From 1979 to 1982 there was a show on pirate radio that could be heard on Sundays from 3 am to 4 am in Richmond and El Cerrito and spasmodically on the car radios of drivers along the Berkeley and Oakland border. The show was called “Numbchucks” and featured interviews with subterranean writers, filmmakers, first-edition book dealers, organic farmers, and former boxers.
The most riveting segment on each program was when the host, who went by the name of Smedley Yi, opened up the phone line to callers. There was ever only one caller, who Yi referred stubbornly to as “caller” as though to cloak the man in the possibility of multitudes.
Yi and the caller had an antagonistic relationship from the beginning, according to long-time listeners. The caller would come out swinging about some position Yi had staked minutes earlier about Octavia Butler or Nam June Paik. Their voices would puff their chests out, then duck and weave looking for a weak spot.
When Yi reached a pitch of exasperation with the caller, as he often did, he would interrupt and insist that they needed to go to a commercial break. Then he would swiftly cut to himself aggrandizing about a regional brand of potato snack or delivering a hushed public service announcement about what to do in the event of an earthquake. He was most adamant about spare batteries, which seemed irresponsibly magnified beyond keeping a reserve of bottled water, for example.
Is there anything as simultaneously intimate and remote as the voices of a live call-in radio show in the early hours of the morning when you are awake? Are they not saving your life?
The show eventually went off the air. But five years later, reports came in that Yi was once again on the airwaves, roughly in earshot of the same coordinates, but on Wednesdays from 4 am to 4:30 am. Also, he was calling himself something else and the format had changed. Each segment involved his calling an 888 sex line and asking for a maid, or a professor of Eastern Religion. The segment would follow their stomach worm conversation, which was about 30/70 sexual.
The show was called “Numbchucks.”
I used to wait in another room, listening to the voice of my husband talk to other people as he made his way toward me. I would make no effort to move or otherwise make myself known. I could say I wanted to anticipate him with every one of my senses. Or I could say the truth, which was that I wanted to be found.