Inside the final days of The Best Show On WFMU
Tom Scharpling

Inside the final days of The Best Show On WFMU

A dispatch from Newbridge.

Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster are not speaking. Only two hours remain in the final episode of The Best Show On WFMU, the radio show they’ve crafted every Tuesday since October of 2000, and yet they are silent. A sketch written out in large-print font lies before them, but at this very moment in time they say none of it. They stare at each other across the expanse of WFMU’s main studio and wait.

Wurster is in character as “Philly Boy Roy,” one of the show’s longest recurring personalities. This is radio, but Wurster plays the part with method dedication. Scharpling is supposed to “discover” Roy hiding under his desk, so Wurster climbs beneath the space near his feet, legs protruding like a mechanic perched under an engine. His slim frame rattles inside an orange Philadelphia Flyers shirsey, and he sports a 76ers cap crammed on top of an Eagles one, arranged with brims to the front and the back.

Scharpling is also in character. He is “Tom.” The Best Show has many Toms: Some have quick trigger fingers for callers who bring nothing to the table; others unleash hell on the evils that accumulated in the previous week or weave monologues out of the traumas of his youth. But this Tom abides the abuse dished out by Philly Boy Roy and his fellow residents of Newbridge, the fictional microverse of The Best Show. This Tom doesn’t blink when Roy—who has phoned into the show for over a decade—calls him “Tim.”

Scharpling and Wurster have not spoken like this many times before. Wurster would call the show as one of the many deranged denizens of Newbridge and sound ready to launch into an obscene spiel. A gulf of dead air would follow, after which Wurster’s voice would re-emerge with a sentence fragment.

“I had to bleep out all of that,” Scharpling would tell him. Wurster’s self-absorbed characters would sound shocked that anything they might say was unfit for broadcast.

Right now, Scharpling and Wurster are not speaking because a moment ago Roy announced, “The statement I’m about to make is not racist, okay? Why is it the ones who always—”

And then, silence.

In the past, they would do this long distance, Scharpling in the WFMU studios in New Jersey, Wurster at home in North Carolina (when not on the road drumming for bands like Superchunk and The Mountain Goats). This required a kind of telepathy, for Wurster to know the precise moment to cut back in, for Scharpling to remain alert through the quiet. Tonight, they do it in the same room, so Scharpling stares at Wurster, and Wurster stares back, and the silent seconds tick away.

One, two...

To not speak goes against every broadcaster’s instinct. Civilians have nightmares about falling, but DJs wake up in a sweat from dreams of dead air. What Scharpling and Wurster are doing, or not doing, isn’t easy.

Three, four…

And yet, there’s no sign of panic. They are acquainted with waiting. Their comedy requires acres of time to develop. Routines can last up to an hour. They performed those hours for years before accumulating an audience that appreciated what they did.

Five, six...

They can begin speaking any time they want, but the longer they wait, the more listeners will be tempted to fill the silence with imagined horror, and the more hilarious those next words will sound.

Seven, eight...

Scharpling looks down at his script for a moment to find his place, then raises his head. He locks eyes with Wurster again and they share a smile. They will know when it’s time to speak again.

When Tom Scharpling announced The Best Show would air its last episode on December 17, 2013, seven shows remained, 21 hours of radio time. This was a drop in the bucket compared to the 1,700-plus he’d already logged on the air. It was work that left little time to ponder the future.

Scharpling often praises someone by saying, “They’re doing the work.” All media are made of time, but radio perhaps most of all. Radio is time, and time is work.

“It’d be hard to overstate how hard it is to fill three hours,” says Jesse Thorn, host of NPR’s Bullseye. “It takes years to learn how to do it. It’s one of the most remarkable achievements of The Best Show, I think. Tom has an amazing sense of pace, completely unlike anyone else on the radio. It isn’t just bring in a hot topic, take some calls, boom boom boom. That’s most talk radio. It’s weaving in and out of calls, checking in with regulars, doing an interview, telling a story. It’s hard to speak by yourself for three minutes, much less three hours.”

