What is it with men? In the Bitterroot Valley alone, the question is likely pondered thousands of times nightly, with the inconclusive answer resulting in a lot of drinking, driving, and crying. While late-night radio talk shows may not have historically provided the wisest counsel in matters of the heart, two Missoula psychologists and KUFM radio have teamed up in the midnight hour to address alternatives to alexithymia on the airwaves.
“Alexithymia is what we first thought we might call the show,” recalls Victor Lieberman, one of the two psychologists who hatched the idea for a call-in radio show. “It’s a psychological term that means not having the words to relate your feelings, but then we decided we didn’t want to scare people away, so we went with ‘What Is It With Men?”
Lieberman, along with co-host and colleague John Sommers-Flanagan, can be heard every other Tuesday from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on public radio affiliate KUFM or one of its sister stations throughout Montana. Call-ins, either to request a song or discuss the issue of the night, are encouraged.
Both Sommers-Flanagan and Lieberman are practicing psychologists, and they are candid about being amateur disc jockeys. “We owe a lot to [KUFM employees] John Myers and Terry Conrad,” says Sommers-Flanagan. “We basically just made these demo tapes in Vic’s kitchen that sound like something from Wayne’s World, and they took a chance on us anyway.”
The show features songs that address a specific issue pertaining to men’s social and emotional development. Lieberman and Sommers-Flanagan then deconstruct the song with the idea that listeners and callers will identify with some of the issues brought forth. “Music touches on so many universal issues,” notes Lieberman. “Love, all the masks of love, breaking up, pain—for a lot of people if a song is familiar, the music brings forth emotions they might not otherwise deal with.”
“And it’s not only romantic relationship issues,” chimed in Sommers-Flanagan. “We attach meaning to what we hear, so this is an opportunity to stimulate thought and discussion about the lyrics we listen to but don’t often think about.”
The inspiration for the show came initially from Lieberman’s wife, also a psychologist, who was doing work with troubled teens, using music as a therapeutic tool. “Music is therapy,” says Lieberman. “It helps us identify with our emotions, it lets us know we’re not alone in being alone. I read about someone who said they’d gotten more therapy from the lyrics of Joni Mitchell than all the psycho-therapy they’d had put together.”
While the tone of “What Is it With Men?” is casual and light-hearted, the hosts have a more serious goal in mind, which is to encourage listeners to think about the topics offered for discussion on the show.
“We’re after a kind of interactive radio,” says Sommers-Flanagan. “We want the listener to be talking and thinking about these issues right along with us.”