Interview by Michael Aisner and James R. Stein
Michael and James were still in high school back in the summer of 1966 when they interviewed Muhammad Ali in Chicago for their high school radio station –WNTH-FM at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. Michael held onto this reel-to-reel tape ever since that day.
The Animated Transcript
Michael Aisner is a longtime radio lover and documentarian. James R. Stein is an Emmy-award winning screenwriter and television producer.
Muhammad Ali: This is Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, now at the lunar station Cape Kennedy on the way to Mars.
Michael Aisner: I was probably 9 years old when I first realized how much I loved radio. When I was ten, 11, 12, I would go down to Chicago and watch the real DJs work down at the big Chicago radio stations. And then I had an opportunity to get into New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., and they had a radio station there. And we called up—out of nowhere—celebrities that were in town in Chicago.
Muhammad Ali: Hello this is Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World. I will be speaking to you soon on WNTH 88.1 FM in Winnetka.
Michael Aisner: Okay, so we’re 17 years old. We’re sitting in the office, and Ali screeches up in his red Cadillac convertible. Twenty-four years old. Comes in the office, and this girl comes and sits on his lap. She must have been 18 or 19 years old, and he starts doing this riff of him going to Mars and fighting the champion up on Mars.
Muhammad Ali: We estimate our time of getting there in about 10 years, 1976. I expect to fight to go about 12 seconds. I’m fighting the Green Giant up there, name of [gibberish name] and after knocking him out I hope to be back on Earth at about 1986.
Michael Aisner: I have this microphone in front of this guy who is one of the most famous people on Earth and we start to ask him questions.
Michael Aisner: Okay, Muhammad Ali. How did you first become interested in boxing?
Muhammad Ali: Well, I started about 12 years ago. Someone stole my bicycle and I said I was going to learn to fight so that I could catch him and beat him up. But I never did catch him. But I ended up the champ of the whole world.
Michael Aisner: That’s right. Is there any particular boxer that you really idolized before you became a pro?
Muhammad Ali: Sugar Ray Robinson was my idol. And he’s still, I think, the greatest of all time.
Michael Aisner: Did you more or less try to pattern yourself after him?
Muhammad Ali: Well, some of the ideas I got from him. Foot work, left jab, things like that.
Michael Aisner: Did you resent that hard training you had to go through before major fights?
Muhammad Ali: I’ve never really resented hard work because I’ve always liked it. Up every morning for roadwork. Going to the gymnasium every day at 12 o’clock. I never change my pattern.
Michael Aisner: Why did you feel that you had to campaign for your first fight with Sonny Liston?
Muhammad Ali: There were so many fellows ranked over me until couldn’t just whoop them all. So I had to out-shadow them by talking. It made me a bigger drawing card so promoters wanted me instead of the rest. It gave me a quicker shot at the title.
Michael Aisner: Mr. Ali, what in your estimation is the future of boxing today?
Muhammad Ali: Well if the boxers are a little more colorful, talk a little like I did and just do half as much as I did for boxing, it will be all right.
Michael Aisner: What business do you feel you would like to go into after your retirement?
Muhammad Ali: Oh, real estate. Real estate building. Projects. Apartment houses.
Michael Aisner: As I was leaving, I did something that I had never done in any of my other interviews and that is I asked him for an autograph. And he put out an album and I actually had him sign it. And he signed it “From Muhammad Ali. World Champ.” And it says “1966.”
Muhammad Ali: So I hope that all of you will be here waiting for me and tell your children before they come into this world here on Earth that the Champion is leaving now and will be back in 20 years with the Universal Title. Thank you.
Michael Aisner: I guess If I have any regrets at all is I didn’t get him to somehow spit his gum out during the interview. He was sitting there chomping away on a piece of gum. It’s like, “come on, man, I’m trying to get a good clean cut here.”