“Tom is a broadcaster,” says Jake Fogelnest, podcaster and SiriusXM host. “There’s just not many people around who you can actually refer to as a broadcaster. He has a command of radio and understands the intimacy of the medium in a way that so few people do. Every time he cracks the mic, he’s doing it fueled by an incredible understanding, not only of what makes good comedy writing, but what makes talk radio work.”

During the final episodes of The Best Show, Scharpling deflected the subject of his future. When four shows remained, 12 hours’ worth of radio, author and frequent guest John Hodgman asked what would come next. Hodgman and Scharpling enjoyed many minutes on the air together. Each could make the other laugh at will. And yet, when Hodgman inquired about Scharpling’s post-Best Show future, the host literally backed off, inching his chair away from the microphone.

“You have things going on, you have schemes,” Hodgman said. He might have referred to the music videos Scharpling has directed for Ted Leo, The New Pornographers, and other artists, or the voices he’s lent to cartoons such as Steven Universe. Or the television pilots he’s spearheaded for comedians like Chris Gethard and the Gregory brothers.

But at that moment, with so much work left, Scharpling said, “I’ve got no schemes, man.” He became preoccupied with a piece of paper near his mic, crumpled it between his fingers, spun around in his chair and shot it, free-throw style, toward the nearest garbage can. The paper flew through a wide open lid, nothing but net.

WFMU is contained in a squat four-story building in downtown Jersey City. It looks more and more anomalous as modest neighbors give way to glittering towers. Parts of WFMU’s neighborhood are indistinguishable from midtown Manhattan, provided you don’t look toward real midtown to the east. A camera over WFMU’s front door scopes out visitors, but few are turned away. If you’ve made it there, you belong.

Inside, the building lies somewhere between a cool older brother’s bedroom and a preteen idea of Mad Magazine headquarters. In the station’s library on the second floor, scuffed LP sleeves undulate on a series of shelves seven rows high and two columns deep, running across walls painted a yellow resembling the color of dried wood glue.

The record library stands just outside WFMU’s main studio. DJs gather here to sift through new releases and plan out their shows at a large black console stacked with stereo equipment. This is where Tom Scharpling and Jon Wurster can be found 30 minutes before the last three hours of The Best Show. Scharpling’s DJ cart—a set of beveled shelves on wheels that appears to have escaped from a school library—is overloaded with LPs, notebooks, and a pair of puppets who keep quiet for the moment.

Scharpling outlines the action for this episode with Wurster and the show’s call screener, Mike Lisk (a.k.a. AP Mike). In weeks past, this discussion hinged on when Wurster would call, because his touring schedule often limited his availability. When six episodes remained, 18 hours’ worth, Scharpling and Lisk negotiated around Superchunk’s need to catch a plane out of Australia at 10 p.m. Jersey City time.

Mike Lisk

Wurster being here precludes such issues, so Scharpling announces his plan: a few calls during the first hour; after that, a call from Wurster as Officer Harrups, the Newbridge lawman often referred to on the show but never heard before tonight; then, an appearance from Philly Boy Roy.

“After that,” Scharpling says, “I’ll play a song into the collage, then Mike will come in, then we’ll do something together.

“And then...that’s it.”

The collage became a prominent feature of The Best Show in 2013. It began when, on a whim, Scharpling switched audio between the pulsating introduction of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” (less a song than a nightmare set to drum machine) and a nauseating live Grateful Dead track in which keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan talk-sing about “going on a four-day creep.”

In the months that followed, Scharpling added more musical cues to the mix, then topped them with sound clips from films and commercials, some pick by him, some sent in by listeners. The collection grew to fill six soundboards he negotiated on his laptop, building the collage in real time, voluminous notes in front of him to keep track of what sounds lie where.

