The strange, surreal world of Riverwest Radio’s Hello Caller
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If you’re the kind of person that needs a concise, genre-specific description of a show, Riverwest Radio’s Hello Caller might be difficult to get a handle on. The show features many of the trappings of radio and television: remote location segments, interviews, topical discussion, dramatization. But the point at which it diverges from those trappings is something that changes nearly every week—which is to say that no two shows are exactly alike.
Though it’s unclear whether the show’s producers, Xav Leplae and Zack Pieper, would consider Hello Caller a podcast, the term does seem to have some heft. Hello Caller, with aplomb, takes full advantage of the ready-to-stream capabilities of the Internet, while at the same time satirizing those sorcerer-like capabilities. Ridiculous contests, self-interviews, and incorporating random passersby into the proceedings: it all forms a complex, deceptively ramshackle stew when mixed together. It’s part call-in show, part open-ended Happening, and part comedy show, punctuated by instances of pure conceptual brilliance, such as a petition that is simply a collection of signatures with no apparent purpose (though one lucky signer wins a free ticket to Phantom Of The Opera: Panflute).
The economy of Hello Caller balances the easy rapport of Leplae and Pieper with the undertaking of each episode’s loosely defined thematic concern. Oftentimes, it’s head-scratching and hilarious, absurd and insightful. Take the July 26 episode in which Leplae and Victoria (an admin person with a Text To Speech voice) interview Joyce (an extremely jovial woman whose dogged positivity belies some very dark secrets) for the job of replacing the previously dismissed Pieper, whom Joyce thinks is Puerto Rican. Or the episode where Pieper calls in from a bank infested with bedbugs, informing Leplae that he won the “Jerry Webb’s All-You-Can-Eat All-Night Slumber Party Lock-In.”
Through the character of Joyce—a person with no broadcasting experience—there’s a sly commentary made on an age in which everyone can (and does) broadcast themselves to the world. Someone like Joyce would certainly host an interesting program herself, though it would be an addition to what is already perceived as a glut of Internet content. Who would listen to it, and why? Hello Caller leaves that question unanswered, but the open-ended nature of the proceedings makes a strong case for the surprising, and often stirring, results that transpire when those with a level of not-quite-technical expertise undertake a radio show.
And yet Hello Caller does distinguish itself through the applied talents of its two producers. In Leplae’s case, it’s as a filmmaker. Leplae’s 2004 film I’m Bobby not only restaged the classic Bollywood version of Romeo And Juliet in India, it was filmed using local kids. In Pieper’s case, it’s through his activities as a poet, songwriter (Farms In Trouble, The Trusty Knife), collagist, publisher, and fount of spontaneity.
Hello Caller is moving to a new Thursday 2 p.m. timeslot, just south of it’s previous drive-time slot rivaling Mark Belling. It’s yet to be seen how this will impact the show, but be assured it will.
Leplae and Pieper’s shenanigans may be “meta” and hit-or-miss to be sure, but they’re also innovatively utilitarian, as when the duo discovered that Leplae’s mic had gone out during a previous broadcast, and decided to play the one-sided dialogue during a successive episode and speak in the gaps. During moments such as this, the show seems to be telling us, “Stick your hands in! It’s only the Internet. A bunch of 1’s and 0’s! Make something with it!”
(A fundraiser for Riverwest Radio—featuring many of the station’s on-air personalities—is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 28 at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn.)