The calendar business has really changed. Once filled with persian cats and lighthouses of Maine, now there's a "Real Men of Reality TV" calendar (sadly minus Dr. Drew), the ever-popular calendar spotlighting "Cute Vatican Priests," and the self-explanatory "Men of Ojai" calendar. (Actually, the title does fail to explain that the hippies are nude, but why nitpick?) Yet for those of us who would kill to have Carl Kassel record our outgoing voicemail message, or who count among our favorite phrases, "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon," there is one vital niche that goes woefully unfulfilled. But don't despair -- I have created my own detailed notes for a "Men of Public Radio" calendar, outlined below. Any enterprising calendar publishers out there should take this idea and run with it. I see big money.
Mr. January: Ira Glass. As host of "This American Life," Glass makes his listeners wonder things like, "I lost a Q-tip in 1983 and found it 10 years later, after having moved three different times to three different states. Would Ira find that enthralling?" The hopeful listener might then imagine Glass howling with laughter during the interview, an honor the host bestows only on his most enchanting guests. His fans are like low-key narcissists – wishing not for the love of the entire world, nor even the adoration of Glass's 1.7 million listeners, but for the love and adoration of Ira Glass himself. Photo: Thoughtful pose, by a warm inviting fire, with a strategically placed glass of cognac.
Mr. February: Kai Ryssdal. While relaying the state of the economy each day on "Marketplace," host Kai Ryssdal tries to let us down gently without sugarcoating. Case in point: He punctuates reviews of the day's numbers with recordings of a jaunty version of "We're in the Money," or a hotel-bar take on "Stormy Weather." And by placing cockfighting, Coney Island, and yes, even poet Shel Silverstein in their respective economic contexts, he remains pop-culture relevant, even as he brags about not having a smart phone. He's the closest thing we armchair market-watchers have to TMZ, and we love him for it. Photo: Swimsuit, on the NYSE trading floor, as the manic traders shower him in a flurry of order slips.
Mr. March: Carl Kassel. It's easy to love the former "Morning Edition" newscaster (a post he left on December 30) and longtime scorekeeper and judge of "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me." Luckily for show's rabid fans, Kassel will continue on "Wait Wait," where host Peter Sagal quizzes contestants on current events and the winner receives the honor of having Kassel record their outgoing phone message. As this listener can attest, the show's rowdy audience cheers enthusiastically when that winner is announced. For anyone who ever fell in love to Garrison Keillor's cowboy love songs or nursed a break-up to "This American Life" contributor Starlee Kine's story on the subject, having an ex call and get Carl Kassel's voice on your machine would be the public-radio equivalent of being spotted with George Clooney. Photo: In a field full of puppies.
Mr. April: Scott Simon. For a few minutes each week on "Weekend Edition Saturday," host Scott Simon likes to slow down, lower his voice, and buck his usual objectivity to talk turkey. The segment, which he calls "Simon Says," is sort of like Bill Maher's direct address to the camera on "Real Time," but not as needy for laughs. Or hooker-friendly. Simon clearly draws inspiration from NPR contributor Daniel Schorr and his weekly opinion pieces, but while Schorr calls to mind the ex-military grandpa at Thanksgiving who peers over his newspaper just long enough to take down a hippie nephew on break from Sarah Lawrence, Simon is more like the guy at the bar who remains silent as friends with just enough knowledge to be dangerous blather on, finally stepping in as coats are being gathered to calmly say, "Actually..." Not like the rest of us, who race home stewing, check news outlets online, and send out a soggy email blast two days later. With Simon we don't have to be the guy sending the soggy email--at least not on Saturdays. Photo: In a folksy pub surrounded by girls in bikinis, as dejected bartender Bill Maher draws their beers.
