Obie Yadgar was long a stalwart in Milwaukee radio and long-time fans of public radio as well as jazz and classical programming will remember his easily-recognizable name and voice.
Although he's no longer riding the airwaves, Yadgar has not stopped working. After publishing his first novel in 2005, Yadgar returns with a new book. "Obie's Opus" is a collection of classical music anecdotes that have entertained his radio audiences over the years, mixed with some of his own radio memories.
Of Assyrian descent, Yadgar also writes a regular column for the Web site of Assyrian magazine Zinda. Some of those columns will be collected in an upcoming volume.
We recently asked Yadgar about his long radio career and his more recent, print-based vocation.
OMC: Are you still active in radio?
OY: No, I am no longer in radio. Even though I loved the music and the audience, my last stint at WFMR was hell. The station's focus and philosophy soured me on radio in a most profound way. I still had to make a living, though, but the jobs were gone in a dying format. Since I've enjoyed a dual career as writer and broadcaster -- writing being my first love -- I chose to concentrate on my writing. I still want to do some limited radio, something in NPR, some type of intelligent and artistic talk show, and some classical music, if the opportunity arises.
OMC: How did you get started in the business?
OY: I had always loved radio, especially to do my own show where I would play the music I loved. After returning from Vietnam, where I served as a combat correspondent for the U.S. Army, I found a gig in a jazz station in San Diego, Calif. After that, I worked in pop station in upstate New York, an NPR station in St. Louis. Then WFMR. I also worked at WUWM, Milwaukee's NPR station. My best gig, though, was doing classical morning drive at the former WNIB in Chicago.
OMC: Do you listen to the radio a lot? What do you think of the current state of radio in Milwaukee and beyond?
OY: The only station in Milwaukee I listen to regularly is WUWM, for its news programming. I also used to listen regularly to WYMS, but I stopped listening when it dumped its jazz programming. Right-wing talk radio scares me and I don't listen to it. Rock and syrupy saxophone stations give me heartburn. I still do like some country music, though, and prefer the stations that play the more traditional country. Overall, except for NPR, I lament what's happened to radio, where the bottom-line programmers and managers have destroyed creativity and originality. For the most part, I find today's radio embarrassing and pathetic.
OMC: I can remember listening to you on the radio in the car years ago and yours remains for me a very Milwaukee voice. Do you hear that a lot from people?
OY: People still tell me I was very much part of Milwaukee's gentle and intimate voice. Part of its artistic voice. And I was myself behind the microphone and it showed, they said. They liked my creativity. I am grateful to them for their kindness, and for putting up with me. I have lived in many places, but Milwaukee will always remain special to me because of its people and its quality of life.
OMC: Tell us about your new book?
OY: I used to pepper my radio programs with amusing stories and anecdotes about the lives of the great composers. Here's a good one: An aging actor called on the composer Jacques Offenbach on the morning of October 5, 1880. "How is he?" he asked the servant. "Mr. Offenbach is dead," replied the servant. "He died peacefully, without knowing anything about it." The actor signed and said, "Ah, he will be surprised when he finds out."
Here's another good one: In 1896, The Item, a New Orleans newspaper, had no available music critic to cover Paderewski's piano concert, so the boxing editor was sent instead. "In my opinion, he is the best two-handed piano fighter that ever wore hair," the man wrote. "If I were a piano, I wouldn't travel as Paderewski's sparring partner for two-thirds of the gross receipts."
Well, people loved the stories I told and kept asking me to publish them in a book. I did. My recently published book "Obie's Opus" is a collection of many of these stories, colored with some of my reflections on life from behind the radio microphone.
OMC: Was it hard to collect them?
OY: I collected these stories through the years. I don't exactly remember where I found them, except that my listeners told me many of them. Little by little I began writing them down. People who have read the book love it for its humor. "Obie's Opus" is available from my Web site at obieyadgar.com, and also from Schwartz, Barnes & Noble in Bayshore Town Center and Borders at the River Point Shopping Center, at Port and Brown Deer Roads. It can be ordered from other stores as well.
OMC: This is your second book, right? Can you tell us a bit about the novel you wrote?
OY: My first novel "Will's Music" was published in 2005, when I was working at WNIB in Chicago. "Will's Music" is a love story set in San Francisco and based in the world of classical radio and dance. I wanted to write a gentle, sweet and sentimental love story, and I think "Will's Music" came out exactly as I wanted. Those who have read "Will's Music" have been very much touched by the story.
OMC: Are you working on book number three?
OY: Currently I am working on my second novel -- my third book -- and expect to complete it by spring. I am also working on a fourth book. This will be a collection of essays and short stories that currently I write in my column "Musing With My Samovar" for Zinda, an online Assyrian magazine -- written in English -- that's read worldwide at zindamagazine.com.
As you may know, I am a full-blooded Assyrian (we're the Biblical people). These essays and short stories are slice-of-life pieces on the Assyrian world. When I have a fair collection of them in about a year or so, I will publish them in a book under the same name: "Musing With My Samovar." Zinda Magazine tells me the "Musing With My Samovar" column is a big hit with Assyrian readers worldwide.
OMC: As someone long involved in the music world, we'd be interested to know what you're listening to these days?
OY: The music I listened to these days is from my own CD collection of classical and jazz. In classical, I love Bach, Schumann and Brahms, among many others. In jazz, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson remain my favorites, among many others. In other words, I listen to just about everything in classical and jazz. I also love South American music, especially tangos from Argentina.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.