Wait, Wait, Don’t Forget Who Brought You Here

It would seem that WEMU, as part of their 50th anniversary celebration, brought Peter Sagal’s weekly NPR quiz show Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me to Michigan. The thing is, the show ended up being all about the University of Michigan, and nary a mention was made of Eastern Michigan University or WEMU. In fact, Sagal and his staff were adorned in U-M merchandise throughout the show, and spent a good deal of their time talking about U-M football with U-M lecturer and author John U. Bacon. Following is the note sent out to the EMU community last night by WEMU General Manager Molly Motherwell.


This was apparently especially hurtful to Motherwell, as WEMU had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of the show. “WEMU has always had a special bond with Wait Wait,” she said in a press release announcing last night’s show. “We hosted Peter Sagal’s very first station visit in 2005, have presented the live show three times, and have taken a busload of donors to the Chicago live show for the last four years. We couldn’t be more thrilled that they are coming to celebrate our 50th anniversary with us in October.”

Apparently that history doesn’t mean as much to Sagal and his staff now that they’re big enough to fill venues in Ann Arbor.

[Readers of the Ann Arbor News, not surprisingly, don’t see why people would be upset.]

update: It’s been brought to my attention by WEMU’s Molly Motherwell that the station did not pay for the show to come. They did, however, set everything up. I will edit the post accordingly.

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  1. Posted October 3, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    On the Ann Arbor News site, someone is saying that this is an example of Ypsilanti demanding affirmative action. I wanted to mention it in the post, but I wasn’t sure how to address it. Someone else essentially said, of course they talked about Ann Arbor, as there’s nothing to say about Ypsilanti of interest. I’m always fascinated by the comments on their site.

  2. Posted October 3, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Ken and I were at the show and as soon as the producers and tech staff put on UM hats, and everyone started cheering, we looked at each other like “Ummm….”. I’m not a UM football at all and I just couldn’t muster up enthusiasm. That said, Mr. Bacon did a REALLY good job (they jabbed him about his age) and the show was funny but it was a shower of maize and blue. Good for Molly for saying something!

    Btw, my idea is to do a free show somewhere at EMU and have Mayor Amanda, the nice Ypsilanti historian (I’m sorry, I’m blanking on his name but I think we proved he wasn’t a ghost) and you as guests! You could bring the puppet! Maybe we could make puppets for everyone!

  3. Eel
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Wait, wait, don’t fuck us.

  4. Ian
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Wait Wait has been the audio game show of choice for intellectual* day-drunks for way too long. Much prefer the Mark Maynard thing. Don’t have to be as drunk to enjoy it (in fact, if you are, you’ll miss all them big ideers).

    *includes all who self-apply this title

  5. Ian
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    We all should probably just listen to more Night Vale, anyway.


  6. Alan Black
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Drop the show. There are a lot of options for public radio shows. I’d rather listen to reruns of Car Talk.

  7. Jean Henry
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    This weird Ypsi insecurity thing extends to EMU too, eh? The show was not too big for EMU; it was too small for the convocation center. If you site a show at Hill Auditirium in Ann Arbor, U-M mentions should be expected. Honestly, it just does not do EMU or Ypsi any good to be defensive about U-M and Ann Arbor’s national status. Thank god you all are not in that boat. Seriously. There are disparities in local media coverage of Ypsi that reflect classist and racist assumptions. This is not one of them. Normally I would add something here to prop up both Ypsi and EMU, but I’m not going to play to the humility. You just need to toot your own horn and stop being so damned defensive. It makes Ypsi/emu look lame.

  8. Jay Steichmann
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Jean Henry apparently missed the fact that WWDTM was in town BECAUSE of EMU. IIRC, they have been at the Summer Festival and Power Center for U-M interests. This isn’t a case of EMU (full discosure: the alma mater of me, my wife, and my sons; we have lived in A2 for 29 years) being defensive, it is a case of EMU asking for proper recognition. The U-M knows how to book a damned show. If they want credit for WWDTM, BOOK the show, don’t steal the show.

  9. Christine Moellering
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    We went to see this show. It surprised the hell out of me. I wish I would have stood up to comment about it at the end. I even said something about this to my husband on the way out. Not one of the 12 people on stage even wore an EMU shirt or hat. Instead they all wore UM stuff and had a football guy as the guest. I did enjoy the show but I was surprised. They should have put it in Pease but I imagine it isn’t enough seats.

