Tommy Mischke on the phone

Ten years ago I did an Atlantic profile of T.D. "Tommy" Mischke, a late-night AM radio humorist from St. Paul who kept me amused on many dark drives from The Cities to Duluth, for a book I was working on. Below, Mischke in action, then on KSTP-AM.


Over the years I've reported some of Mischke's changing on-the-air activities. On a fan's lovingly curated Mischke Madness site, he has put up another collection of spontaneous bizarre humor. I have just listened to these (OK, in the "background," while doing "work") and considering that they are real-time improv, they show us something quite remarkable and striking about Mischke's genius and about our odd world.

The calls are all from bill collectors, who are looking for people who used to have the phone number that Mischke is now using. The interactions among their hyper-earnestness; and the little cracks of real-personness behind their work personae; and the sequence of odd send-ups Mischke gives them, is both funny and, ultimately, touching. The fact that he can convince the callers (some of whom are obviously in India) that he is a woman, or named Rashad, among other feats, is impressive. At a moment when so many collection calls are being made across the country, there is real power to many of these recordings. Especially the incredible and disturbing final one ("this is my last day on Earth," "well, I would not comment on that sir. Can you tell me how you got behind on the payments?") -- though as Mischke recommends, it's best to hear them in order.

After the jump, Mischke's note about the calls -- and also a quote from my profile about a similar spontaneous moment from his broadcast. These new calls are worth downloading from his site and hearing while you're walking or driving around or otherwise in the mood for a sustained listen.

Tommy Mischke's note about these recordings:

A local fan stays in charge of the archives for me and has put together a series of calls that randomly  came into my live webcast over the last year. In paying for a new call-in phone number I must have latched onto one previously held by some financially irresponsible folks. I would repeatedly get collections calls for people with names different from my own. In the middle of the show I'd field the calls and have a little fun at the collection agencys expense. After receiving about eight of these, I ran out of ideas for playing around with thme, but for a while there it was pretty fun. Here they are:

If you listen to them, do so in order. They're listed in pretty much the order they came in. They tend to get more and more elaborate as they go.

From my original article,

In "Gullible's Travels," a segment also on the CD set, he rings up a man who has just published an earnest letter to the editor about the risks hockey players run when they pile on one another after a win (think of those sharp skates!). Mischke says he's calling to break the news that the man's warning was all too prophetic: a player has just been decapitated in a pile-on at a college tournament. They're showing the film now on CNN! "Oh, no," the man says in sympathy, a voice out of Fargo. Then Mischke switches to a tone of outrage, telling him that the newspaper apparently had the letter the previous day and could have published it in time to avert the tragedy -- "reminiscent of what happened with Pearl Harbor, when there was a warning early and it didn't get all the way up to FDR!" After about ten minutes the man begins to wonder if this is really a golfing friend of his, "Bocky," calling to pull his leg.

"You got me," Mischke says.

"Bocky! But you don't sound like yourself," the man says, puzzled.

"Well, I got throat cancer."

"Ah, Jeeez."

(Perkily) "Not much of it, but just enough to screw up the voice a little bit." [Click here to listen.]

An apparently complete archive of Mischke's radio and internet broadcasts is here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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