When three shows remained, nine hours’ worth, Scharpling announced to a studio full of special guests that the collage would soon begin, and the studio erupted into cheers as if hearing the introduction of a band’s signature song. One of the guests, comedian Patton Oswalt, asked him with a mixture of conspiracy and anticipation, “Did you get that thing?” A longtime fan and vocal supporter of The Best Show, Oswalt sent Scharpling a clip for inclusion but wouldn’t admit which one, as if he’d pitched a penny into a fountain and articulating his wish could keep it from coming true.

Scharpling describes the final collage as a three-parter: introduction, then the birth of The Best Show, concluding with its end and rebirth. A slew of volunteers contributed clips from old shows. Scharpling spent the past four days arranging them into a mix that sums up all that came before.

These will be saved for later. Now, he cues up audio from the Showtime documentary about the Eagles in which an interviewer asks Don Henley, “Why do you think the Eagles are still so popular?” In a move that wouldn’t be out of place for one of Wurster’s self-important characters, Henley responds with a breathless litany of the band’s greatest hits. As the titles pour out, Scharpling gives Wurster a “You believe this?” eyebrow raise.

“That’s like seven too many,” Wurster says between cackles.

With a few minutes left before go time, Scharpling zips in and out of the library to make sure he has everything he needs for the show. He enters and leaves the library with the hard steps and rushed gait of a man holding several heavy things at once, which, more often than not, he is. He approaches the mic at the literal last minute, pushing his DJ cart up the ramp leading to the studio at 8:59.

WFMU’s main studio is dominated by a countertop weighed down by a large white control board, CD players and turntables (some plugged in, some just hanging out), a trio of mics for guests, coffee mugs of dead pens, and outdated reference books dominoing into one another. Audio cables tumble toward exposed inputs. A portable mixing board sits at the counter’s extreme edge, one of its channels covered by a strip of duct tape labeled “DEAD.”

There is no control room in WFMU’s main studio. Scharpling must leave the studio door open a crack and yell toward Lisk to inquire, “Who’s good here?” Throughout the program, in-studio guests can hear Lisk’s half of a dialogue with callers. The effect is jarring to the uninitiated, but after 13 years on the air, Scharpling can drown out everything but the show.

Post-announcement, many guests dropped by WFMU for the last episodes of The Best Show. Visitors would hunch down on step ladders or roost on abandoned boxes or stand wherever space allowed and politely elbow one another to catch glimpses of the show’s final moments. There are no guests now.

Jon Wurster leaves the library. He will make his Officer Harrups call from WFMU’s third floor, a few vertical feet from where Scharpling sits. Lisk takes his spot at the call-screening station, which consists of a desk with a phone and a computer and a pair of speakers blaring the real-time feed of the show.

When not used by another DJ, the console at the rear of the library plays WFMU’s broadcast signal. Thanks to a seven-second delay, a visitor can stand near the Hs in the record racks, perpendicular to the studio entrance, and hear snatches of the show from Lisk’s station in one ear, then hear them again a moment later in the other ear. If they miss something Scharpling says, it will echo.

On June 19, 1992, The Ritz in New York City hosted an indie rock super-bill of My Bloody Valentine, Superchunk, and Pavement. This also marked the night when Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan introduced Tom Scharpling (who he knew through Scharpling’s zine, 18 Wheeler) to his band’s new drummer, Jon Wurster. The two bonded over their love of Chris Elliott’s cult classic sitcom, Get A Life, and memories of the early days of MTV’s Headbangers Ball. Scharpling and Wurster struck up a long-distance friendship, maintained through lengthy phone calls about whatever bugged them at any given time.

In 1995, Scharpling landed a show on WFMU, a radio station that operated out of East Orange, New Jersey, and exerted a huge influence on his formative years. In pre-Internet days, when it was nearly impossible to hear all the amazing non-mainstream records reviewed in magazines like Rolling Stone and Creem, WFMU was a godsend. It played the indie rock favored by college stations, but it also delved into the vast spectrum of weirdness in all recorded music. WFMU demonstrated support-the-scene realness by subsisting on listener donations. And it was from Jersey and proud of it, at a time when Jersey Pride was a commodity in short supply outside of Bruce Springsteen and Joe Piscopo.