  10. Molly Motherwell
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    To be clear, we did not expect the show to be focused on EMU; we have no input or control over content. What upset us and others in the EMU community is the UM attire which we did not expect (and which was somewhat spontaneous because Bill Kurtis went shopping), the UM focus beyond John U. Bacon (who, in fact, was my idea), and the lack of acknowledgement of WEMU’s 50th anniversary which is why they were invited in the first place. This was supposed to be the signature event of our 50th anniversary celebration.

    The show has admitted to me that they goofed; their producer told me that they got carried away with UM’s inclusion as a top ten party school and forgot about the WEMU connection. They are working on making amends to us.

    In the interest of full disclosure, WEMU did not pay for the show to come in. They assume all production cost. WEMU received a percentage based on ticket sales.

  11. Posted October 3, 2015 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    “U-M mentions should be expected. Honestly, it just does not do EMU or Ypsi any good to be defensive about U-M and Ann Arbor’s national status.”

    Jean, It’s not that “Wait Wait” was in Ann Arbor and didn’t mention EMU. Is that what you think it going on here? That’s not it at all. WEMU booked the event as part of their 50th anniversary. And they didn’t get a mention. You honestly think people are being too “defensive” and this is to be “expected”? Really?

  12. Christine Moellering
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I want to praise the talent on the show for being so nice afterward. They met with anyone who wanted and we’re all super friendly. Alonzo Bodden is a really nice guy.

  13. Christine Moellering
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the typos.

  14. Posted October 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    That’s good to hear, Christine. I am way too shy for that sort of meet and greet thing so we just had some water and then scurried home. (Nice to see you, btw :))

  15. Jean Henry
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    So, it sounds like WEMU bore no expense and received a portion of ticket sales? No, I don’t think they had right to expect any mention. It was an oversight– one largely represented by clothing on a radio show– that few would have noticed, had your community not given it advertisement as a slight. I find it unfortunate when anyone buys into a socially constructed hierarchy of value– especially as evidenced by media attention. I kind of expect Ypsi to have bigger ovaries and be more independent in self-concept than is displayed by this persistent self-measure of itself against Ann Arbor.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    No disrespect intended, Jean, but if Jefferson Market had arranged to have Anthony Bourdain come to town for a book signing at Literati and he attended the book signing wearing a Zingerman’s hat and talked exclusively about Zingerman’s, would you feel the same way?

  17. Jean Henry
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    yes. Anonymous. I’m shitty at marketing, because I don’t have much stomach for it. The point of opening the market was to get away from crap like celebrity chef, aspirational food marketing. My ex and I after 6 years in California had lost all taste for that carnival aspect of the business. We made a good logo and a good place. After the first 6 months, our entire marketing budget was community donations and t-shirts. The irony was the press insisted on portraying us as gentrifiers or California come to Ann Arbor. They had a narrative and ran with it. We used local farmers, regional foods and created a very Michigan/automotive influenced look and feel. They insisted it was “very LA.”At the time Ann Arbor was always comparing itself negatively to much larger cities like NY or Chicago. It was a defensive narrative– just like Ypsi’s. Sometimes you just have to know your own value, know who you want to be, and run with it, instead of waiting for outside acknowledgement.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Forget I said Bordain. Pick someone who you respect. Let’s say you brought someone you respect to town for a reading at Shamen Drum and they didn’t mention you, but talked endlessly about another business in your same sector. How would that make you feel?

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    If I brought someone I respected to town to do a reading, I would not care to be mentioned. I would be happy to attend the reading. The worst part about running the market was becoming a public person, in even a small way. Not my thing. If you run a business or a school, you should work hard to be the best you can be, to build meaningful relationships and positive reputation. You don’t pay for it; it’s earned. And it’s more effective than a marketing campaign. I recently did a survey for a class I taught of 20 successful local small business owners about the most effective means to drive business to their joint. The universal #1 was reputation/word of mouth. Close second was quality of work Third was community engagement. I wish more universities functioned like small independent businesses.

