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Muhammad Ali Goes to Mars: The Lost Interview from 1966

From: Blank on Blank
Series: Blank on Blank
Length: 07:20

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It was the summer of 1966 when a persistent 17-year-old with a high school radio show near Chicago got the interview of lifetime: Muhammad Ali. But only a handful of people ever got to hear this time capsule. Until now. “There were so many fellows ranked over me I couldn’t just whoop them all. I had to out-shadow them by talking.” - Muhammad Ali, 1966 Interview by Michael Aisner. Read the backstory below.

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It was in the summer of 1966 when a star-struck 17-year-old set out to interview his idol: Muhammad Ali. Twenty miles from the South Side of Chicago, in Winnetka, Ill., Michael Aisner was calling repeatedly to the gym where the boxing champ was training. Finally, a man named Mr. Shabazz — Jeremiah Shabazz, he suspects, the man who introduced Ali to Islam — picked up.
“Where are you from?” Shabazz asked the boy.

“I’m from WNTH, a high school radio station,” Aisner said.”The champ doesn’t have time to talk,” he said.

Aisner called back two days later. And then two days after that.

“Can I interview the champ?” he asked again.

Finally, Shabazz relented.

“Ok,” he told him. “The champ will meet you.”

Later that week, with a suitcase-sized tape recorder in a back seat, Aisner and his best friend Pat were driving from the northern suburbs of Chicago to the South Side of  Chicago, where Ali’s fan club was headquartered. It was two years after Ali had trashed talked his way into a victory over Sonny Liston; a year before he would refuse to go Vietnam. At the time, many black Muslims, led by Malcolm X, were advocating for “total separation” of the races. And so, for a scrawny white boy from the suburbs, heading to the heart of Chicago’s gritty South Side was no small thing.

“We parked as close as we could to the building,” Aisner, now 63, laughs. “White Jewish boys from the suburbs did not go to the south side of Chicago.”

The Muhammad Ali fan club was housed in a small brick building on X street, a gold foil sign announcing itself out front. Next door was “Muhammad Speaks,” the black Muslim newspaper. From inside the club, Aisner and his friend watched out the front window as Ali screetched up in a red Cadillac convertible, parked in front of a fire hydrant, and jumped over the car door.
For the next 20 minutes, Ali talked boxing, footwork, why he wanted to fight — and launched into an epic, unprompted riff about traveling to Mars and fighting for the intergalactic boxing title. All went smoothly — until Aisner realized he’d forgot to turn on the tape recorder.

“I was mortified,” he says. “I said, ‘Champ, do you think you could do that again?’”

The champ obliged.

The interview aired a few weeks later, and Aisner went on to produce a radio show and a documentary in the decades since. But he’s never quite forgotten that first interview with his childhood icon. For 25 years, he kept the original reel-to-reel recording until he digitized it. But it sat. No one else ever heard it.

Then Aisner heard about Blank on Blank. And brought his interview of a lifetime back to life.

Piece Description

It was in the summer of 1966 when a star-struck 17-year-old set out to interview his idol: Muhammad Ali. Twenty miles from the South Side of Chicago, in Winnetka, Ill., Michael Aisner was calling repeatedly to the gym where the boxing champ was training. Finally, a man named Mr. Shabazz — Jeremiah Shabazz, he suspects, the man who introduced Ali to Islam — picked up.
“Where are you from?” Shabazz asked the boy.

“I’m from WNTH, a high school radio station,” Aisner said.”The champ doesn’t have time to talk,” he said.

Aisner called back two days later. And then two days after that.

“Can I interview the champ?” he asked again.

Finally, Shabazz relented.

“Ok,” he told him. “The champ will meet you.”

Later that week, with a suitcase-sized tape recorder in a back seat, Aisner and his best friend Pat were driving from the northern suburbs of Chicago to the South Side of  Chicago, where Ali’s fan club was headquartered. It was two years after Ali had trashed talked his way into a victory over Sonny Liston; a year before he would refuse to go Vietnam. At the time, many black Muslims, led by Malcolm X, were advocating for “total separation” of the races. And so, for a scrawny white boy from the suburbs, heading to the heart of Chicago’s gritty South Side was no small thing.

“We parked as close as we could to the building,” Aisner, now 63, laughs. “White Jewish boys from the suburbs did not go to the south side of Chicago.”

The Muhammad Ali fan club was housed in a small brick building on X street, a gold foil sign announcing itself out front. Next door was “Muhammad Speaks,” the black Muslim newspaper. From inside the club, Aisner and his friend watched out the front window as Ali screetched up in a red Cadillac convertible, parked in front of a fire hydrant, and jumped over the car door.
For the next 20 minutes, Ali talked boxing, footwork, why he wanted to fight — and launched into an epic, unprompted riff about traveling to Mars and fighting for the intergalactic boxing title. All went smoothly — until Aisner realized he’d forgot to turn on the tape recorder.

“I was mortified,” he says. “I said, ‘Champ, do you think you could do that again?’”

The champ obliged.

The interview aired a few weeks later, and Aisner went on to produce a radio show and a documentary in the decades since. But he’s never quite forgotten that first interview with his childhood icon. For 25 years, he kept the original reel-to-reel recording until he digitized it. But it sat. No one else ever heard it.

Then Aisner heard about Blank on Blank. And brought his interview of a lifetime back to life.

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
You'll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart) Cal Tjader Sounds Out Burt Bacharach. DCC Compact Classics, Inc. 1998 :00

Related Website

http://blankonblank.org/interviews/muhammad-ali-the-lost-interview-1966/