On his first WFMU program, Scharpling spun records while acclimating himself to speaking on the air. He had no designs on using the airwaves for comedy until Oprah Winfrey came along. Upon being exonerated in a libel case, Oprah had declared, “Freedom not only rules, it rocks!” The next time Scharpling and Wurster spoke on the phone, the phrase’s awkward consonance and utter meaninglessness made them wonder what else could be divided into the slots of “rule” and “rock.”

This led to the creation of a character named Ronald Thomas Clontle, who wrote a book dividing all musical artists into the categories of rock, rot, or rule. In November of 1997, Scharpling and Wurster performed the sketch in the middle of Scharpling’s show, giving no hint to the audience that it was a bit. Clontle was convinced he’d written “the ultimate argument settler,” even though his questionable assessments, based on polling a small sample size of customers at his coffee shop, Java The Hut (“Home of the Bottomless Wookiee”), sparked arguments with angry callers. Clontle’s idiocy revealed itself at a glacial pace, the sketch stretching out over 45 minutes.

“Rock, Rot, and Rule” would have disappeared into the ether, but Scharpling had the foresight to tape it. He later released it on a self-produced cassette (backed with another sketch he did on the air with Wurster, “Conventions, Inc.”), and the tape was passed around New York’s burgeoning underground-comedy scene.

The full flowering of Scharpling and Wurster as a comedy team would have to wait, because Scharpling and Wurster themselves didn’t yet realize they were a comedy team. Wurster’s hitch as Superchunk’s drummer occupied much of his time, while Scharpling had writerly ambitions—any kind of writing, preferably the kind that could pay the bills. He realized he was getting no closer to that goal via his unpaid WFMU DJ stint or his day job at a sheet-music store. Something would have to give.

It gave one night when he went to see Marc Maron do standup in New York, attending with a friend who worked for MTV writing commercials. Scharpling can’t recall the bit, but a line Maron said haunted him: “That’s like the difference between someone who works at a music store and someone who works at MTV.

He now describes the experience as “cosmic,” a moat carved between where his life was and where he wanted to be. “If I want to write,” he told himself, “I just have to write.” His radio show on WFMU, which did not pay and occupied precious free time, would have to go.

Scharpling kept going back to New York to watch comedy, like at Luna Lounge and the UCB Theater, where performers did things that were free and unfiltered and on their own terms. Then he watched these same comedians slowly work their way up the comedy ladder, to Conan O’Brien, to SNL, to their own shows. They worked in comedy until they became comedy.

Scharpling did not want to do improv or standup. “You know how you hear people say, ‘The minute I stepped on a stage, I knew that’s what I wanted to do!’?” he told the AST Radio podcast back in 2007. “I had the opposite reaction.” But he knew if he could find a way to make radio work in his life, he could find a way to learn from that freedom and translate it to the airwaves.

An army of headphones before him, and not one of them working. Weeks ago, Scharpling retrieved as many pairs from around the station as he could find, and located a patch bay to plug them into, and ran that patch into the snarling mess under the studio desk so the large groups of guests invited to his last episodes could hear the show properly. At the start of his final show, none of these headphones are functioning. It takes him four tries and a few precious minutes of airtime to locate a magic pair that allows him to hear himself.

Then, a string of awful calls, each one worse than the last. A bad Best Show call is not one that mocks Scharpling or argues with him. It’s one where the caller has nothing to say, calling for the sake of calling. It implies that what Scharpling does is easy, can be done by anyone, is not work.

