Champion on Mars

In the summer of 1966, a star-struck 17-year-old working at his high school radio station in Winnetka, Illinois set out to interview his idol: Muhammad Ali. With a suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder in the back seat, Aisner and a friend drove from the northern suburbs down to the south side of Chicago, where Ali’s fan club was headquartered. It was two years after Ali had trash-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 African-American South Side was no small thing.

Though Aisner met and interviewed other celebrities and went on as an adult to work in media, he’s never quite forgotten that first interview with his childhood hero. 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 here’s what we did with it.