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"What the...?" - The Aftermath - "What the...?"
Radio with multiple personalities
"What the...?" - The Aftermath
"Uncompromising. Meticulous. Control freak. Reclusive. These were all words that were attached to Stanley Kubrick throughout his life." - taken from Edward Champion's eulogy of Stanley Kubrick.

These are words that could also easily be attached to a radio show such as "What the…?". 'Visionary', 'artistic', 'refined', and 'genius', however, are only puss-filled, bleeding sores stuck in our collective mouths; we only wish that we could release them in recollection, but they are all too well-canchored. No amount of force and/or willpower will allow them to escape our lips; if not because of the abhorrent lies they would be, then simply because we do not dare speak the show's name in public.

No. When reminiscing about "What the…?", one might politely admit that it could be 'creatively challenging', 'entertainingly strange', 'inwardly-otherworldly', and, at times, 'uniquely embarrassing' for its listeners. While one might consider this to be somewhat disparaging, these are not combinations of words that should be taken so lightly. In fact, I'm pretty sure that "What the…?" would be rather pleased with this achievement and would endure the pinpricks gladly.

After all, "What the…?" was a silently ambitious show that struggled weekly with a conflicting desire to remain genuine and humble. It certainly wanted to succeed (who doesn't?), but it refused to compromise itself -and, consequently- its audience; it desired success on its own terms, without being influenced by outside forces. It was clear from the onset that, by giving in to demands, by being influenced by someone else's vision, "What the…?" could lose its soul.

If it had only known that it had no soul to lose in the first place, then maybe things would be very different today.

Granted, there are always the inevitable constraints. One obviously has to learn to contend with the limitations of timeslots and internal station policy, but the joys of community radio are such that creative freedom can be nurtured more easily than with commercial radio. So it was that "What the…?" could remain an open-format show for the duration of its stay - a rarity that probably bewildered the conventional and/or casual listener, having no grasp of such a concept. Hence the not-quite-God-given name "What the…?", a literal reference to listeners' anticipated reactions.

While it was deemed a 'theme-oriented' show, the fact was that "What the…?" could channel these themes any darned way it pleased: if the muse wanted flatulence for an hour, it would be served up with an unhealthy helping of refried beans - much to the detriment of any following shows, hosts and guests. In theory, even if it was not always the case in practice, "What the…?" could change format from week to week; there was no set limit other than that of 'good' taste - and even this, as any listener will tell you, was question for debate.

That's how this little show that could, did. And that is why, over the course of 389 shows, we were all treated to, and tortured with, such aural delights as 90 minutes of bagpipes from Hell, 120 minutes of potently -and purposely- inept karaoke, over 100 national anthems back-to-back, Christmas shows every sweaty summer, numerous features on artists of limited interest, endless piddles of original covers, bizarre concepts that entertained or inspired absolutely no one, and more lame plays on words than anyone can chew. To be polite, it was a 'unique' journey and "What the...?"'s legacy will no doubt be questioned for minutes to come.

It should be noted that, while all this aural diarrhea was flung about in good fun, there was a bit of mischievousness behind it. If one could laugh at one's self ("What the…?" was a consummate self-deprecator), then it could be said that one had a license to mock others. Thus, while it was that some of the shows poked fun at things that, in a perfect world, shouldn't even exist (karaoke, bagpipes, ...etc.), it was also poking fun at its listeners by subjecting them to trials of immeasurable proportions. One might argue that it is a traumatic way to befriend people, but it served the inimical double-purpose of weeding out the undesirables - for there is nothing worse than false friends.

It worked. "What the...?" had few friends. But, at least they were true. They were the silent minority, yes, but they were around. Like ghosts, they would rarely be seen or heard, but there was always a gnawing feeling that something -someone- was breathing down its neck, watching and listening. Their presence was felt, somehow, even if it was almost imperceptible - and the knowledge of their existence was sometimes enough to keep the show running when the fuel was low. "What the...?" would probably have ended its run much earlier if not for them; however, it would also no doubt have lasted longer had they been more vocal.