  20. humble lurker
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    @Jean Henry,
    I usually think you’re the voice of reason and a sensible, thoughtful business owner who understands the importance of serving the community, but you have totally missed the boat on this one. Do you even listen to Wait, Wait? When they go on the road they often make a point of engaging with their hosts or host venue in some way. (I was at that show in Ypsi in 2005, btw). This was a major faux pas — one that obviously fits the narrative on this blog of mighty mediocre Ann Arbor and underdog Ypsi (I’m gently teasing, and squarely on the side of underdog Ypsi; one of my best lines ever is “Ann Arbor wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t think it was so great.”). What I don’t get is that both the radio folks and even the commenters over at MLive (who generally have no love for Ypsi) seem to see the problem, but you don’t? Forgive me, but this situation is really _not about you_ and your generosity as a businessperson (I write this, honestly, with no snark), but instead about a guest having forgotten who their host was, the birthday party clown celebrating the wrong birthday boy.

  21. Jean Henry
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m all about Ypsi. I’ve been clear on that. I often say it’s where the Ann Arbor I miss has gone. I don’t think it or EMU have anything to be defensive about. That’s my point. When a place or person is defensive about another party’s supposed superiority, it validates that superiority. Wait Wait screwed up– obviously but it’s not any kind of tragedy. WEMU got their money. Who cares?
    (Also please feel free to not tread lightly where I’m concerned. I like going toe to toe.)

  22. Kristin
    Posted October 3, 2015 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I missed it, but did anyone pay for it?

  23. Jcp2
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    This screw-up and the reaction to it is very Wes Anderson. I’m guessing that there will be a reference to EMU specifically on the next show, regardless of location, with an on air mea culpa by the host, a history of WEMU support for the show, and maybe even a question about Ypsilanti.

  24. Anonymous
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    @humble lurker: I think Jean’s point is that Mark and others here seem to be unnaturally focused on shitting on Ann Arbor, and painting anyone there with as broad a brush as possible.

    Your best line seems to actually be: “Ypsi wouldn’t be so bad if others didn’t think Ann Arbor was so great”. I wonder if Mark is so reactionary and negative in his job as a marketer for U-M?

  25. Kjc
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    This situation is so not analogous to defensiveness in an individual person. I love a squeaky wheel. Who cares if someone thinks Ypsi is being “lame” by not going softly. Bitching is fine by me.

  26. Posted October 4, 2015 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    You might want to read the post again. I didn’t “shit on Ann Arbor.” I didn’t say anything even remotely negative about Ann Arbor. I just shared the story of how an NPR production brought in by EMU ignored their hosts. If anyone was shit on, it was Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. As for what I think about Ann Arbor, you can go back and read through the last 12 years of what I’ve written here. It’s all on the record. And I think, for the most part, it’s fair. I like Ann Arbor and I’ve said before that Ypsi couldn’t exist without it. That doesn’t mean, however, that people shouldn’t point out when folks in Ann Arbor either aren’t living up to their own perceived idea of themselves, or doing things that adversely impact the surrounding communities.

    So, yes, I point out that Ann Arbor is the 8th most economically segregated community in the United States. And, yes, I point out when their policies (i.e. not building affordable housing) hurt Ypsi. And, yes, I point out when they want to do stupid stuff, like cut funding for mental health and hire “ambassadors” to remove their “street people” from downtown. I don’t say these things because I dislike Ann Arbor. I say these things because they need to be said. But, yeah, I like a lot of what’s going on in Ann Arbor. I even serve as Dean of the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation.

    So I’m sorry to have to correct you, but it’s not as easy as saying, “Mark hates Ann Arbor, and thinks Ypsi is the best thing ever.” It’s not that black and white. Like everything else in life, it’s complicated. If you don’t like the site, though, I’d encourage you to find another that only shares good news about the things you care about.

  27. Jean Henry
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I think Mark’s assessment of Ann Arbor is largely accurate and in alignment with my own.

  28. Anon
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    ” a defensive narrative– just like Ypsi’s. Sometimes you just have to know your own value, know who you want to be, and run with it, instead of waiting for outside acknowledgement.”

    Extremely well said, Jean. Unfortunately, having lived/created/performed in Ypsi for years now, I see no indication that folks here will ever take your advice, stop the constant underdog fetishizing, and live up to their full potential. Ypsi has become a very strange place- one in which you can half-ass just about every undertaking, yet make up for what you lack in finger pointing and crying “Foul!” in Ann Arbor’s general direction.

  29. Dan
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    So ypsi’s hipster elite will now be boycotting NPR?

  30. Kjc
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    “Hipster elite” lol.

    underdog fetishizing seems like one of the healthier pursuits, relatively speaking.

