Birthplace: Milwaukee, WI
You Know Him As: Host of Public Radio’s “Whad’ya know?” program.
Did you know?: Michael Feldman taught briefly at both Tremper High School and Reuther High School in Kenosha.
Michael Feldman was born in 1950 in Milwaukee to David and Geraldine Feldman, the youngest of four sons. He made his radio debut in 1965 when his winning essay earned him an appearance on a radio program in Milwaukee.
Feldman was the only child in his family not to have achieved a degree in medicine or law to fall back on. Instead, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970 with a degree in English. After graduation, he had no idea what to do with his degree, so he decided to try education and accordingly pursued a teaching degree. By 1971 he had a position at Tremper High School in Kenosha as an English teacher. He was to teach also at Reuther High School before returning to Madison to teach at Malcolm Shabazz Alternative High School.
Unsatisfied with his life as an educator, Feldman decided to volunteer with a local listener-sponsored radio station in Madison, WORT-FM, to deliver their newsletter. Unfortunately, he quit before actually following through. The next year he returned, ready to go on-air. He asked around determinedly until he found some fill-in work on air. Shortly after, he had his very own Friday night call-in show called “Thanks for Calling,” in which people called seeking comfort. Less than a year later, Feldman had a 6-9 AM live show, broadcast from Dolly’s Fine Foods, called “The Breakfast Special,” in which he played music and talked to people while they ate.
Feldman eventually quit teaching after an eight-year run, and within two years quit radio, too. His new day job become a cab driver. This was a self-proclaimed failure, so he returned to radio- this time to Wisconsin Public Radio, WHA in Madison.
Feldman was given one hour a week on Saturdays beginning at 12:05, which he called “High Noon,” and for which he re-named himself “the fastest Mike in the Midwest.” After about a year, this live-music, live-audience show came to an end. “AM Saturdays,” a live show broadcast from a bar called the Club de Wash, came next.
It was here that Feldman met a future phone-call screener for his show, “Whad‘ya Know?”, Lyle Anderson; WHA’s future piano player, John Thulin; and his second wife, Consuela.
While working “AM Saturdays,” Feldman was offered a job with Chicago’s WGN radio doing the late afternoon drive. He accepted the offer, re-located to Chicago and began working at WGN, where he was teamed with a former traffic-copter reporter. Unfortunately, his co-host had never co-hosted before and the two did not get along.
“It was literally a tug war, grabbing controls,” he says on the website www.current.org. “It lasted about six months,” when the station fired them both, he says.
Wisconsin radio personality, Jack Mitchell, had helped Feldman get the “High Noon” program with Wisconsin Public Radio. He called Feldman again, wanting him back at public radio in Madison. However, Feldman wanted to stay in Chicago to redeem himself as a radio host in the city’s eyes, so he made what he considered extravagant demands to avoid the job: a live weekly show, with a live band and audience, ability to do call-in’s, and designed for national release. Surprising Feldman, Mitchell met all of these demands and persisted in trying to hire him.
“To me, he was a radio natural,” says Mitchell on www.current.org. “He was funny, he was spontaneous, it was live radio at it’s best.”
With Mitchell‘s help and encouragement, Feldman was able to begin the Wisconsin Public Radio program “Whad’ya Know?” in 1985, which still remains on-air today. One of Feldman’s demands, however, wasn’t met until 1989, four years later. It was then that the show was picked up by American Public Radio, now called Public Radio International, for distribution beyond Wisconsin.
“I have the uneasy feeling I’m doing what I should be doing,” Feldman said in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Unless I discover skills I don’t know I have. Although I’m pretty good at coloring.”
While in the radio business, Feldman has also authored three books, “Whad’Ya Know?,” “Whad’Ya Knowledge?” and “Thanks for the Memos;” appeared in three television pilots, one for Disney and two for other syndicators, of which none took off; and has song-writing credits with fellow Kenoshan John Sieger, which include “That White Boy (Isn’t Good for You),” “If My Old Man Were Alive Today This World Would Kill Him Quick” and “Salty Tears.” Presently he lives in Madison with his wife, Sandy, and their two daughters, Ellie and Nora.
Biography by Katie Doucet