THE EXAMINED LIFE

Radio Free Boston

IN THE PAST several weeks, WBUR's management has come under criticism for its plans to sell its Rhode Island stations. But no one has dared suggest that the BU-owned public radio station's widely admired programming is too predictable, too reasonable. Until now. "

There's no space for new programs [on WBUR], or for the next generation of public-radio producers, because shows like `Fresh Air' and `This American Life' are going to dominate the airwaves for years," says Benjamen Walker, a former coproducer of "The Connection" (both during and after Christopher Lydon's tenure) and now a freelance producer for WBUR and other stations. "I'm not saying those shows are terrible. But I know there's an audience out there for something different." And the 32-year-old Walker wants to prove it with "The Theory of Everything," a new half-hour show on BC-based WZBC that he writes, produces, and hosts himself.

Reached via telephone at WZBC's studio, Walker articulated his own vision for the airwaves."

In public radio there is this received notion that you have to keep fiction and nonfiction segregated," he said. "But these days the news sounds like a conspiracy theory, and bloggers promote their own version of events. Objective reportage isn't working! So I'm pioneering `investigative fiction,' in which a mix of formats -- from interviews to radio drama -- will reveal the truth about the world."

The premiere episode of the show, which debuted last Sunday, was devoted to the cult sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. In between dramatic monologues drawn from Dick's novel "Ubik," as well as a clip of Walker being tattooed in Harvard Square while soliloquizing about that book ("It's about this guy -- Oh! -- whose world starts disintegrating -- Ow!"), novelist Jonathan Lethem and yours truly can be heard philosophizing about the relevance of Dick's own investigative fictions in a post-9/11 America. Tonight's show, Walker says, inquires into the CIA's financial support of Abstract Expressionism."

My ambition used to be to get `Theory of Everything' onto WBUR," admits Walker. "But now I think it would be better to get it picked up by smaller stations that are actively trying to live up to public radio's neglected philosophy of sounding different from the mainstream."

Benjamen Walker's "Theory of Everything" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on WZBC (90.3 FM). It can be downloaded from www.toeradio.org. 

Copyright 2004 Boston Globe