-born father." These days she's keeping busy doing Zen practice and reconnecting with her Buddhist roots. Her secret talent? "It's goofy: I can hum and whistle at the same time, thus sounding like an alien spaceship approaching."
Mr. Hasa, for one, is impressed and enchanted. While Linda visits other people's pages and posts questions about why more women aren't entering the contest, Mr. Hasa, "a pretty radical feminist... happy to speak up on gender issues," warmly responds to her on her own page: "Lovely production, lovely voice, lovely sentiments. 'Two hundred a year and a room of her own.' Yep. Women sacrifice far too much in this culture. And for what? For men to have the time to blow up little brown children? Nope. Not right."
They go back and forth like this for six more posts, each one more tender than the last. Next thing you know, they'll be meeting up in the local library's private A/V room. No one tell Mr. Linda!
Deadline for submissions is May 14th. Three rounds later, a winner will be announced on September 24. In the meantime, Ira Glass: "Enter the Public Radio Talent Quest. This is no joke."—LEON