Ms. May: Starlee Kine. Okay, she's not a man, but this calendar wouldn't be complete without Starlee Kine. Plus it's soooo "This American Life" to turn a story on its ear. There is a certain brand of female listener (okay, me) who responds to Kine's "This American Life" segments with a "that's sooo me!" At once elfin, dry, and passionate, Kine is a hipster, but she's also the hipster's earnest opposite, because she persistently plumbs the depths of the uncool. Laying herself bare in a story about a breakup on "This American Life," Kine is clearly hoping her ex will get a call from a friend saying, "You gotta hear this!" But she packs some ammo to restore the power imbalance of being dumped by enlisting the help of Phil Collins. Yes, the Phil Collins. And in an upcoming book on the self-help industry, Kine reveals cringe-worthy insecurities in a way that makes us beg for more. She is the ultimate spiritual flasher. Photo: On Phil Collins' shoulders surrounded by tuxedoed suitors bearing roses. (Alternate: Kine carries Collins on her shoulders.)
Mr. June: Omar Gallaga. Austin residents are known for being laid back. Gallaga, an NPR contributor best known for his segments on "All Tech Considered," is no different. This is particularly comforting to the NPR-listening, '70s-era-Volvo driver whose only phone is a charge-compromised cordless. They're just as thirsty for information about the digital conversion or tips on digitizing business cards as the neighbor who installed his entire Mac-based AV system on his own. Why should they be condescended to by yet another gadget expert just because they have to slap their fussy TVs like the Fonz? Gallaga makes those of us who can't master the "last" button on the remote feel like we could write for Wired magazine. Or at least write a good, solid letter to the editor. Photo: Lying on a bed of old gadgets--including an Easy Bake Oven and Decoregger--dressed as Fonzie.
Mr. July and Mr. August: Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg. Whenever the hosts of "Planet Money" manage to demystify the heady financial terms thrown around by pundits and treasury employees each day, they remind me of a line from the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme: "Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it seem all worthwhile?" Well, it's you guys, and you should know it! While Ryssdal looks at all aspects of the economy, Davidson and Blumberg focus on the economic crisis, and their quest is not unlike Vatican II's decree to stop having the Mass said in Latin: they want believers to fully understand and participate in the business at hand. And they do it without dumbing down the information, even as they use an example of a woman buying a dollhouse to explain the real estate crash. In fact, every time they clarify a term like "adjustments in the crosses," they almost make the other fellas using that term sound dumb. And that makes us feel super-smart. When was the last time Timothy Geithner did that? Photo: At an old-time county fair, Davidson and Blumberg throw pies at Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke.
Mr. September and Mr. October: Tom and Ray Magliozzi. The hosts of the automotive repair show Car Talk like to make noise. Okay, more like "noises." For folks who call in hoping to get their car problems solved for free, they may hear brothers Tom or Ray Magliozzi trying to pinpoint the trouble by imitating various levels on the beep, screech, and scrape spectrum. The mechanics seem to enjoy getting their vocal chords as dirty as their hands. It's no wonder their nicknames are Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers. And even though the mechanics present their blue-collar, authority-loathing views – always with humor – in thick Bostoneeze, don't get fooled into stereotyping them – each of them holds a degree from MIT. Could that be where they learned to ask if an engine is doing a high-pitched "zzzz," "brrrr," or "chhhh?" Photo: Two of 30 circus clowns coming out of a VW Bug.
Mr. November: Garrison Keillor. Creator and host of "A Prairie Home Companion," Keillor wears multiple hats each week. Playing a cowboy, he makes despair and loneliness seem like something to strive for. Playing a down-on-his-luck private detective, Guy Noir, he makes barely scraping by seem romantic. And when he describes his Lutheran neighbors in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon grumbling quietly about their unflattering photos in the church bulletin, it makes you want to sidle up to them and be their best friends. Of course, being Lutherans, they would politely scoot away to go clean out the attic. And Keillor would be right there to describe it all – making it sound more exciting than Paris in the '20s. Photo: Dressed as a 1950's southern preacher, he gestures wildly as glum Lutherans in pews look on.
Mr. December, Daniel Schorr: Like his former colleague, Edward R. Murrow, Schorr has spent decades tempting folks in positions of power to jail him for upholding his journalistic ethics. This is partly why we pay attention each week on "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition," where he serves up grouchy admonishments of everything from the public's reaction to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize to the balloon-boy hoax. No one is safe: He'll just as easily take on the Administration as he will its critics – and even we, his listeners, for being complicit in the shenanigans. And we can't wait to be scolded again. Photo: Standing with his arms crossed surrounded by Kendra Wilkinson, the Kardashian sisters and Snooki from Jersey Shore.