A new collaborative radio show speaks to everyone in the world

Listeners of beloved indie internet radio station and cultural collective dublab may have noticed something different about their morning lineup lately. At 9:30 a.m. every weekday morning since March 23, a phone rings. The caller is Paul Holdengräber, Onassis Los Angeles (OLA)’s founder and director. And on the other end of the line? Well, it could be just about anyone.

The Quarantine Tapes is, structurally, an interview program. A literary historian both blessed and burdened with a curious, restless mind, Holdengräber is happiest conducting conversations with cultural icons and thought leaders, as he did for years leading LACMA’s public programs and subsequently the New York Public Library’s live talks series. Since returning to L.A. and launching OLA, he’s been on the lookout for an innovative way to inhabit its mission as a center of dialog. About three days before the order to stay home was issued, they’d hosted the first of what was meant to be a new salon series held at the cozy OLA house in Los Feliz — a conversation with Henry Rollins, presented by dublab. It was also the last.

Then something serendipitous happened. See, Holdengräber also had this sort of incredible side project back in the day, an interview series called A Phone Call from Paul. And with the world turning upside down and inward, and everything changing every moment and all of us trying to figure out what it means, what to do and what’s to come — all while being separated just when we need each other the most — catching up with people on the phone suddenly seemed like a good idea again. Maybe the only idea. His first call was to dublab.

The Quarantine Tapes’ Paul Holdengraber (OLA)

The Quarantine Tapes is a series that sort of happened by itself,” dublab’s Alejandro Cohen tells the Weekly. “Normally dublab focuses on music-centered programming,” he says. But at the same time, they all knew this pandemic situation needed to be faced. “When Paul reached out, we knew this was the right thing to do. We had the equipment, we had the ideas and we knew who to talk to. Over a month later, here we are, we have an incredible archive of guests that every day grows and documents the times, the feelings, the fears and our hopes. In typical dublab fashion, most things we do choose us instead of us choosing them.”

Notable guests have included familiar names like Werner Herzog, Lynell George, Saul Williams, Maira Kalman, Nicolas Berggruen, Pico Iyer and Rosanne Cash. But there are also guests whose work across activism, ecology, politics and art is no less notable, even if you don’t know their names yet. People like Chris Smalls, the worker who blew the whistle on Amazon’s dangerous COVID-related workplace conditions, and tenants’ rights leader Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal.

When we spoke for this story, the first thing I asked Holdengräber was, of course, “How are you?” He repeated the question back. “How am I. How can I answer that other than to ask, how is the world around us?” And actually, that right there is the starting point for all the QT conversations. We are still too close to the beginning to conjure a polished, confident story of the end. That will come in the fullness of time, inevitably. For now, beyond survival, we have two duties — to check on each other, and to figure out how to get through it together. Everything is changing, has already changed, and will change again soon. QT offers, through intimate, surprising, unscripted and unedited dialogs, an archive of our feelings during this process, like a diary of the culture, a kind of time-capsule, whose value is not in its conclusiveness but rather in its immediacy.

The roster is ever-expanding; it does or will include musicians, designers, scientists, clergy, artists, filmmakers, funeral directors, novelists, psychologists, sociologists, healthcare professionals, delivery drivers, economists, cashiers, historians, hairdressers, ecologists, restaurateurs, policy-makers, technologists and more. They’re invited in an organic process comprising people Paul always wanted to talk to, people he already knows quite well, suggestions from dublab and from other QT guests, research and discovery, and pure chance.

Prompted by the existential quandaries facing us as we move into the second month of danger, uncertainty and isolation, some themes emerge across the conversations. People are worried about going back into the world, medically and emotionally. Some are excited about the rebound of the environment in our absence, others troubled by the exposure of systemic societal faults. Some wonder whether we will remember the lessons we learn at this time or shed them like bad dreams at the first opportunity. Some simply grieve the loss of dear friends.

“I love the idea of doing something both global and very much based in L.A.,” says Holdengräber. “Speaking to each other from within our solitude, wrestling with ideas about what the world will be, what we will be, after. Will we re-prioritize? Perhaps, and I do mean perhaps… but I believe there’s hope.”

Tune in every weekday at 9:30 a.m. (or peruse the archive) to find out why. dublab.com/shows/the-quarantine-tapes