Today WNYC Radio celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Brian Lehrer Show. Lehrer will be hosting a special anniversary broadcast taking a look back to when it all began in 1989.
Also on the show, "Michael Moore will talk via satellite about his new film and the 20 year anniversary of the release of Roger and Me; listeners and a group of 20 year old students will participate in a history and culture quiz; and Brian will lead a discussion on how to keep young people in New York and New Jersey, and on the unique — sometimes uplifting, sometimes demoralizing — aspects to life" in the city.
If you aren't already amongst one of Lehrer's dedicated listeners, become one today! You can tune in to 93.9 FM, or online, weekdays at 10 a.m.
What's your opinion on Paterson vs. Obama? I don't blame the President for wanting to strengthen the Democratic Party nationally. He's coming off the historic 2006 and 2008 elections with Democrats retaking control after many years, and he wants it to be more than a blip like it was with Clinton in 1992-94. But there is a price, as it becomes even harder for Paterson to do what needs to be done to clean up Albany and deal with the financial crisis if he seems like a lame duck so early.
And Bloomberg's twenty year long Mayorship? I understand his position. He doesn't want to end term limits. He just believes the limit should be five terms!
How has funding changed with public radio since the recession? We're holding our own. People appreciate a community-minded station in these times and they donate if they can.
Have you accomplished what you set out to in the last 20 years? Is there anything that you haven't and would like to? I guess I've accomplished some of what I set out to do. I like to think we've built a strong community of people who can come together and get informed about the issues and talk to each other about life in New York and our crazy world in general. For the future, I'd like to do more investigative work and set up more peer to peer structures for listeners to interact with other, to share ideas, and even mutual help in this economy.
How have podcasts changed the layout of the show? Podcasts don't change the show. They just give people another way to listen. New media more generally has changed the show a lot. We're a Web 2.0 radio show that does a lot of multimedia and interactivity. For example, we do weekly web video picks. And we just introduced a wiki on development issues in NY and NJ as part of our 30 Issues in 30 Days election series. The point is for listeners to collaborate in producing the series by adding topics, guests, questions, sound bites and research material - even intro copy for me to read.
Who were your favorite guests the last 20 years? Some of favorite guests have been journalists and writers who have a keen eye for the details of life in the world, and how they connect with the issues. Two who are gone are Frank McCourt and Jack Newfield. Also, people like Suketu Mehta, Junot Diaz, Tricia Rose, Salman Rushdie and Pete Hamill.
What's the weirdest thing that ever happened on the show? Maybe it was the time that AIDS activist Larry Kramer hung up in the middle of an interview because he didn't like a caller's question and insisted I hang up on him. I thought the caller was a pig too, but I wouldn't censor him, so Larry hung up. I thought I'd have to vamp for the rest of the hour, but as soon as that caller was done, Larry called back. Or maybe it was the time we were talking about education and a retired principal called up and told us she was in the bathtub.
What do you think about the total decline of the NY Times and other newspapers? It's an out and out tragedy because the world needs independent journalism to provide truth, and it needs staffs of professional journalists who have the time to investigate government and corporations and have time to think about things. But I am more optimistic than many of my colleagues about the state of the media, because I think the internet changes everything. The advent of online citizen journalism is as important a development as the demise of newspapers. I just hope business models will develop that we can't quite see yet to realize the potential of these pro-am collaboration.
Will public TV and radio follow? Not sure about television, but so far public radio has shown itself to be a force in the new media environment. If we stay relevant to our communities and react to new technologies as joyful new opportunities to communicate, rather than a threat to old ways of doing things, we'll have a bright future. People are hungry for non-corporate news and community-building.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. As it relates to the show, probably the time a cell phone caller got stopped for jaywalking while on the air. The cop might have been a fan, because when the caller told him what she was doing, he let her go without a ticket.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? The cab driver from Nigeria who I had last night who drives 10 hours a night then goes to school in the day.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? Massive affordable housing programs, gifted and talented education for all, extend the number #1 train into Staten Island, and bike lanes everywhere, separated from traffic.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? I don't think about that. When I get old, I want to retire here and go to lots of concerts and art spaces and stuff. What would I do in Florida or Long Island?
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter? Once, I was walking down 5th Avenue around 50th Street, and coming right toward me was Dustin Hoffman, walking with a friend and talking animatedly with a huge smile on his face. As they passed me, I only heard him say two words to his companion, obviously the punch line to a joke. The words were, "Fuck you!" I wish I heard the setup.
Best cheap eat in the city. La Nueva Espana, 207th St. in Inwood. Rotisserie chicken, with Dominican sides.