While it never needed cheerleaders to embarrass it into motion, it is with much regret that "What the...?" took up its headphones in an age of internet and virtual (dis)connection. Granted, on the one hand it means having reached out to fans from across the globe - but it would have proved somewhat more satisfying to have them reach back more frequently. The thought kept crossing my mind that, while broadcasting during the golden age of radio would have meant being relegated to local distribution only, it would ironically have amounted to more interactivity with its listeners - as they would have had to call in or write letters to touch base (as opposed to the flacid passivity of the digital world). If there is one thing that "What the...?" would have liked to change, that was it.

I'm in a particularly good position to know: as the malignant host of this show for the last seven years, seven months, and seven days, I have a fairly intimate understanding of what went on behind "What the...?"'s crooked smile. I was not only a thorn in the side of our listeners but, ironically, I was also a thorn in the side of "What the…?". I'm still convinced that the show would have stumbled upon larger rewards if it had a different person at its helm - one with an engaging personality, an unshakeable vibrancy, and with some form of radio training. But it was not to be... poor thing.

Sometimes we were fortunate enough to have live guests in the studio to spruce things up. The dead ones weren't contributing in any palatable way, but with the help of The Horrible Doctor B, The Rock 'N' Roll Doctor, and many others, sometimes the on-air studio would sparkle and the magic would make its way onto the airwaves. These people will always know our eternal gratitude for injecting much-needed zest and fun to the proceedings - an otherwise funereal bore that was strictly held together by the fantastic music we desperately wanted to share with our audience.

As I have said numerous times, if I could have fired the host, I would have. I tried, but I kept showing up every week. I'm a pretty pig-headed person, and it's hard to keep me at bay when I set my mind on a specific destination. So that's hardly a surprise. The fact that I also produce and promote the show also makes it profoundly difficult to lock me out of the on-air studio. Oh, I had bitter feuds with myself over this, but I could never agree on which course of action I should disagree with. My analyst would tell me that this internal feud was only compounding the problems, and she may have been right. But it's all water under the bridge now.

Over the many seasons, "What the...?" may have had its rough patches, its struggles and identity crises, but it always bounced back in the end. Its insistence on doing the utmost with whatever was at hand at all times, on pushing the envelope whenever possible, of even pushing itself beyond the unexpected gave it -and myself- a character found nowhere else. It gave us focus and determination that will be terribly difficult to replace, even if we do move on to new avenues and outlets for our peculiar brand of amusement.

"What the...?" could always be counted upon when I needed strength and, conversely, I was always there when it needed someone to throw a wrench in a well-oiled machine... despite myself. Through all my grey and bleak days, the show was a weekly exorcism of sorts and I will always remember the projects we conspired on together - and how it frequently shouldered me like a true friend until I could walk on my own again. We also had loads of fun, even if -as in any relationship- it was interspersed with sheer boredom at times; there are countless shows I will probably revisit someday on my home stereo, in the comfort of my decripitude.

What matters most now is that everything is as it should be: "What the...?" has called it a day on its own terms. No outside force has pulled the plug, no one has remodelled it to fit some unwanted image or format, and it didn't simply fade away, slowly losing face and its essence in front of its audience. Yes, what we started so many years ago on but a whim, was taken off the air before hitting its thirteenth anniversary, but it was done after much deliberation and hesitation. The fact is that it has become a Frankenstein's Monster with more strength and bearing than ever anticipated and sending it to meet its maker was a necessity few could comprehend. But it doesn't mean that I don't Love "What the...?" and that I won't miss it in my own way. I will. I won't. I will.

It only seems fitting to me that the show would make its final curtain call at the beginning of a new year, effectively starting something new by killing off the old. As with everything it did and represented, it was always a counterpoint to something - if ever there was counterprogramming, "What the...?" was it. On Valentine's Day, it would offer a slice of stalker fun for the lonely; at election time, it would poke fun at all the candidates equally and leave its audience with few answers; on Mother's Day and Father's Day, it would completely disrespect our all parents by dragging out their many failings for all to remember and enjoy. The show was a total love-in.

