I wonder what William Almon Wheeler would have said if he knew that people were talking about him on the radio or on YouTube because that was exactly what was going on during the last few weeks of 2013.
In the middle of December, Todd Moe from North Country Public Radio at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY contacted me by email and asked if I would be interested in being interviewed by telephone about my biography of Wheeler for use on Todd’s morning radio show. I jumped at the chance and asked him to give me a preview of the questions he would ask so that I could be as well-prepared for the encounter as possible. Todd agreed and gave me a list of interesting questions that he said were designed to give listeners a “taste” of the book.
Here are some of them. What intrigued you the most about Wheeler’s life that led to your research? How did he reach the status of the “New York Lincoln”? What was his political strategy and do you think he’d be admired today? Do you think most Malone (Franklin county) residents today remember him? What was his legacy, more than his vice presidency? Anything surprising that came out of your research? Todd said that the interview would be about 10-15 minutes long and be more of a conversation than anything else.
After setting a time and date for his telephone call, I began to review my material on Wheeler and work on shaking the nervousness out of my voice. I also dug into North Country Public Radio’s web site and listened to several interviews Todd had conducted with other authors. I made notes of what I wanted to say and when he called me at 10 am as he had promised he would do, I felt I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
On the phone, Todd explained how he was going to record our conversation and then began asking his questions. I had wanted to put him on speakerphone so that my hands would be free to use my notes but he said use of the speakerphone would diminish the quality of the sound. Wanting to sound as good as I could, I ditched the idea of using the speakerphone and we began our conversation.
It was difficult to talk with Todd despite the pleasing sound of his voice because of a time-delay that was built into his recording system. He would ask a question, I would answer, and then there was a delay of a few seconds before Todd would answer. Because of the delay, I could not get an accurate feel for the flow of conversation—there was more of a “start and stop” to it than I had anticipated. This, coupled with the fact that I could not read his body language as we talked, left me wondering exactly how the interview was progressing as we moved from question to question.
After about 15 or 20 minutes, Todd brought the interview to a close and we said goodbye and hung up. I had no idea of what I had really said, how I had said it, or what I would sound like. I’d have to wait until it appeared on the North Country Public Radio web site before I could listen to it. Todd had told me he would broadcast it and put it on the web site in about ten days.
Fran Keneston, director of marketing at SUNY Press, was the first person to alert me that the interview had been broadcast by emailing me a link to it. I gulped and then clicked on the link. Todd had digitally edited and smoothed out some of what I had thought were “rough spots” during our talk and I felt the interview sounded pretty good. I have posted a link to it above at the top of this page on the “Radio” tab.
I think Wheeler would have been pleased by the interview but what would he have said about it? I’ll venture a guess after I write about Wheeler’s debut on YouTube, coming up in Part Two.