Dreadful callers crawled out of the woodwork in the program’s final weeks. The nadir came when five episodes remained, 15 hours’ worth. In studio were two regular callers who’d undertaken long journeys to arrive in Jersey City, Jason from Huntsville, Alabama, and Fred from Honolulu, callers whose dispatches delighted Scharpling and filled precious on-air minutes. Their presence brought no magic to the phone lines, however, as caller after caller rang up with nothing interesting to say, or attempted their own wacky characters, or chewed into the microphone. Scharpling fake-sobbed for dramatic effect but the scowl on his face indicated more anger than sadness.

At the conclusion of shows in previous weeks, Scharpling would make sure his guests enjoyed themselves. “It was fine? It wasn’t too boring?” This time, he asked the room for validation. “Those were the worst callers ever, right? I wasn’t just imagining that, right?” He soon declared it “the worst hour in the history of the show.” But he also recognized that his pain can translate into entertainment.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said, “but people seem to love the shows where I’m having a complete meltdown.”

At the end of the final show’s first hour, awful calls in the rear view, Wurster phones in as Officer Harrups. After the call, Wurster tiptoes into the studio and asks the host, via hand signals, if it’s okay to snap pictures. Photos taken, he retreats.

Then Scharpling reaches into the DJ cart behind him to unsheathe his two puppets: Vance, a green three-eyed prog-rock enthusiast, and Gary, an insult-comic squirrel who imagines himself a star in the making. In the grand tradition of radio ventriloquists, Scharpling acts out the puppets, moving seamlessly between their voices (Vance a gruff lisp, Gary a high decibel screech) while using his Vance hand to adjust levels on the control board.

Gary specializes in Don Rickles-esque insult humor, which he wielded against many of The Best Show’s guests in its final weeks, such as Oswalt, Hodgman, and Kurt Braunohler. But his most frequent target is Lisk, and he beckons the call screener into the studio with an eardrum-splitting “Hey Mike!” Gary says he wants to patch things up between them during the final episode. He’s written Lisk a Christmas card and commands him to read it on the air. 

The Lisk heard on The Best Show bears a passing resemblance to the “real” Lisk, certain aspects of his personality blown up to cartoonish proportions. Since taking over call screening duties in 2005, his role on the show increased slowly and organically, as Scharpling found Lisk’s dark, contrarian opinions—like finding Werner Herzog’s ultra-dark film Stroszek “hilarious”—too rich a comedy field to leave untilled. Scharpling doled glimpses of Lisk to listeners by infinitesimal (and occasionally unsettling) increments, one week at a time.

Once Lisk reads the card, Gary asks him to read another one, one that Lisk supposedly wrote for the squirrel. Lisk has no memory of writing such a card but does as he’s told, finding a card full of praise for Gary and insults for himself. Lisk reads that he is “nothing more than a garden-variety pervert” and “some say I should be caged.”

Scharpling has said he finds it hard to laugh. The straight-man role he adopted for Wurster’s calls demanded he maintain character. The side effect of this discipline was the loss of an “easy laugh.” Even when he finds something hilarious, he may not burst into a roaring laughter. He may not laugh at all.

But when Lisk says “Some say I should be caged,” Scharpling ducks his head under the console. He stays there for the duration of Lisk’s reading, his stifled guffaws vibrating through the studio floor. For the rest of the evening, whenever Scharpling spots Lisk off the air, he repeats the line and breaks up all over again.

Wurster sneaks back into the studio to watch Scharpling’s interaction with a few calls. He relishes Scharpling’s dismissals of the worst ones in silence, grinning ear to ear, convulsing in his chair at the better zingers. His body laughs but his mouth is careful to make no sound.

In the fall of 2000, Scharpling snagged a new slot on the WFMU schedule, with a bare outline of what he hoped to do on the air. He asked Wurster if making slow-burn, long-form comedy à la “Rock, Rot & Rule” every week interested him. Had he refused, Scharpling says he might have dropped the idea altogether. Wurster agreed to give it a shot, though, and The Best Show On WFMU aired its first episode on October 10, 2000.

