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A Mad Dash at 3pm

Oct 18, 2007

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Neal Conan

In a week when we had two radio hosts of the show — Garrison Keillor on Monday, Michael Krasny yesterday — I failed to ask if we share the same anxiety dreams. You're in the studio but can't find the script, you don't know who you're supposed to be talking to, or what about, the director points and you can't speak. Your standard nightmare.

Which sort of happened on Tuesday.

If you were listening, you know that we were scheduled to spend most of the show with Christopher Hitchens to talk about Thomas Paine's The Rights Of Man, his entry in "The Books that Changed the World" series. 3PM, and he's not here. No reason to panic. Hitchens has a reputation for being late, but he always shows up. 3:05, and No Guest.

Sue Goodwin (our beloved Executive Producer) bursts into the production room that's separated from Studio 3A by a big glass window. Steam is coming our of her ears, but she pitches her voice down as she speaks on a communications mike to both me (in the studio) and to director Gwen Outen in the Control Room.

"OK. We'll do letters first, let's see is we can get Meghan Daum on the phone (we'd planned to speak with her from a studio in Los Angeles at 3:40) and if he hasn't shown up by then, we'll figure something out."

At such moments, the most important thing, is to stay calm. Senior Producer Carline Watson explains later, that her goal in such crises is to make sure you don't scare the host. I ad lib an explanation, and start to read letters, which runs maybe three minutes, and ends with music. While we listen to 40 seconds of Woodie Guthrie, Sue says to run Meghan over the first break, take a call or two, and that we'll switch topics at the 30. OK. We hadn't planned to take calls with Meghan, so I have to ad lib a question for the callers. Meghan, bless her, plays along, and, during the one minute break at 20 minutes after the hour, Sue comes in to say we still haven't heard from Hitchens, and that we'll improvise a segment on that day's congressional hearings about the Jena 6. Ok. While a caller speaks to Meghan, Sue tells me in my headphones that we have Professor Charles Ogletree on a cell phone at National Airport where he's waiting for a plane back to Boston after testifying before the House Judiciary Committee earlier in the day. I get a pretty decent introduction, and while Gwen plays the "button" — the little piece of music we use to separate segements — she says in my headphones, "and I have the tape ready."

What tape? Another flurry of activity as Carline prints out a cue sheet, which she hands me as I read the introduction. Professor Ogletree is eloquent, and then I hear that we've found Charles Witt, the Chicago Tribune reporter who broke the Jena 6 story, on the phone from his hotel room in Washington, and that he can speak to us because he just filed his story on the hearings. He takes us over the second break, at 40 past, and in those two minutes, I learn that we've reached our baseball regular, Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, also on deadline, but I can do a baseball interview off the top of my head, so we laud the heroics of the Colorado Rockies, and finally, finally wrap it up.

We send flowers to Meghan Daum, learn that Christopher Hitchens had to make a trip to the hospital — we hope to reschedule Tom Paine for next week.

And, that night, I sleep nightmare free.

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