Kunstler’s honesty and frankness don’t offend most listeners. Rather, these attributes engage even those who fall on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Take Mike Schaeffer, a conservative, forty-something health plan administrator and father of five from Troy, N.Y. He listens to the KunstlerCast weekly. “Some of what [Kunstler] has to say is rather controversial, but in many ways, it’s right on the money,” he says. “He challenges his listeners to really think critically about what it is that we’re seeing.”
Just two weeks ago, for example, as the House of Representatives got ready to vote on the $700 billion bailout package, Kunstler spent all but five minutes of a podcast condemning the financial sector’s stranglehold on the American and world economies. In the remaining five minutes, Crary and Kunstler tied the bailout discussion back to urbanism, with a segment on the inherently American idea that you’re not successful unless you own a house. Kunstler called the notion sentimental nonsense that would lead to a further downward spiral in the housing market.
This no-holds-barred attitude about suburbia brings nearly 9,000 people to the podcasts each week, according to Crary. It’s why, in July, KunstlerCasts were downloaded 32,000 times (the highest download month to date). It’s also one of the main reasons John Merrall, a disc jockey for a Canadian radio station, airs Kunstler’s show every Saturday morning.
“I appreciate when he addresses mundane topics like urban planning,” says Merrall, who resides in Hamilton, Ontario, a place he calls uninhabitable due to the disappearance of high-paying union jobs and movement away from the city center. “I’d like to hope that airing Kunstler’s podcast on CFMU might help get just a few more people interested in the idea of…making my city more livable.” Plus, he added, “Kunstler’s fun to listen to.”
Kunstler aims to please. “I consider myself a prose artist, someone who is happy to function in fiction and nonfiction…and to some extent, an entertainer,” he says. “One of the hallmarks of my work is that it’s comic. It’s explicitly comic.”
A common Kunstler refrain—the Samuel Beckett quote “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness”—pretty well sums up this man.“He is really funny. The subjects he talks about are really dark,” Crary says. “I don’t think people would listen to him if he weren’t funny.” But he is, and the medium seems to work.
Schaeffer likes the accessibility of podcasts. “You used to listen to AM radio a lot,” he says. “Podcasting is the next generation in communication on a very wide scale.” Merrall likes that Kunstler covers a topic that, in his opinion, isn’t covered enough: “He’s addressing issues that certainly aren’t getting much traction in the mass media. And even if they were, I don’t think you could trust the mass media to give those issues a fair treatment.”
Whether Kunstler’s podcasts will continue gaining traction and popularity remains to be seen. Perhaps more people will tune in now that Kunstler has appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Without question, Kunstler will never stop talking about suburban sprawl. “There’s a lot to say about it, especially since we’re so determined to keep on doing it in the face of circumstances that are telling us we better change our behavior,” he says. “It’s a fascinating tragic spectacle.”
To check out audio files, transcripts and the listener discussion forum, go to the KunstlerCast Web site. The toll-free listener comment line is (866) 924-9499.