It began with twin brothers, a fledgling college radio station, and a lot of “zazz.” Now “Off Topic” is Radio Free Hillsdale’s longest-standing radio show and an Intercollegiate Broadcast System finalist for best talk show.
The show’s three hosts characterize “Off Topic” as a discussion of obscure topics and events, interspersed with comedic role play, impersonation, and extraordinary feats of imagination.
The show’s creators, seniors Shadrach and Dylan Strehle, were some of the first students to venture into the Radio Free Hillsdale office their freshman year. They first tinkered with daily reporting and newscasts until the two decided that they would rather create a talk show that was not news related.
The concept of “Off Topic” was born under the name “This Week” in February 2017. After evolving for almost three years — including the addition of junior co-host Carson Waites, “Off Topic” has come to be the show that it is today.
“Usually every episode is cut in different segments,” Shadrach Strehle said. “We do weird news, a history segment. Carson has a segment where he reads news from his hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan, and then we roast Frankenmuth, Michigan for a while. We have a new section called the Dylan zone, which is a gameshow section.”
“Off Topic” has gone through a series of producers since its inception in 2017. There were long stretches in which it had no producer at all.
“Part of us firing a producer and having to make the show ourselves created this weird anarchy where things started to get more and more elaborate,” Shadrach Strehle said. “For example, on a segment I started talking about how pro wrestlers try to break into film. And at one point I asked Carson if he was a pro wrestler, what would his movie be about. He starts talking about how he’s a man of a people and and he’s fighting for the kids out there. So we decided there would be a movie called Orphan Slam, where he saves an orphanage, and over the next few weeks we acted out Orphan Slam.”
Waits joined the show later in its evolution, but he said that the process has been educational for him.
“ I have always thought I was pretty quick at responding to things and thinking of things, but that’s something I have been working on and honing during the show,” Waits said. “Because we record in a live sense, there is no quick edit cuts that is going to cut out the silence. This is something the Strehles have down, but for me to learn how to process the conversation instantaneously and respond in not only a productive but also funny manner, is something I have been working on.”
All three co-hosts agreed that underneath the verbiage and constant flow of dialogue, every great radio host needs a little something extra to be successful. It’s what the Strehles and Waits call “zazz.”
“Over the years I have mostly learned about the importance of who you have in that room with you. The energy,” Dylan Strehle said. “If we go in with a bad mood we are going to have a bad show. There’s only so much practice and professionalism can get you. You have to have to want to be there. We used to call it zazz. If we had zazz, we knew were going to have a good show that day.”