At first, The Best Show drew comedy from many contributors, such as H. Jon Benjamin, Matt Walsh, Sam Seder, and Andrew Earles. Before long, Wurster was the only one calling in. “As funny as the other calls were,” Scharpling says, “what Jon and I are doing is a partnership. I needed to make it clear this is what it’s all about.”

In the show’s earliest days, Scharpling and Wurster’s characters claimed to be from “western Maine” (a running joke between them, an ultra-specific location devoid of anything notable). Then, the team hit on the ideal name for a fictional town: Newbridge. New Jersey already had so many towns containing the word “bridge” that “Newbridge” sounded plausible.

The calls from Wurster referenced characters and locations mentioned in previous sketches, sometimes weeks or years prior. More by accident than design, they created a byzantine Newbridgian mythology with innumerable personalities, each of whom had some history with the other, and with Scharpling. “I still have no idea how huge it is,” he says. And yet, this complicated backstory never stood in the way of new listeners. Each Wurster call was self-contained and could be enjoyed on its own, with Easter eggs throughout to satisfy the diehards.

The patience Scharpling and Wurster exercised with their long-form comedy came in handy when dealing with the show’s lackluster initial reception. Although accustomed to strangeness, WFMU listeners didn’t take to it during its first years on the air. Scharpling concedes that he was figuring the show out as much as listeners were. (“Maybe it was just okay then?”) He still was the person who showed up every Tuesday night, drawing confused calls, fielding angry emails. “You’re not funny. Your bits are endless. Play more music...”

The Best Show lasted because WFMU let him do exactly what he wanted without interference, and because Scharpling and Wurster knew it was funny. All the external evidence said the world hated The Best Show. Much like the characters they created, they continued under the premise that the world was wrong. 

Scharpling can’t pinpoint a moment when the world changed its mind. Maybe when the advent of podcasting in the mid-2000s brought the show to audiences outside of WFMU’s broadcast signal. Maybe when he could land interviews with comedy heroes like Martin Short and Chris Elliott. Maybe when comedians like Patton Oswalt and musicians like Ted Leo lent their time to WFMU’s annual fundraising marathons, just to make sure the station that aired The Best Show could keep running.

Scharpling and Wurster have forgotten more about rock history than most people will ever know—they can recall discographies and touring lineups of a bewildering number of bands—but they cannot remember when their show became a cult success. There has never been a moment to reminisce. When one show ended, another one awaited. There was always work to be done.

When the Philly Boy Roy sketch concludes, Scharpling cues up “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” the Big Star song long used as an unofficial Best Show theme song. “That was so awesome,” he says, beaming at Wurster. It’s the first time during these final shows that he has admitted, out loud, anything he did was enjoyable.

The last chords of “El Goodo” give way to the terrifying throb of “Frankie Teardrop,” signaling the collage has begun. Wurster remains in the studio to watch it come together. He especially loves a clip from a call to another talk-radio station, Jersey 101.5. Caller “Doug in Dunellen” wants criminals “shot in the face” the second they are convicted and demands cops “take these guys out in the moment.” The host seems only a little disturbed by Doug.

“This is me,” Scharpling informs his partner. It is hard to locate his voice in the marble-mouthed-mook accent he adopted for the call, but once it’s located, it’s unmistakable.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard this before!” Wurster says. It’s not the only one. As Scharpling plays clips from shows gone by, many ring no bells for him.

“I have no memory of this at all,” he says while hearing himself play a character named Zeph, voiced as a grizzled Sam Elliott type who blasts Scharpling for playing the theme from Maude too often.

“Zeph’s gonna snuff you!” he says. This line sends Scharpling and Wurster into paroxysms of laughter. “Zeph!” they yell across the room between gasps for air. Minutes pass before they recover.

Wurster also has no recollection of playing a hypnotist who commands Scharpling to murder Lisk. “Do you have the bloodlust?” he hears himself hiss. “Gregor McWilliams was your name,” Scharpling reminds him. He nods, the memory distant.

