Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Al Franken live

Well, Austin, TX now officially has an Air America Radio station. To kick off, yesterday Al Franken came to downtown Austin to sit in the State Theater and do a live show. I played hooky from work so I could go with another my friend Jeff Dee and stand in line at 8 AM. We ran into another mutual friend, Linda from the Atheist Community of Austin. We hung around in line chatting with each other and the rest of the crowd for a few hours.

Actually it turns out there was no rush; they started handing out tickets at 9:00 and they weren't all gone until around 10. There were about 250 people at the theater. It was a small theater, and it looked to be about 2/3 full.

A local Fox News camera crew was there. They interviewed my two friends (Linda and Jeff), but the line started filing in the theater before they could get to me. They basically asked "Why are you here?" Linda used the opportunity to plug our atheist group -- I doubt they used it. Jeff summed up Al Franken's style, saying "It's hard to get intellectual arguments in a way that compels people to listen. Al Franken has the right idea by being intellectual and entertaining at the same time." I meant to watch the local Fox station that night to see if either of them was on, but I missed it. A couple more camera crews showed up later.

Hanging out with the crowd was a whole lot of fun. I felt really comfortable just chatting with random people standing near me. Obviously we were all big fans and shared the same political persuasion, so it was easy to find a topic to discuss. Linda brought along a couple of "Bibles" to read. They are basically copies of the New Testament, put in a glossy magazine format that looked like a teen fluff mag. There was a boy edition (trying to appeal to the "X-Treme" macho crowd) and a girl edition (for the "Vogue" crowd). They were pretty funny; you can click the links in this paragraph to see them at Amazon.

Al Franken warmed up the crowd with a few jokes, which everybody enjoyed. Katherine Lanpher was playing the crowd throughout the show. Whenever they came in from the commercial break, one of them would say "You're listening to the Al Franken Show live in Austin, Texas" and then Katherine would wave her arms to direct applause and cheers. During the "Oy Oy Oy Show" segment she started to mime clapping to get people to clap along with the Jewish music. Obviously it was all for the benefit of the radio audience, but the crowd was really into it.

I assume this doesn't happen in a studio, but when Al does skits for a live show, he actually does some minor prop comedy. During one scene, he pretended to be the head of a sleazy fictional Texas PAC, and at the end he pulled out a cell phone and started talking into it, then got up and walked away from the microphone as he talked.

Great guests. They interviewed the native Texan columnist Molly Ivins, then Anna Marie Cox who runs the blog wonkette.com, then former Texas Representative Chris Bell, who helped bring Tom Delay up on ethics charges.

It was personally interesting to me to see how a real radio show gets run, since I personally produce the amateur Non-Prophets twice a month. I was kind of pleased to see that they do almost the same things we do, just more of it. Their sound board and the microphones looked very similar to ours. The main difference is preparation and staff. They have at least four techies; we have half a techie. (I devote half my attention to keeping the show running and the other half to talking and staying in touch with the chat room.) Al Franken has a guy and a girl handling the timing and the musical cues; one guy running around with hardware (replacing bad microphones and such), and one guy staying on top of the web log during the show. Everyone has their own laptop, and there was another laptop on the table where Al, Katherine, and guests set. Presumably there were several more people in the studio in New York to receive the broadcast.

Another difference is preparation. They had scripts for many parts of their show. They discussed upcoming segments with each other during breaks, and made notes. Now, I can barely keep up with the need to collect half an hour worth of news and discussion points off the web once every two weeks. Can't imagine what it must be like to script key segments every day. But then again, I'm sure it would be different if that were a full time job. In any case, we learned a lot and came away with some pretty good new ideas about show preparation and formatting.