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Radio Survivor's top radio shows – Matthew's #5: Joe Frank, Work-in-Progress has a Joe Frank radio channel

I forget when I first started listening to Joe Frank. The other problem is that his half-hour to hour long programs are so weird that one can’t trust one’s memory about them. I mean, I think I remember an episode about a hysterical waiter who, after a long tirade, vomits on his patrons, a furious ex-girlfriend who leaves a long message for some guy alternately begging to get back together then fantasizing about murdering him, and a radio evangelist who claims that the actual physical process of dialing in to give him money will bring salvation.

Anyway, I really like Frank. “I’m sitting at a dinner party attended by Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao,” begins one episode. “Seated at another smaller table are Sadaam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Pinochet, and some others that I don’t recognize.” What’s not to love about this stuff?

Like so many great radio personalities, Joe got his start at WBAI-FM in New York City, then he did Weekend Edition for National Public Radio, followed many productive years at KCRW producing his “Joe Frank: Work in Progress” series. He’s won all kinds of neat awards, especially for his “Rent-A-Family” shows.

As already suggested, Frank is particularly reverential to religion [not]. In another episode he’s got somebody who just had a stroke calling in to another Pentecostal type.

“Repeat after me,” the preacher healingly declares.

“Oh Lord.” “Oh Lord. . . .”
“Roll me.” “Roll me.”
“Knead me.”
“Knead me.”
“Slap me.” “Slap me.”
“Let me be like a mouse.” “Let me be like a mouse.”
“Inside a mouse trap.” “Inside a mouse trap.”
“Feed me.” “Feed me.”
“Bread.” “Bread.”
“Wine.” “Wine.”
“Hamsters.” “Hamsters.”
“Rats.” “Rats.”
“Bullfrogs.” “Bullfrogs.”
“African-Eurasian tiger pussycats . . . . ”

At some point the prayer asks The Lord to “take me to heaven on a muskrat.” From there it’s pretty much LOL to the end of the program.

It’s easy to lapse into B Movie prose when writing about Frank, about how he transports you “into the dark/absurd/existential/[insert your mediocre adjective here] regions of the soul,” etcetera. But what really makes him so engaging is that he’s just willing to follow wherever that brain of his goes, then write it down, script it, give it over to a small acting team, and put it up on the radio.

What Joe Frank does, in the end, is really listen to and acknowledge what’s happening in his head. That’s something most of us, including me, are very much afraid to do.

From Joe’s FAQ page it doesn’t look like he’s produced any new programs for about four years. You can support his work by going to his site, signing up as a premium member, and/or buying his shows in CD format.


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One Response to Radio Survivor's top radio shows – Matthew's #5: Joe Frank, Work-in-Progress

  1. David Lorell Hoskins (Blind Fly Theater) October 25, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    Belated thanks for this, Matthew… we love Joe Frank around here. I have every episode of every show he ever did and still have trouble keeping them straight. But I have to say this, I remember each you’ve referenced and can hear his voice and accompanying music. Though the link above is no longer good, I remember him surrounded by dictators, and believe serial killers (Dahmer, etc) were sitting at a kiddie table. And I laughed out loud at your preacher “repeat after me” transcript as I can hear the voices crystal clear.
    I know one thing. If I ever lose my hearing, I’ve got enough Joe Frank in my head to entertain the rest of my days.

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