"What the...?" left its smudge on the radio, on sign posts around its home town, on the web, on friends' and fans' CDs and DVDs, in peoples' inboxes and even in the early history of some exceptional bands and artists (although they will probably never admit it). And while "What the...?" may very well be largely forgotten as early as tomorrow, it is clear to me that it has connected with the very precious few it aimed to please in the first place; those like-minded people who understood the purpose and meaning behind the weirdness and persistent chalkboard-scratching.

Oh, there might be some truth to the rumours that these people are a bunch of sick, twisted, little twerps… but that's the way we've loved them all for all these years. Seriously, "What the...?" felt very much at home amongst them...amongst you, wherever you are. If you're reading this, there is no doubt that you are one of the desirables; you are part of our family. And, as "What the...?" hangs up its headphones for good, it takes with it every little bit that you gave it. The good and the bad, forever and always.

As The Beatles once observed: "And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."

Here is, for your reading pleasure, the last of the "What the...?" playlists (from the CHUO 89.1FM era, anyway!):

Cut.rate.box - The_End
Pain - End of the Line
Rob Zombie - The Beginning of the End (edit)
Nine Inch Nails - The Beginning of the End
Placebo - The Bitter End
New Order - Dreams Never End
Traveling Wilburys - End of the Line
Tears For Fears - Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Me First and The Gimme Gimmes - End of the Road
The Cure - alt.end
Taï Phong - End of an End
Within Temptation - Towards the End
Lacrimas Profundere - Ave End

This is the end. And, in the end, all I can do is close with a piece of advice: nothing and no one should be taken for granted.

That is one of the more important things that I've learned in the last few years. Nothing exists in a vaccuum and no one can be expected to wait up and be there for us tomorrow while we're busy looking the other way. This applies to to so many things, not just a meaningless radio show, quite honestly.

Thus it is that I've learned to call in to the few shows I've listened to and enjoyed, I've written to support bloggers I love reading and I made it a point to respond to fan mail as much as possible (some of you know just how hard that became at times, life being what it is).

But I realized that I had to make that effort. I had to reach back when someone bothered to touch base. Because, while we human beings mostly don't expect kudos for everything we do, acknowledgement is terribly important - it makes us know that we are notdoing things in vain, that it's not a waste of breath, or that it's altogether meaningless.

The times that people reached out, I developped some interesting relationships. I met someone special thanks to the show, I made real friends out of fans and artists alike, and I connected with people from around the globe. It wouldn't have happened if they hadn't bothered or if they had hesitated. And it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't taken the time to reach back.

In this modern age of instant connection, we give those 'connections' more weight and meaning than they deserve: they are NOT real. Connections are only made real by interaction, and are only made solid by solid interaction. Just like any relationship, simply living under the same roof, going to the same school, or working at the same office doesn't develop friendships - it creates acquaintances.

The stronger the connections, the stronger the relationships. That's why I like being stalked. No, not really. But that's why I honestly believe that the show would have lasted longer if there had been closer contact with all of you. I know you're out there, but I can't give you a name, a voice or a face. And so it is that the show existed without those very significant items in mind: the names, voices, and faces that remain with you when you're thinking of the future.

And so it is that we got acquainted, when we could have been friends. It's our loss. It's unfortunate. And it's a mistake I will make a point to avoid more and more in the future. I will reach out more frequently to let people know that I'm out there, appreciating what they do; the internet has made it a small world, yet it's so large a world that it's easy to lose yourself in it. It's good to know you're not alone.

So my final words are: reach out. Let the people know that you enjoy what they're doing. Forget this whole Facebook business. Connect. Put a halt to this virtual disconnection that we're entrenching in our lives every day. Put a halt to it before you wake up alone, in an empty world full of people.

Thanks for tuning in all these years.
The Thorn

State Of Mind: tired tired
Aural Stimulation: Ab-solutely nothing

2 comments or Leave your comments, concerns and complaints
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From: (Anonymous) Date: April 14th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC) (Link)

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2 comments or Leave your comments, concerns and complaints