A Radio Host Goes 'Off Mike' to Share Life Story Michael Krasny, host of KQED's award-winning show Forum, didn't always want to be a radio host. In his new book, Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life, he explains how he went from dreaming of writing novels himself, to interviewing the authors who write them.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

E.L. Doctorow, Isabel Allende, Umberto Eco and many others - in fact, Michael Krasny says he's probably interviewed more writers than anyone has, or will, or should. Michael Krasny is the host of KQED's award-winning "Forum." And his new book, "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life" tells the story of a man consumed by the ambition to be a writer, who found much greater success talking with many of the great writers of our day.

Later in the program, questions and answers about the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria.

But first, Michael Krasny and the art of the interview.

If you have questions for the interviewer about what he does or about the writers he's spoken with, our number is 800-989-8255, e-mail: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Michael Krasny joins us from the studios of KQED, our member station in San Francisco. And it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION, Michael.

MICHAEL KRASNY: Good to be here, Neal. Strange to be in the other end, but I'm delighted to be with you.

CONAN: Well, let's see how it goes. I know you are a great admirer of the novelist Saul Bellow. And when you were in college, you went to Chicago to see the great man. Tell us about that very first interview.

KRASNY: Well, I was young and I was very impressionable, and Bello was a mentor to me. I wanted to be Saul Bellow. I've said, at that time, I would settle to be a younger son or a brother, or even poor cousin. Hitchhiked from Athens, Ohio to Chicago and got to see him through a series of sort of strange circumstances. And he was kind to me. And from that point forward, I decided - I wanted to try to see what it meant, in Bellow's terms, to be a good man and live a good life. And that became a very important quest for me. Because I've been a bad boy and ran with what Billy Joel would call the wild boys…

CONAN: Hmm.

KRASNY: …through the younger years of my life. And so, Bellow was a major impact on me.

CONAN: Interestingly, in response to one of your questions, he went into a rant against literary critics - and, of course, you noted that at that time, you were hoping to become a literary critic. But he says to you, when I wrote "Henderson the Rain King," they said I had written a Nietzschean novel or some said Reichean or Hegelian or Freudian. What do they know, really? Suddenly, he broke into a boyish, nearly furtive-looking grin and added, me, I'm not telling.

KRASNY: Oh, that was so characteristic of Bellow. He was, in many ways, boyish like I tried to describe him, almost mischievous and impish in some ways. But he was also probably - easily one of best writers. I mean, along with Faulkner, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a major…

CONAN: Hmm.

KRASNY: …figure of that stature in the 20th century.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You then go on, of course, to become, well, a student of literature and a teacher of English literature; go on to become a professor at San Francisco State University, though, the story of your interview for the job, when you were at - in Illinois, in Carbondale, what happened is a pretty interesting story.

KRASNY: It's a pretty funny story, and I like to think there's a lot of humor in this book. Adam Hochschild, the founder of Mother Jones, is a friend of mine who read this book in its galley form, said, there are a lot of funny stories, but two that are definitely worth the price of admission. And that story is one of them. Should I give it away here, or…

CONAN: Oh, I think you'd better sell it. Sell it, Michael.

KRASNY: Not used to vending when we work in public radio, are we? It's actually is a story in which I took a couple of airlines to do this first job interview for an academic position. Didn't think I really wanted this job, but nevertheless, I didn't have any other offers at the time. And I went there and suddenly found myself surrounded very solemnly by other professors who are offering me an assistant professorship. And the flying, which could have been routed from, well, Madison to Hong Kong, what was to…

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRASNY: …at Carbondale. And - what I call rancid lasagna and a lot of drinking, and so forth. They offered me the job and I got up and bolted, and it was like something out of, I guess, a Ben Stiller movie, because I was throwing up in the chairman's toilet. And then, what happened after that was the toilet overflowed. And I asked readers, what do you do in a situation like this? You got people who are waiting for you, you know, to offer you this - thrown, almost, as the way they were offering it. And you're there and this water is seeping out under the door. So I said, well, I did what I thought was - I heard my mother's voice saying, go back and tell the truth, and I did.

And that led into the chairman of the department telling his son to mop it up -and I wouldn't hear this, because after all, I've made the mess. So, we were struggling for the mop. And this was my first academic offer - struggling for a mop and the chairman bringing the bucket and finally resting the mop away from his son and doing the work myself.

CONAN: The auguries did not bode well for that position. And as you said, with great luck, you were offered another job in San Francisco.

KRASNY: Yeah. And here I remain, still teaching and trying to live a life of teaching and broadcasting. And in some ways, the book is a kind of twofer, because it's that story, it's my own story, really.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KRASNY: And it's also a book that focuses on all - many of the world class writers that I interviewed. I've been privileged and lucky enough to interview - like you, of course, I interview different people everyday…

CONAN: Sure.

KRASNY: …and different people from all political walks and cultural walks, and technology and business, and so forth. But literature's been my life and my passion. And as you said earlier, I wanted - like so many people wanted - to be a novelist. And this is a book about how you find yourself moving toward one dream and thinking, well, maybe I don't have the goods. I like to say I was thwarted only by lack of talent.

CONAN: Hmm.

Or, the fact that I couldn't be the great artist I wanted to be, but wasn't bad enough to be even a schlocky writer. So, I became a broadcaster and found more through the spoken word than I had ever imagined.

CONAN: Are you finally reconciled to that?

KRASNY: I think so. I think writing the book helps. This is advice for anybody who you think you might want to write a book about yourself. It can be a vain undertaking, unlike (unintelligible) as you put a target on yourself when you write about yourself, especially if you're a public figure writing about your private life or parts of your private life. But there's a sense of wanting to tell your story and communicate it. And it can be cathartic in that you can wrestle with your demons in ways that you hadn't imagined - and your angels as well, of course.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get some listeners on the line. Our guest is Michael Krasny. That voice will be familiar to listeners in San Francisco, where he hosts the "Forum" on KQED, our member station there. He's now the author of "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life." If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255, e-mail: talk@npr.org. And let's go to Jerry(ph). Jerry's calling us from the I-84 in Idaho.

JEERY (Caller): Yes. Dr. Krasny, I wanted to tell you I really miss your grammar programs and your trivia programs from KGO. Years ago, you did some kind of grammar(ph) special, made a guffaw of your own and I almost drove off the highway.

KRASNY: I love when I hear those kinds of memories coming back, Jerry. Thank you so much for that. We used to do programs when I was in commercial radio, and this is also a book about the two cultures. And I call them two cultures because I think commercial radio is very much a different culture. And I saw it change, and wanted to write a bit of that cultural history.

Like Dan Schorr, our colleague, Neal, I feel now that I've entered the promised land. And the Publishers Weekly said I canonized public radio - I hope that comes across. But in commercial radio, we like to do those kinds of - I like to do those kinds of programs - grammar and sorts of things that you're more apt to hear on public radio. And it's so nice of this caller to say those appreciative words.

CONAN: You worked there for a while, on KGO, which was, of course, a hugely successful - I guess it still is - talk radio station there in San Francisco.

KRASNY: It's the ABC affiliate and it is the most successful station. And I had a nighttime radio show, and I was able to draw a great deal from that experience. In fact, it's interesting, hearing you talk last time about trivia. Maybe a piece of trivia that not that many listeners know, but both Dan Quayle and our president, George W. Bush were members of the DKE(ph) fraternity. These are the kinds of things you amass through the years of preparation.

And I like to talk about off-mic things in this book. And when I was early working on in commercial radio, Dan Quayle was named as the nominee by George H.W. Bush, who was then president. And I was interviewing a name you may remember, Neal…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KRASNY: …Ken Adelman…

CONAN: Yes.

KRASNY: …who was working on nuclear negotiations for both Reagan and President Bush Sr. And at one point, I said to him, you know, with all due respect, this vice presidential nominee seems to be not heavy on the gray matter, Dan Quayle. And his response to me was, oh, no, he's very sophisticated about nuclear technology. He's a senator from Indiana. You have no idea of how up to speed he can be.

We went off the air and I said to him - this is the off mike notion. I said to him, I'm sorry, but you know, Quayle just seems like a dim ball to me. Whereupon, he said to me, blank you. And I, being kind of a street kid, reflexively said, blank you. And then, we're back on the air having a normal conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Jerry. Drive carefully.

JERRY: Yes, sir. Thank you.

KRASNY: Thank you, Jerry.

CONAN: In fact, when you made the transition from commercial to public radio, you write, I was not keen on public radio.

KRASNY: That's true. I did write that. And the truth of the matter is I didn't know a lot about public radio. What I knew about, it sounded a little soft and all too serious, and yet I had to learn about it and learned about it on the job, because I learned that it had much more to offer than I had realized.

And frankly, I think even though we're not the highest paid people when it comes to the world of radio and - think - I was calculating when Howard Stern was named to be a host at Sirius, he signed a contract of five years for $500 million.

CONAN: Yeah.

KRASNY: And at that point, I had been on Sirius five years and hadn't received a check yet from them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRASNY: So there's the kind of metaphoric difference between what we do and what they do out there. But I love talk radio in public form that we're doing now, and it's certainly a great passion, and has answered many of those feelings that I had about wanting to do something to serve the public.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line, and this is Vic(ph) and Vic is calling us from Oakland, California, across the bay.

KRASNY: Hi, Vic.

VIC (Caller): Good afternoon. Hi, Neal. And Michael, I enjoy your show. I listen to it most every day. I'm just curious how you got the job. How did they select you? You do a terrific job. And there's a television program produced by KQED that in my opinion has a terribly talentless interviewer. So, I wish you could go to the television side as well.

KRASNY: Well, that's kind of you. Thank you. I've done television, both in public television and commercial television. But I was selected for this job by trying out for it, by auditioning. In fact…

CONAN: This after an acrimonious departure of your predecessor.

KRASNY: Yes. Unfortunately, that was the case. And that's the way it work with TALK OF THE NATION, too. Neal probably knows - in that cut you heard with my interview with Barbara Kingsolver - that was me on TALK OF THE NATION before Neal was hired and before Juan Williams was hired because, well, I took a shot at TALK OF THE NATION, too.

CONAN: We were all trying out.

KRASNY: Yes.

VIC: Well, that's terrific. Keep up the great work. And I wish - I wish there were more people like you and Neal doing the job. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much. That's kind of you, Vic.

KRASNY: Yeah. And I thank you, too.

I like to say, Neal, the difference - because I know you read the books of the authors you have on and the people you have on the air, and we have someone, a stellar figure like Larry King who says, I never read the books and brags about that and as I say, in a kind of boilerplate way in my book, that's why he's rich and famous and we're not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, it's one of the distinctions between commercial and non-commercial broadcasting, though not everybody in non-commercial broadcasting reads the books, and I suppose there are some people in commercial broadcasting who do read the books. But it's probably one way to draw the distinction.

We're talking today with Michael Krasny about the art of the interview. He's the author of "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life," the host of member station KQED's award-winning "Forum." And we're taking your calls: 800-989-8255. You can also send us questions by e-mail, the address is talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

If you tuned in today hoping to hear one host, well, you've got two. Michael Krasny is with us. He's the host of member station KQED's talk show "Forum" and the author of a new memoir, "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life." You can read about Michael Krasny's first interview - a baptism of fire, he calls it - in an excerpt at our Web site npr.org/talk.

And you're welcome to join the conversation. If you have questions for the interviewer about what he does or about the writers he's spoken with, give us a call: 800-989-8255. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. And you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And Michael, I wanted to ask you about an interview you did with Isaac Bashevis Singer - this is before you were on the radio. It was on stage, and you asked him a lot of questions about winning the Nobel Prize for literature and many other things. And then, at one point you say, do you believe in free will? And Singer replies, I have no choice.

It wasn't until over a year later, you write, that I read in a literary journal the transcript of an interview in which he offered the same identical quip. And you wonder at that point, should you not flatter yourself about asking so many questions when you're just eliciting quips, pre-boiler played quips from authors. This is a problem that exists everyday, isn't it?

KRASNY: Yeah. And I think - I'm sure you've encountered it.

CONAN: Sure. Yeah.

KRASNY: You think you're the catalyst because you are doing your job as an interlocutor and, you know, your high energy and you're offering all of the things that you've prepared diligently into the interview and mixing it all up, and then you get this very clever response or this response that seems so sui generis and original and all that, and you hear it again in another interview with the same person or you read it in the transcript like I did. And this has, of course, occurred a number of times during my career and it's understandable. I mean, why wouldn't people use compost in terms of the quips that they have or the anecdotes that they tell?

CONAN: Yeah. And indeed, we've both interviewed E.L. Doctorow, and I read some of the quotes you have and say, hey, wait a minute…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …but, of course, he's going to say pretty much the same thing. And to some degree, the questions are the same.

KRASNY: Well, the challenge is, you know, finding different kinds of questions or finding ways of doing it in ways that perhaps are original, or challenge them in original ways. That's the challenge day after day.

The thing that we do differently though than, say, Terry Gross, whom I know we both admire, is we don't edit. We don't have that net blow us. And constantly, we're getting calls as well, and the result is that there's a lot of juggling that goes on that involves thinking within the moment and being sure that you're present and very present as a good listener as well as is a good talker.

CONAN: One thing that Terry Gross does do is she greatly prefers that her guests not be in the same studio with her. Do you have a preference one way or another? I'm just saying many times, as we're doing today, you're in San Francisco, I'm in Washington. You never see the person you're talking to.

KRASNY: No. It'd be nice to see your handsome face, Neal, but the truth of the matter is I do prefer protoplasm as I say in the studio. It's my preference, and I like to have someone across from me and - because I can make eye contact and I can communicate things facially. I understand Terry's preference, though, and it was Ted Koppel's as well. He always wanted to interview people not face-to-face.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the line. And this is Matt(ph). Matt with us from San Francisco.

MATT (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. It's a pleasure to be speaking to both of you guys because you're a couple of my favorite broadcasters. I was once in broadcasting myself and (unintelligible) business about 25 years ago and into a more obscure and weird business.

But my question to both of you is how do you see and perceive the differences in both commercial and public radio over the last 25 years? Because when I was in radio back 25 years ago, all the old jocks and personalities were saying to me, oh, it's not like it used to be and so on and so forth. And now I can see that it's, you know, not like it's used to be back then. But I'm curious about your perceptions.

CONAN: I will have to defer to Michael on this. I have never worked in commercial radio, except for one station, very briefly, which lost money so quickly. It might as well have been a public station. So, Michael?

KRASNY: Well, commercial radio has many good things about it, but it's pretty much now - and I write about this as I say in a kind of miniature cultural history, it's pretty much now personality and opinions, and a lot of about that demagoguery and bloviating as well.

What we try to do in public radio is very different, and what we try to do is bring you at least some element of impartiality, certainly thoughtful analysis, different points of view, knowledge and less entertainment, more knowledge perhaps - though we like to entertain you as well.

When I was in public - excuse me, I mean, commercial broadcasting, the emphasis was on infotainment - a terrible word - but that's what kept being emphasized. And it was also on what they call the young demographics. They wanted to pull in the younger listeners as much as they could because they were obviously more compliant(ph), or so they thought, to buy more and they used to talk about people over 55 as tonnage.

Doris Lessing just won the Nobel Prize for literature. And one week, I interviewed Doris Lessing, she had written a book about the present Zimbabwe, Rhodesia, her homeland. And I also had on the great journalistic doyen, Jessica Mitford. And the then-executive in commercial radio - and this always seemed kind of emblematic to me - came out to me and said, Kras - which is what he called me - he said, Kras, you got to stop putting on these old broads. We need those younger demos.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Old broads, eh?

KRASNY: Doris Lessing, a Nobel laureate is an old broad.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Thanks very much for the call, Matt. Appreciate it.

MATT: Thank you.

KRASNY: Thank you, Matt.

CONAN: And let's turn now to another caller from the Bay Area and this is Rivati(ph) - do I have that right?

RIVATI (Caller): Yes. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes. Go ahead. You're on the air.

RIVATI: Okay. A pleasure to talk to both of you at the same time. My question is around how do you guys feel about having to maintain neutrality, I mean, having both sides of the argument represented? Sometimes, it's balanced, but sometimes, it's painfully not, and one side is obviously winning or, you know, talking nonsense sometimes. And you have to still respect, I suppose (unintelligible). I just wonder how do you feel about it. It sometimes gets for the listener boring or aggravating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KRASNY: Neal, you want to opine first here?

CONAN: Well, I'll weigh in. And the fact is that I work for NPR News. And my training is as a journalist and that's what I spent my entire broadcast career doing and what I've done out of broadcast, too. So it's not - I don't think it's boring being - trying to be fair and objective, giving everybody a chance to say their point of view. That's my creed. That's what I do. That's in my blood.

KRASNY: Yeah. And mine as well. But it's sometimes very difficult. And to be objective is sometimes an impossibility, just because we use language. So you do the best you can to be accurate, to be precise, to be thoughtful and to be illuminating. And if you could be all of those things, then I think you're acting in the best public interest.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But thanks for the call, Rivati.

KRASNY: Thank you, indeed.

CONAN: Let's - I wanted to ask you - before we completely run out of time, I wanted to ask you about some of the authors that you've talked to. And one of the people - you've clearly talked to several of these writers several times, for example, Joyce Carol Oates, who you write about. These are not just transcripts of your interviews, but your impressions of these writers sometimes over the years. And it's interesting, you write, I remember, too, the flash of anger at me on stage when I said others view her work as depressing. Brecht's words: the man who laughs has not yet been told the terrible news could be hers. It's difficult to sustain relationships with people you've come to regard or you hope to regard as your friend, sometimes.

KRASNY: That indeed is the case. I think that's well stated. I do a lot of interviewing on stage as you've indicated. And Stanford University Press, my publisher, talks about these portraits of writers as vignettes. And that was a vignette within a vignette. I was talking to Joyce Carol Oates, and I like to say we're old dancing partners because we have done a number of interviews through the years together and, you know, she's written a lot of books.

CONAN: Yeah.

KRASNY: I think the last one was her 45th. And I just said to her, I had seen this Francis Bacon exhibit at the museum here in San Francisco and said to her, you know, Bacon's work is depressing, but it's enlivening and so forth, and it makes me see in different ways. And there are a lot of people who feel your work is depressing, and I think she was quite defensive about that and felt a little stung by it.

She's even written essays to the effect that she doesn't like to be called depressing because - read the news. That's why I quoted Brecht. There was also a moment with her on the air actually when I mentioned her literary agent who had died, and it was sort of at the end of the program. And she actually just became totally mute and started sobbing. And I was actually holding her in my arms. It was one of those moments listeners said, what happened? You know, they just heard dead air. They didn't have any idea what it was, but that's what it was.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's see if we can go to Mary(ph). Mary is on the phone with us from Traverse City in Michigan.

MARY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

KRASNY: Hi.

MARY: I'm an old broad you're talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARY: And I found your program by accident on the radio, and I've been listening to it ever since, since the last summer. And I have a question. Is there anyone that you wouldn't want to interview if you were asked to do it? Is there anybody that you really would try to refuse or not want to do?

KRASNY: Yeah, I think there are some people who probably don't deserve to have the airwaves because they're bigoted or because they're racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic. I've interviewed people like that. I write about interviewing Tom Metzger, for example, and I write about some of those experiences when I was in commercial broadcasting.

But I don't feel that people, particularly these kind of extremist views, necessarily have any real right to the airwaves except if they are going to come on and say things in a reasonable way. Now, you may say how can you make that subjective judgment? I think it's an easy judgment to make in many cases of how not bigotry is pretty transparent and clear.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Also, perhaps another category, charlatans.

KRASNY: Yeah, one has to be on the guard for that. You know as well as I do, Neal, that you get inundated with requests - and some of them seemed fascinating - by authors and by people who are out there in the public relations machinery.

And suddenly, you're looking at something and it seems like a magic bullet or it seems like a way to navigate through one of our social problems. And one has to really take stock and be as reflective as you can be because there are certainly a lot of charlatans out there.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mary(ph).

KRASNY: Thank you.

MARY: Thank you, bye.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go to - this is Gary(ph). Gary is with us from Campbell, California.

GARY (Caller): Yes. Hi, Michael.

KRASNY: Hi.

GARY: My question is which of your guests has most surprised you or - you may even name a few, you know, the - us, public, as we see him, but you obviously see him behind the scenes. Which one's the most surprises you and what is the difference?

KRASNY: Well, a lot of guests surprised me, and I write about this - for example, you know, we all, who do this work, have various kinds of war stories of one sort or another. And there are - David Byrne comes to mind instantly because he's such a talented musician and lyricist. And he was very reticent and almost non-communicative on the air with me.

And I still don't understand why, except that, you know, maybe he was just a shy person or not inclined to be as talkative as people are when they come on a radio program. I was surprised, and I write about it by a very touching moment I had the actor Billy Dee Williams, who is on with me and who showed a great deal of emotion.

His mother had just died. He, too, had been very reticent, and I hadn't expected that think kind of reticence. And you feel like you're pulling teeth. And suddenly, find out that the man's mother had just died - a lot of those kinds of moments.

CONAN: You were surprised in that baptism of fire that you write about, that another first interview, by Gore Vidal when you met him in the green room.

KRASNY: I was, indeed. And I - in fact, I was looking forward. It's the first interview I did. And I thought here's going to - someone whom I'm going to get along with. And he's a literary character and a man who had, at that time, attained a great deal of fame. And it was disappointing to meet him in the flesh, to put it mildly.

