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This is Hell


I was listening to my favorite radio show This Is Hell today (via podcast) and felt inspired to once again promote it on Znet. The host, Chuck Mertz, seems to interview about a third of Znet’s authors, usually in very rare long format, with questions often so good that guest seem suprised and grateful that he read their work so well (unless they get pissed, which only occasionally happens). Northwestern University’s newspaper recently did a story on how Mertz has been frustrated trying to make a living as a journalist. He puts in 60 hour weeks for free. Give his show a try if you haven’t already. Here’s the first part of the story:

It’s 8:58 a.m., two minutes until show time and there he is, rushing through the studio door with his graying, shoulder length mane bobbing behind. Chuck Mertz, the host of WNUR’s This Is Hell, is a bit late, which is to say right about on schedule. The last show tune from Breakfast With Broadway cuts off and an ambient track fills up the dead air. Mertz darts around, shuffling papers, pulling them up just an inch or two from his door-wedge of a nose so he is able to read the page. For the next few minutes, he is a 45-year-old, legally blind flurry. Then at 9:08, he is seated and ready, script in hand and a bottle of RC Cola at his side.

For nine years, this has been Mertz’s Saturday morning ritual. More than 60 hours of his time each week go into planning This Is Hell, a four-hour, current affairs marathon, which he presides over like a Gonzo Charlie Rose, careening between pot jokes, wry observations, dive-bar schtick and serious, long-form interviews. Noam Chomsky has been a guest four times; Howard Zinn, Joseph Stiglitz and Michael Moore have chatted with him on air; so do Hugo Chavez supporters, war reporters and experts on Chicagoland gangs. Guests often speak for up to forty minutes, giving listeners a rare window into their thinking. By many accounts the hard work has made This Is Hell WNUR’s flagship show, with a cult audience that, thanks to the web, listens in from Chicago, England, Australia and even Senegal. This would be Mertz’s dream job, if only it paid.

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