Benjamen Walker’s studio in Cambridge, MA
Your Radio Nightlight
Produced by Benjamen Walker
A Note From Jay Allison
When we first heard Benjamen Walker’s work, we were relieved. Someone was bothering to do something on the radio that didn’t fit. At all.
His hours start cold, without a title, without explanation. They range all over the field, but eventually you realize they huddle around a theme. The work is odd and intriguing – not drama, not talk, not documentary, not music – but drawing on all of it, playing with it. Okay, sure, some of it sounds like Joe Frank, but a lot of it doesn’t. It’s unfettered by the pinched imagination of public radio. It makes you think about what the medium might be used for… if someone bothered.
We highly recommend that you listen to these excerpts of Ben’s work on Transom, and if you’re game, go to “Your Radio Nightlight” and listen to whole hours. Better yet, drive around Boston some night, tuned to WZBC and be surprised by one. And, in the years to come, keep an ear out for Ben. He’s just getting started.
Illustration Copyright © 2002 Tim Kreider
Excerpts from “Your Radio Nightlight”
(Notes From Benjamen Walker)
These two bits are from the show UNDERWORLD – the show is pretty dark but this whole idea of the underworld being some place “hip” and “cool” drives me nuts!!! There is nothing hip or cool about the underworld – it is an abusive scary sick and twisted place… these two phone calls are the “light humorous” moments of the show… (Transom Editor’s Note: For the “dark serious” moments, including the gay orgy scene featuring “The Human Toilet,” visit YRNL – which I suddenly notice, coincidentally, seems to phonetically translate to “urinal”)
The story about this segment is probably more interesting than the piece itself. I was producing for the WBUR “Connection” – right after Chris Lydon was fired and I missed him terribly. I was planning on doing something on Kierkegaard so I put this talk show “parody” together… But even though it’s a parody – it really is a talk show about Kierkegaard, and that really is Chris Lydon who calls in at the end of the show. I recorded this in the connection studio using the connection staff!!! I got quite a few emails form listeners who were confused about this change in format “it sounded like something you would never do” I hope I hear that more often.
I had a bunch of pieces that I didn’t know what to do with so I brought a couple people into the studio and played the pieces for them as if they were a focus group. One day I hope to do a real one!!! The man on the train is the truly amazing Sean Cole – the woman on the train is Michelene Boudreaux.
This is a “radio drama” segment – it was a particularly bad year to find an apartment – the realtor is my friend Jon Marston
This segment is from a show called “a sacrifice” Here in Boston there is this fascist talk show host named Jay Severin (actually though he lives in Sag Harbor – he broadcasts via ISDN from his basement!!) and I really really loathe him – I became obsessed with him – I wanted to kill him!! (scary note: around this time I worked for Chris Lydon when he filled in for Jay and I got to sit at JAY’s DESK!!!!) I made this show about a talk show host named “Ray Leverin” hoping that it would cure my obsession, it did… My friend Peter Choyce does the voice of Ray Leverin.
Monologue. I keep meaning to put in some clown noises at the end…
About Your Radio Nightlight
When I was in college the campus radio station, KGLT in Bozeman, Montana aired Joe Frank’s radio program “Work In Progress.” It was a radio show with no format – it was just an uninterrupted series of stories, conversations, radio skits, and monologues. It was the work of total genius. To this day I do not understand: 1. Why Joe Frank is not a more celebrated genius (I mean Ira Glass hasn’t even used him in one of his shows????) and 2. Why no one else has ever made use of the “formatless” radio format.
The worst thing about having a format is being stuck with it – If you aren’t formatted as a talk show then what happens when you want to do a talk show? Or if you are formatted as a talk show what happens when you want to do documentary pieces?? I have watched program directors and senior producers wrestle with these issues first hand and I just don’t get it… when a listener hears something that they not expecting THEY LISTEN EVEN MORE INTENTLY!!! Perhaps we can blame it all on the “rule” – the rule says that you are supposed to “tell them what they are going to hear, play the piece, and then tell them what they heard” BOOOOORRRRRRRIIIIIINNNNNGGGGG.
“Your Radio Nightlight” shamelessly rips off the “formatless format” from Joe Frank but I don’t feel bad about it – it’s really a format that the radio needs more of, especially now that every single NPR affiliate is trying to get a “national two hour call-in talk show” on the air I mean, come on people!!!!!
I give all the shows titles but they are more or less themes, sort of like “This American Life,” but more “exploration” than “documentation.” I am also an obsessive reader and I try to work in what ever I am reading at the time into the shows. That’s why there’s currently Paul Gauguin in the shows…
All the music I use in the broadcasts comes from WZBC. In 1980 the station began playing “no commercial potential” music and I am sure we have one of the best instrumental music libraries in the country. The music is a big part of YRNL.
About Benjamen Walker
In 1995 I graduated from college and moved to Boston. I was determined to follow my dream of being a cartoonist. I have always loved cartoons because it is a “cheap” artform – all you really need is some ink, paper and a few pens – It’s also a very accessible medium and a medium that allows for both intimacy and experimentation… sorta like radio!!
The cartooning didn’t pan out. I spent three years living in this unheated basement wallowing in india ink and squalor and drinking heavily with my imaginary friend Barnard the elephant. Oh yeah – and we listened to LOTS and LOTS of radio…
Click to see the whole strip
This is a cartoon that I did near the begining. I had this idea of making like an adult calvin and hobbes story about me and my imaginary elephant… I was cetain that it would be huge!!!
The only reason I didn’t blow my brains out during those three dark squalid years was WZBC. The Z (as we call it) is one of those hybrid stations, some college students, some community members. The program schedule is mostly music – but the sort of music that you really really will not hear anywhere else. And late at night – things get even weirder… it seemed like the perfect place to try out “cartoon radio”…
The first show I did was an overnight show, and it was mostly music until I got a mini disc player and figured out how to hook it up to the board – Now I was able to air my own collage bits – things I would record off the street or in the basement of the boston public library.. I also would edit music pieces on the mini disc so that I could talk over them…
Then in April of 2000 I started working for WBUR, the Boston NPR station. Within months I learned everything I ever wanted to know about recording and ProTools!! I also made real life radio friends… and then in August I turned my WZBC show Your Radio Nightlight into a one-hour pre-produced show. I sneak into the studios of WBUR at night and on the weekends to record and I mix and edit the entire show on my G3 that sits on my drawing table. I hope I get to do this forever.
Support for this work provided by the
with funding from the