Hearty White's Southern Radio
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because voices like this remind us of the marvel of radio.
By Jim Knipfel
With the radio dial so clogged with the vitriol that’s come to represent vox populi, Kentucky-based Hearty White is, well, hmm … let’s just say “unexpected.”
Initially, the title of White’s weekly radio show, Miracle Nutrition, sounds like a load of New Age quackery, and its host like a talkative, enthusiastic Southern evangelist with early-onset dementia. Listen carefully, however, and you realize neither is true. There is a unique, even enthralling genius afoot here as, for an hour every Thursday on Jersey City’s WFMU, White offers up a seemingly disjointed swirl of asides and detours, a blend of self-help, cultural references, non sequiturs, surreal metaphors, memories, fantasies, observations and the occasional impromptu song. It’s been called Southern inspirational Dada, reminiscent of Paul Harvey, but more off-balance and much, much funnier. The astonishing thing is after all that wandering around, White is able to come back and offer a cogent closing message. Ironically, in a radio landscape drowning in so much shrill rancor, White’s gentle, self-effacing and at times baffling wisdom makes him the medium’s true iconoclastic voice.
“Anger is just awesome in small doses,” White says. “But I think it’s like sugar; it can become poison. You can get anger fat and rotten teeth of fear. So even if your anger is righteous, from a practical standpoint it’s difficult to change hearts that way. It also makes me feel bad.” Miracle Nutrition first appeared on Tallahassee’s WVFS in 2003 and aired weekly for the next eight years before moving to WFMU in 2012.
What I would become was a sort of combination of Andy Griffith, Mr. Rogers and a rabbi.
David Morris, aka Hearty White
When asked what nudged him into becoming a radio monologist, White explains, “I just generally never say no. So if someone asks, ‘Would you like to be on the radio?’ I instinctively say yes. I don’t have to be good at it, as long as it sounds like something I’d like. If someone asked me to compose a symphony or paint the Sistine Chapel, I’d say yes. They’d regret asking me maybe, but I never turn down a gig.”
The remarkable thing about the show is White’s ability to juggle so many discordant thoughts and connections, not only making them coherent but also flowing through them so effortlessly.
“I love to share whatever I learn,” he says of his preparation. “I have to learn something every week to have something to share. So I go looking for something to obsess about, something to occupy my thoughts all day, every day, until I speak to you. It’s like if you limited a chatty relative to just one one-hour phone call a week, so he has to tell you everything about his trip and what happened to the neighbor in an efficiently distilled monologue.”
Hearty White is the creation of artist, writer and musician David Morris, who admits the line separating him from his alter ego has become blurry. His first foray into alternate radio personalities began at Florida State University in the late ’80s with the more anarchic and confrontational Lee Harvey, but a run-in with a local fraternity following some on-air comments led him to rethink his approach. “I realized that you could be morally correct but ultimately cause more harm,” Morris says. “And satire, even surreal and silly [satire], has to have some sort of moral and ethical standard from which to criticize the culture and society.”
Which is how Hearty White eventually came to be, inspired in part by an un-self-consciously outgoing ticket taker at a local theater, in part by religious Southern talk shows obsessed with colon health and in part by Morris’ desire to communicate with people inclusively without being snarky or sarcastic.
“What I would become was a sort of combination of Andy Griffith, Mr. Rogers and a rabbi. I wanted to just express one thing, and it has something to do with fear and the problems it causes. Probably close to, ‘Let’s be less angry.’”
- Jim Knipfel, Jim Knipfel is the author of 10 books and thousands upon thousands of articles about most anything you like. He’s also blind, which means his other senses have been honed to almost superhuman levels, save for those dulled flat by years of chain smoking, alcohol abuse, and punk rock. The Green Bay, Wisconsin, native lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife.Contact Jim Knipfel