Monday, October 29, 2007

Michael Krasny, KQED's thinking man's radio guy

Here's a book review that ran in Sunday's Mercury News on radio's Michael Krasny::

The literate radio host
By Brad Kava
Special to the Mercury News
Article Launched: 10/28/2007 01:43:57 AM PDT

In his years on commercial radio, talk show host Michael Krasny was told to limit his vocabulary and to keep his show dumbed down so listeners would not feel stupid.
He makes up for it in his autobiography, "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life" published this month by Stanford University Press.

His subjects range from the hard-boiled radio manager whose loves were ego and power, to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Larry David.

Krasny ultimately left commercial radio - one station fired him because he had "too many old broads on" following interviews with Jessica Mitford and Doris Lessing - and has spent 14 years on KQED-FM, where he hosts the station's erudite two-hour interview and talk show "Forum."

Perhaps the biggest plaudit to give Krasny - who aspired his whole life to be a novelist, but settled for hosting talk radio and television shows, doing live interviews and teaching college - is that this book is well written, and will equally please literati and listeners of commercial radio.

One critic complained the book should have been called "On Mike." But part of the book's charm is that Krasny, 62, doles out some of his toughest shots at himself, as he grew from a Cleveland hoodlum to the holder of a doctorate in English teaching at San Francisco State University.

So many memoirs leave out unfailingly human moments of pain and doubt. But Krasny recalls those moments, like throwing up on his first job interview at a professor's home.

These stories are balanced with his slow march to success in the Bay Area, including his stints on Marin's KTIM-FM (where he did a show called "Beyond the Hot Tub") and 10 years with San Francisco's most listened-to station, KGO-AM (where his nighttime show mixed collegial intellect with entertainment), and his current high-profile position hosting "Forum" at 9 a.m. daily.

At the end of each chapter of his life story, Krasny weaves in summaries of his interviews with successful authors, such as Khaled Hosseini, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan and Kazuo Ishiguro. Radio fans will instantly recognize the pattern: They are like the hourly commercials and news that punctuate a talk show.

It's a good twist in this age of channel surfing. Fans of literature may only want to read about the authors, and radio fans may want to skip the interviews and stick with stories of the airwaves.

My biggest problem with the book was his failure to name names. For example, he doesn't identify a boss by name, and he recounts a story of a famous rocker indulging in preconcert sex without identifying him.

In an interview, Krasny said he preferred not naming everyone, some for reasons of libel, others just because he didn't want to. But he goes so far in telling all most of the time, it's frustrating not to carry it through to the end.

He even leaves out Michael Savage's name, although the high school graduation speech at which the conservative radio talk host heckled Krasny has been extensively reported.
His description of the now-popular host who practices "pathology dressed up as conservatism," is a great example of Krasny's storytelling, and his candor.

"I would later on feel involuntary twinges of envy for this despicable man, a toxic, incendiary gasbag with a growing, undeniable appeal - who would go on to build a major national career out of a frappe of jumbled extremist views and the sort of kook and shock-jock excess that I had come to speak publicly about as giving talk radio a bad name."

There's always an underlying self-doubt with Krasny, even as he is hired to high-paying jobs interviewing corporate CEOs and the world's top authors.

Krasny never feels that he has achieved his own dream of writing great literature, although, like James Lipton, he's become identified with the oeuvre of doing serious, unfailingly well-prepared interviews, a respected art of its own.
Even at the height of success, when one of his students calls him "professor Superman," Krasny, unafraid to show his warts, responds: "Read my book."

A Memoir of Talk Radio
and Literary Life
By Michael Krasny
Stanford University Press, 344 pp., $24.95
KRASNY l Erudite radio host
shares stories of his career

No comments: