WPS1: Let’s put on a [radio] show!

wps1.jpegUmm… I was excited for the launch of WPS1: Art Radio, the new online audio programming wing of PS1. Launched three weeks ago, WPS1 is daily mp3 streamed programming in three broad categories: awesome, edge music from all over; rare and archival artist recordings from parent/affiliate MoMA’s library; and self-produced art-related talk/interview shows. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
After listening to a dozen or so art talk shows on WPS1, I find them almost unlistenable. Excruciatingly amateurish, painfully ad hoc. Can I say it? I have to. They BLOOOOOWW.
Which really blows, because I’m a fan of PS1. A lot of cool people; in-tune, even daring curators; great artists, great opportunities for new artists; great music, especially in the summer; a very refreshing and energetic institution. I even know a few of the people involved in WPS1 and have been anticipating the launch for months.

Am I too accustomed to the smooth oh-so-thoughtfulness of NPR? Is that not not the right standard? Is it too early and unfair to make comparisons? Too bad. When I work at home, public radio’s on all day, and I know artists who listen to it 24/7 in their studios. It’s the main artworld’s current radio option, and comparisons will be inevitable.
The hosts are almost all talk show neophytes–art people, not radio people. They’re experts, smart, insightful, cool, even fascinating. They’re people you’d like talking with, people you’d invite to a party, people with something to say. Which means they have almost exactly the wrong skillset for hosting talk radio.
You don’t want good talkers as hosts; you want them as guests. Hosts should be good listeners, good questioners. They should know how to get art people to talk about what they do, whether it’s making, curating, collecting, selling, seeing, or critiquing. A host should sound less thrilled with her own opinion and more excited with prompting something engaging from her guest.
Not that they should be all public radio slickness. Non-radio guy Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360 is great, but it’s a little too BoBos in Paradise for me. When the famously reticent artist Matthew Barney was interviewed on WNYC, for example, Leonard Lopate’s ingrained loathing of “dead air” had him nervously filling Barney’s purposeful silences with more comments. The artist clammed up, and Lopate was stuck interviewing himself.
Like its innovative, ennervating parent, WPS1 should have a rawer, throw-it-up-and-see-what-sticks personality. Their stable funding, mp3 streaming paradigm; and v1.0 status should give them the flexibility to retool quickly and get it right. It’s a great concept, much-needed, waiting for a good execution.