  31. Peter Larson
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m starting to believe that Ypsi’s identity is somewhat defined by feeling victimized by Ann Arbor.

    It’s kind of sad, really. Ypsi has more to offer than that.

  32. Jean Henry
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Anon– your description of Ypsi would have been my own about A2 2o years ago. People talked a lot more than they did. That may just be the nature of ‘alternative’ culture. Keep working. If it’s not a practice, it’s just a fantasy. I am often saying that A2 needs to live up to its own idea of itself. Maybe Ypsi needs to define itself without reference to A2. The two cities complement each other in ways that Dexter, Saline etc don’t really. In an ideal world, we would all be helping the other community become better– more resilient, more its own place–rather than indulging in comparisons.
    At any rate, I’m grateful for Ypsi. Many of my friends and colleagues live there. My life in A2 would be thin without them. Also, this blog kicks ass compared to anything coming out of A2. Plus you still have a strip joint, real bars, cheap eats, a downtown hardware store and hair-braiding and barber shops galore. And the river runs right through downtown. Plus I get the feeling if my messy yard were in Ypsi, no one would be calling it ‘creative’ or ‘artsy.’ It would just be a messy yard. That’s pretty ideal in my book.

  33. Bob
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    To me it has always been the worst thing on public radio. It’s an awful show. The NPR equivalent of the Carol Burnett Show with not funny people laughing too hard at their own jokes. Paula Poundstone is their big celebrity for chrying out loud. Dump it.

  34. charlieRomeo
    Posted October 4, 2015 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    “Wait, Wait, don’t lie to me”. It’s the mainstream America narrative “news” about what is important and valuable to know and it is a crock of pretentious bullshit. It belongs in Ann Arbor.

  35. Alan Goldsmith
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    If WEMU had no control over the content and weren’t involved in producing the event and if station management didn’t have anything in their contract with NPR addressing it, then perhaps they misrepresented the event as being a 50th anniversary FOR the station. This is exactly what happens when you gut locally produced programing, create a hostile climate for long-time talent that results in station departures, and then put your eggs in the NPR basket. WWDTM is on hundreds of public radio stations, and by focusing on an organization and a program that both appear more about looking out for themselves and the amount they can suck out of a community and local contributors than local affiliates, then this sort of humiliations is part of the package.

  36. Alan Goldsmith
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    This has nothing to do with Ann Arbor vs. Ypsilanti. It has to do with poor local radio station management and their ability to negotiate with an organization and program they’ve supported for years and not getting more than ‘verbal’ assurances there would be a tie in with WEMU-FM’s anniversary celebration. NPR doesn’t give a damn about the long term survival of local radio, otherwise they wouldn’t have a deal for 90% of their programing to be broadcast on Sirius XM. Stations that grasp the big picture will survive–the station that don’t, won’t. The audience and listeners are the ones to suffer and the bad managers move on to their next jobs.

  37. Frosted Flakes
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The ultra self consciousness about self marketing, coupled with the hyper sensitivity over any instance of getting overlooked, represents, in my eyes, the worst that Ypsilanti has to offer. Luckily, Ypsi has a lot of other positive things to offer.

  38. anonymous
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Alan, I seem to recall that some of these same things were discussed a few years ago when Arwulf left WEMU.

  39. Mark Ducker
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    No one said anything weeks ago when WEMU was running the promo spots to announce the event in which the copy spoken by the voice over all but stated there is no “culture” in Ypsilanti worth mentioning. What was highlighted was Zingerman’s (a fine organization and products to be sure) with a downward-thinking reference to Ypsi. It’s a good thing that spot was not ran before I pledged to WEMU in the Spring or I might have reconsidered. I understand using the bigger location (Hill) for the event, but why remove Ypsi as a positive entity in that first promotional message since it is the home of WEMU. I did not attend, so I won’t speculate on the content on stage, but once the event was held on the UM campus who did you think would get all the folksy local references that come along to any location that hosts such an event? It wasn’t gonna be Ypsi or EMU.

  40. Meta
    Posted October 6, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    It sounds like a real knee-slapper.

    “This is the first time we have been allowed to the University’s campus. They had to make sure we could handle our liquor — I’m hoping to pledge a frat while I’m here,” Sagal said.

    Sagal continued, referencing the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity’s suspension following a January ski trip incident, saying, “As a Jewish man myself, I felt proud.”

    Read more:

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