Saying Goodbye to ‘The Best Show on WFMU,’ Radio’s Last Great Live Program

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Tom Scharpling, the host of The Best Show on WFMU, has me blocked on Twitter. The reason, I’m guessing, is because once upon a time I had a job reviewing his weekly radio show, which will air its final episode tonight, for a website. I was given a limit of something like 100 words to try and sum up “three hours of Mirth, Music and Mayhem” — which, in retrospect, seems incredibly weird to me now. Although I appreciate the editor and publication for helping me earn a living as a freelancer, I probably wouldn’t do the job again if I had the chance.

Regret is a fool’s game, but when something as special as The Best Show comes to an end, it gives us a moment to pause and look back on the things we wish you could do over. What we’re losing, here, is unique in that it’s truly the last of the great funny radio shows. Of course, we still have our political pundits and Howard Stern wannabes and This American Life (which most people I know follow as a podcast rather than listen to live), but what Tom Scharpling did on a weekly basis — rallying the “Friends of Tom” to Twitter on Tuesday night with the hashtag #BestShowWFMU for what was truly a cult radio show in the best sense of the word — was something worth watching while you were listening. He’d come up with some random topic to discuss, make fun of A.P. Mike, and then the characters who would show up, guests ranging from Ted Leo to Todd Barry. And, of course, there would be the inevitable calls from Jon Wurster, using pretty much the same voice for every character, but being hilarious time after time.

I feel a bit silly crying over the end of a radio show, and maybe a little weird publicly mentioning that Scharpling hit the Block button on Twitter — but The Best Show on WFMU has more than earned a proper requiem. The fact that we actually had catch to it live in order to participate as listeners meant it was something to look forward to in an age when we can have instant access to just about anything we desire. Spending a few hours listening to Tom Scharpling be a crank was something we had to make time for, and the payoff was always hilarious. We gathered around a radio (or a computer) and Tom made our night by turning kvetching into poetry. Maybe you’d call in, and maybe you’d survive the entire call without getting the “Heave-ho,” or maybe you just stood on the sidelines and listened without participating. Whatever role you played in the show’s weird ecosystem, it was hard to deny that all of us who loved it were part of a community the likes of which we probably won’t see again.