He was austere and he was condescending and he was, well, probably somewhat inebriated, and it was the most unpleasant interview beforehand. But then once we were on the air, he became sober and his (unintelligible) disappeared, what I called terminal (unintelligible) that he seems to have before we went on the air.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KRASNY: And there was a change in color, so to speak, and in personality, but I certainly didn't expect to meet the Vidal I met before the interview or the one afterward, who after the interview was over, just went off without a thank you or nice doing this with you or anything even courteous.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Gary, thanks for the call.

CONAN: We're talking with Michael Krasny about his book "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk, Radio and Literary Life."

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Russell(ph) on the line. Russell is calling us from Berkeley, as we circumnavigate the San Francisco Bay Area.

RUSSELL (Caller): Well, actually, I'm en route to Palo Alto here at the moment.

CONAN: Okay. Well, that will count, too.

RUSSELL: Okay. Michael, I've always seen you lose your cool once. I heard you lose your cool once on the radio, and that was with Peter Duesberg and…

KRASNY: Now, I don't know if I lost my cool. I was unhappy with that interview in terms of the content. And for those who don't know Peter Duesberg. He's a Berkeley professor. He's a member of the National Academy of Science. He's certainly a man of many bona fides.

But he's a man who, as a virologist, said that HIV was not a virus, and took great exception to it and said that many of the researchers - indicted many of the leading researchers - people like David Baltimore and others who were working on behalf of ameliorating the HIV problem.

RUSSELL: Mm-hmm, indeed. Okay, well, maybe that wasn't the right word. It's contentious. But, yeah, there's a lot of people that are disappointed with Duesberg. And one of the great things that I love about your show is how you don't insert, you know, you don't insert yourself into someone else's story and let them tell their story beautifully.

Michael Zielenziger comes to mind, you know, his book, "Shutting Out the Sun."

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUSSELL: It just happens that I have met him - at a, you know, certain relationship with him. And I thought there was an absolutely great interview because he had a lot to say. And he said, you let him say it and then - but then you also came in with very a succinct question that - then took him onto another of part. And that's what I find as the greatest part of your show is that people can really stretch out intellectually.

KRASNY: Well, thank you. I'm grateful for your comments and I appreciate them. A lot of what - and I don't know if you feel this way, Neal - but a lot of what we do is really listening, facilitating and educating, and also letting people tell their stories, as opposed to maybe telling our own stories, as I do in this book.

CONAN: Yeah. Thanks very much for that call, Russell. Appreciate it.

RUSSELL: I'm looking forward to reading your story, Michael.

KRASNY: Thank you, Russell.

CONAN: But I wanted to ask you - I realized, reading the book, how much that, at least on the surface, you and a writer like Harvey Pekar might have in common. And when you do that interview, do you then say, gee, well, of course, to some degree, this is my story, too.

KRASNY: Well, we're blue-collar Cleveland kids. Other than that, I'm not sure what Harvey and I have in common. I liked him and a lot of people loved that interview, and we get constantly asked to repeat it. The - we actually did a couple of interviews with him through the years.

But the interesting thing about that interview, I think for me, personally, was the fact that we could connect in different ways and could do it without necessarily becoming too esoteric, which is a danger when you've got a couple of guys from the same…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KRASNY: …turf.

CONAN: And finally, an e-mail from Dan in Oakland. How does Michael manage to be an expert on so many subjects, lead forum, be a professor, lead events in the evenings and probably much more?

KRASNY: Well, I tell people - many of you out there, you know, who do gardening and cooking and all sorts of things that are part of a normal life. I prep a lot, and it's not - I'm not an expert by any means. In fact, on everything, I'm more of a dilatant or maybe eclectic in my interest and infinitely curious, I hope. But I'm constantly preparing and I suspect it's too for Neal Conan, as it is for me.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KRASNY: It's what we do - and which is to live this life, and it's a good one.

CONAN: And do you consciously remember one show to the next? I mean, I find, an important part of the skill as immediately forgetting everything I just learned.

KRASNY: You're going to tell me, after the show, you're going to forget all about me, Neal? Is that what you're saying?

CONAN: Absolutely. We'll never talk again.

KRASNY: They don't - they're not rendered to oblivion, no. But, you know, you'd have to move into gear to the next show. And so to some extent, although you like to keep memories, and you do certainly cherish those memories, you're moving on. You're always moving on.

I write about David Mamet, you may recall, in the book and he says that about writing, you know. Well, you know, it's a like playing poker. You lay out the hand and it's over, and then you got to move on to the next hand.

CONAN: Michael Krasny is the author of "Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life." He joined us today from KQED in San Francisco, where he hosts the program "Forum."

Michael, thanks so much.

KRASNY: Thank you, Neal.

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