Then, a call in which Wurster called up as Jimmy Crespo, ex-member of Aerosmith, to needle a young rock fan named Mack. Suspecting Crespo is not who he says he is, Mack attempts to trip him up by asking how many total units Aerosmith sold.

“Units?” Crespo asks. “Who are you, Clive Davis?”

This, Wurster remembers. “I got this right, didn’t I?” he says.

“You were shockingly close,” Scharpling says.

When Wurster hears “Crespo” guess the correct amount of Aerosmith units sold, he raises his arms in the air in triumph. “How the hell did I know that?”

“Who’s laughin’ now, schmuck?” Jimmy says to Mack, who is blown away by the accurate answer. “How many pull-ups can you do?”

Scharpling and Wurster cannot stop laughing. They cannot stop laughing at themselves, and they do not want to stop laughing at themselves. It is the first time in 13 years they’ve been allowed to enjoy what they’ve made together.

Only WFMU could have allowed Scharpling and Wurster the pure acreage of time needed for their slow-burn comedy. Only WFMU would have stuck with The Best Show for the early years when its own listeners voiced complaints in droves.

WFMU also doesn’t pay its DJs. This was less of a concern when Scharpling was a writer and producer on the crime drama Monk, and when The Best Show’s audience was tiny. As The Best Show grew in popularity, so did the work associated with it: writing the sketches, booking guests, soliciting prizes for the station’s annual marathon fundraisers, fulfilling orders for the same. All the work added up to a full-time job, one for which Scharpling lost rather than made money each year. After Monk went off the air in 2009, he no longer had a regular gig to offset the cost.

Scharpling and Wurster made efforts to adapt the Newbridge-iverse to other media. They collaborated on scripts for film and TV. They tried writing books. They took a stab at self-producing an animated series. None of it panned out because the show itself demanded so much of their time. None was left to concentrate on other endeavors.

“The hours in a day run out,” Scharpling says.

He came to realize he could not make any money on The Best Show in radio form, and the work necessary to bring it to the air prevented him from figuring out how to make financially viable. It was a depressing prospect that left him with one option: In order to save The Best Show, he had to kill it.

His last marathon shows were the clearest indication that the end was nigh. In years past, Scharpling called in all favors for contributions to his marathon premiums, hoping this would entice more listeners to support WFMU. He curated albums and 7-inches full of tracks recorded just for the show. He produced a DVD with contributions from famous fans. He created a magazine also full of big names, plus an exclusive flexi disc. Since 2008, these efforts helped The Best Show raise almost a million dollars in listener donations, every cent of which went toward keeping WFMU’s lights on.

When marathon time approached in early 2013, Scharpling announced The Best Show’s premium would be a rain pancho. (He still managed to raise over $212,000 over the course of two marathon shows.)

“That’s what you get,” Scharpling said, with an implied “Haven’t I given you enough?”

When four shows remained, 12 hours’ worth, cardboard boxes full of panchos addressed to Scharpling sat in WFMU’s third-floor hallway, underneath walls bedecked with velvet portraits of L. Ron Hubbard and GG Allin, waiting to leave.

After the collage, after Lisk says goodbye to the listeners, after Jon Wurster appears on The Best Show for the first time not as one of his characters but as Jon Wurster, after more than 1,700 hours on the air, 10 minutes remain. Lisk and Wurster leave the studio so Scharpling can give his own farewell, filling those minutes as he did so much of the show, alone.

Outside the studio, Lisk fields a ring from one last hopeful caller.

“Who are you?” he asks. The caller pleads his case, oblivious that so little show remains. Lisk is unmoved. “Yeah right, you’re gonna end The Best Show, okay.”

As Scharpling gives his goodbye to the radio, his voice escapes from Lisk’s speakers. Seven seconds later, the same words emerge from the stereo in the back of the library. It is so quiet in the building that you can hear it a second after that, echoing from a speaker in WFMU’s kitchen upstairs. Every receiver is tuned in. The voice goes on.