Notes From My Knapsack 5-28-09
Like a Tree Falling In the Forest, But Louder
Will people who never heard Fred Andrle miss him when he's gone?
By asking the question that way, I'm obviously signaling that I think the answer is "Yes."
If you've listened to Fred on WOSU-AM and his "Open Line" call in radio talk show, you know what I'm talking about. Most recently a two hour block from 10 am to Noon, "Open Line" is a radio talk show with a terrifyingly friendly, gentle voiced, well informed host . . . in other words, not like almost any other radio talk show you've ever heard.
Fred would do two guests, or topics, one each hour, with some hours being an "Open Forum" for callers where he might throw out a topic but the tone and subject would always be set by those calling in, and Fred would work with wherever that was.
The callers are largely a set of regulars, with some of the most memorable being "Dave from Powell" and "A caller from Worthington." The regulars on the 820 AM phone lines run from committed Marxists to devout conservatives who feel that the Republican Party is far too liberal for their tastes, and local stops in between.
Indeed, I have called in on occasion, though "Jeff from Licking County" has never been a regular. Most of my listening to Fred Andrle has been in the car, and all too often the peak of discussion would arrive just as I had to arrive somewhere and get out of the car.
Sometimes, events would allow the NPR-infamous phenomenon of "driveway moments," where you sit in the car, hand on the knob, saying to yourself "I've got to get out, I've got to get out," but staying to the end of the segment or the caller, or most often to the attempt Fred would make to resolve a dispute raised by one caller in reaction to the views of another.
Fred Andrle has a great gift of ladling out large portions of calm and reason without pouring treacle all over a necessarily hot and spicy dish. I've heard Fred mediate disputes over abortion, nuclear weapons, church & state, and even . . . horrors, public transit, and keep most callers within the bounds of civility and reasoned exchange. And trust me, even on WOSU, not all callers (or guests, to a point) want to stay within those bounds.
When you listen to "Open Line," you can't assume that you know Fred's own personal point of view . . . except for public transit, which he's pretty quick to speak up for. Over time, you can tell that he thinks that the environment, and justice for all, and the common good are very important to him, but I suspect many of us know less about the what and the who of where Fred's politics come down than we might think.
Fred is, everyone who listens to him would agree, fair. (Maybe not Dave from Powell, who really should get his own show.) He was the moderator of a public debate I was a participant in once, and I had the pleasure of a couple of hours sitting next to him on a long table at Capital University, and I suspect he was more on my end of the panel's side than the other: but he pressed both sides with equal grace and firmness.
Central Ohio has been influenced, I believe, by the example of Fred Andrle over the last twenty years. We don't have many role models like him, and his retirement will remove a positive influence that I firmly believe has had a ripple effect far beyond the wide circle of public radio listeners.
Thursday, May 28, his last two guests will be Michael Coleman, mayor of Columbus, and Thomas Moore, author of "Care of the Soul," and I suspect that tells us a bit about Fred's basic interests, that and his farewell "party" interview with Neal Conan of NPR, where his closing counsel was for us all to love life, and seek justice.
And Friday, May 29, his last day on air will be a two hour open forum. You could call in and say "thank you," or even take one last chance to hear him for the first time.
Thank you, Fred.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's called into a few radio shows, but few with nicer producers than WOSU-AM. Send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twittter @Knapsack.