Wait, Wait, Don't Date Me! Tuning In and Striking Out with the Listeners of WNYC

ryssdal Wait, Wait, Don't Date Me! Tuning In and Striking Out with the Listeners of WNYC“When I bring a guy home, he has to measure up to Kai Ryssdal,” said the brunette. “The only guy close on NPR is Jad from Radiolab.”

“When Kai Ryssdal talks about money–oh, Jesus!” said the blonde, of the host of Marketplace. She mimed a swoon.

“Kai’s gotten me through a lot,” said the brunette. “I work in the fashion industry, I spend all day with women, and at 6:30 when I get home, I need to hear a man’s voice, and I want to hear Kai Ryssdal.”

“I like Terry Gross,” said a dapper, fortyish, graying gentleman sidling up to the bar, of the host of Fresh Air. “Her voice is so sultry.”

It was last call at the sold-out Meet @ WNYC: Speed-Dating Party, at Hudson Terrace in Hell’s Kitchen. Two reporters–hereafter referred to as the gentleman Observer (G.O.) and the lady Observer (L.O.)–had come out not so much “looking for love,” in the parlance of the station’s frequently aired promos, as to “meet other fans of public radio.”

By closing time, the L.O., two years younger than the prescribed minimum female age of 32, had fled, citing her desire to escape the repeated advances of “predatory middle-aged men.” The G.O. was still at the bar, trying to keep the brunette Marketplace girl from stealing his notebook and crossing out her quotes.

“I think she likes you,” said the blonde. “You’re like kids in a schoolyard.”

The pair left him at the bar without disclosing their last names.

“I can’t stand Brian Lehrer,” said a man the G.O. encountered outside, where the air was fresh, during a cigarette break, “and I hate that guy who comes after him, with the beard [Leonard Lopate]. Too erudite. But that’s just me. I’m a management consultant, and probably the only one here.”

Indeed, neither the G.O. nor the L.O. encountered any management consultants during their speed-dating. Organized by the firm NY EasyDates, the night entailed 20 dates lasting four minutes each, all in a span not quite as long as an episode of A Prairie Home Companion. There were about 60 participants of each gender, so it was mandatory for any single WNYC listener to meet one-third of the listeners of the opposite gender and ponder loving them.

Among the G.O.’s dates were a recruiter; a publicist; an architect (“Philip Johnson is an asshole”); a former journalist turned banker (“I’m a sellout”); a medical editor (“I work at home all day, so the radio is important to me”); three lawyers (environmental, immigration, employment); a film editor; a U.N. staffer; a retail entrepreneur; a radio producer; an art historian specializing in insurance; the founder of an education nonprofit; a psychiatrist; a Web infrastructure specialist; and a graphic designer. Most seemed to him more affluent than he was, and several lived in tony neighborhoods uptown. Tickets for women, the promos declared, had sold out months in advance.

The L.O., meanwhile, found herself sitting across from someone who worked in telecommunications (“good benefits”); a medical researcher; a writer-poet “with a day job” at work on “an erotic novel about an interracial love triangle … set in Vancouver”; a trumpeter; a glassblower; a geologist; a couples therapist; a man who implied he did something for the F.B.I.; two accountants; a teacher; and a financier. A high percentage seemed to have made the trek from New Jersey on the PATH.

At the start, the L.O. reported to her assigned wicker chair, clutching a glass of white wine. She found herself energized for the actual meet-and-greet. Other women, perched on the edge of their seats, seemed alternately excited or long-suffering.

“It’s fun,” said one, “and WNYC usually brings out good people.”

“I really think we all should have just donated to the station, considering,” said another.

Then, the buzzer. A crowd that favored soothing voices and world music erupted like a racetrack on a Saturday afternoon.

It was time to be on point. Either the takeaway would be bliss or, all things considered, pretty banal: Where are you from? What do you do for a living? And who’s your favorite personality on WNYC?

The G.O.’s first date indicated that hers was Soterius Johnson (known, we hear, as “SoJo” among his colleagues). Wearing a pantsuit unironically–a sign that she was not the G.O.’s type (he would meet nonesuch, except maybe the Marketplace brunette)–she said a close second was Mr. Lehrer, though “if he comes on [at 10 a.m.], I know I’m late for work.” The G.O.’s second date surprised him by saying that she did not much listen to WNYC but preferred in the car to tune into WOR, 710 on the AM dial, “for the holistic health tips.” His third date reminded him of one of his college roommates’ ex-girlfriends. His 13th date was in fact one of his college roommates’ ex-girlfriends; she sheepishly said she was attending only after her friends had staged an intervention in her love life. She was dating too many assholes; maybe WNYC would filter those out.