Chatting with radio host Jonathan Goldstein
“I feel like an imposter, faking his way through adult life,” said Canadian radio host Jonathan Goldstein.
Goldstein, the keynote speaker of Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications’ (WLUSP) 2009 PULSE Media and Journalism conference and the host of CBC Radio One gem WireTap, addressed the audience on Saturday evening, explaining that life and journalism are about starting from a position of “openly stated ignorance.”
“Embrace your ignorance and own it. You don’t have to pretend anything to move people.”
A self-proclaimed “humourologist,” Goldstein played sound clips from his show, which is a comedic but at times dramatic mix between monologues and taped phone conversations.
The show features unforgettable, expertly crafted stories about life’s oddities. Goldstein told The Cord in an interview before his lecture that, aside from his friends, the bulk of his inspiration comes from life’s most mundane moments.
“I think those little moments are where you get your inspiration, like finding the packet of Melba toast without any crack in it,” he explained.
Ranging from stories like one that explored the nature of family and identity through a father’s eyes witnessing his child’s swimming lesson to a series in which several of his friends proceeded to break up with him on-air, Goldstein’s shows provide a unique take on life’s strange experiences coupled with artfully chosen musical scores.
“It’s a very weird feeling,” he said, referring to his content on the show WireTap. “I really love doing it. I love all of the things that go into it.”
For Goldstein, however, the trek to where he is now was long and winding. The talented host spent 10 years telemarketing in Montreal before entering the world of radio.
Goldstein explains that he remembers the day when the computer that automatically dials numbers fatefully connected him to his own home phone.
“It felt like I had been working there too long. It felt like I had gone through every phone number in the country,” he said, adding that he proceeded to leave a message.
Reminiscing on his telemarketing days, Goldstein also remembered getting called “Madame” by “old French-Canadian women.”
“I’d try to make my voice sound lower and they’d just keep on calling me Madame,” he laughed.
Throughout his life, Goldstein always wrote, and he eventually got a position with the CBC indie music show Brave New Waves, writing for radio and occasionally recording for the show.
Goldstein then secured another position at the show Outfront doing longer recordings, eventually being able to go across the country one summer and record his experiences in each province.
“It was just me sort of wandering around, going into 7/11s in the morning and interviewing people,” he said.
Eventually he landed a position at an American public radio show, This American Life, through his friend who was a contributing editor at the time.
“When I started working there I kind of saw radio as just a place to get your writing there, but when I started there I started to understand radio as its own medium as its own language,” he explained. “I found my love for radio.”
Eventually leaving This American Life, Goldstein has been at WireTap since 2004. The show has had growing success over the years, and this September it moved to a downloadable podcast format.
For Goldstein, the change and the notion of podcasting in general are both exciting moves in the world of media.
“There’s a cool kind of democracy to it where if you have a good podcast that you’re doing out of your mother’s basement it can compete with anything else out there,” he explained.
Goldstein added that the expansion of podcasting means that one can reach people world-wide whereas before, whether that be a good thing or not.
“It’s funny when you think that Jesus was only known by how many people in his lifetime and any schmuck with a microphone and a tape recorder can be heard by people all over the world. Poor Jesus.”