What do former Portland Trail Blazers star Robin Lopez, former congressman Barney Frank and This American Life host Ira Glass have in common? All have appeared on Live Wire!, a weekly radio variety show created in Portland and broadcast on dozens of stations from Tallahassee, Tenn., to Reading, England.
First airing on local NPR affiliate Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2004, Live Wire is billed as “radio variety for the attention-span-challenged.” Each hour-long episode features host Luke Burbank, a radio veteran known for his podcast Too Beautiful to Live and frequent appearances on popular NPR quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, presiding over a fast-paced blend of wacky skits, live music, original comedy and cheeky interviews with notable writers, filmmakers and “people who think cool thoughts.”
Hailed by critics as A Prairie Home Companion (APHC) for the new millennium, the show’s popularity extends well beyond its Portland-rooted fan base. In fact, legendary APHC creator and host Garrison Keillor has appeared in an episode.
“I sit and listen [to Live Wire] and a kind of light comes out of the radio speaker, a whole ‘nother view of human experience, and new voices which we need in public radio,” Keillor said. “I’m hoping to retire soon, and when I do, I want there to be shows on public radio that I can sit in my car, in my driveway and hang on their every word. Live Wire is one of those shows. It could be for Portland and Oregon what Prairie Home is for Minnesota and St. Paul and Lake Woebegone.”
Getting caught up with episodes is easy: Past shows are archived as podcasts on iTunes and the show’s website. The ultimate multisensory experience, however, can only be achieved by attending a live taping. Performances are recorded live on select nights, several times per month, at the Alberta Rose Theater. Tickets are available online for $20 or at the door for $25. Don’t miss this truly unique and totally Portland experience — after all, as Live Wire says, “It’s like a chew toy for your brain!”