JERSEY CITY - Last December, in one of the final installments of 'The Best Show on WFMU,' the free-form radio show he had hosted for 13 years, Tom Scharpling was in his usual irascible mood.
Speaking to the nationwide audience that identifies with his underdog spirit, he played the Velvet Underground's kiss-off song, 'One of These Days'; wondered aloud if Billy Joel would still be playing Madison Square Garden at the age of 99; and questioned whether Ornette Coleman was annoyed that the Grateful Dead considered him an influence.
Extending the analogy, Mr. Scharpling imagined himself as the underappreciated genius and a younger generation of broadcasters as clueless imitators.
'That's how I feel half the time, doing this show,' he said wryly. 'I listen to these garbage podcasts. If this is what I birthed, what hath I wrought?'
Almost a year later, Mr. Scharpling was crouched on the tile floor of a clean but barren apartment here, building Ikea furniture for the studio where he is reviving 'The Best Show' as an Internet podcast. Mr. Scharpling, 45, a New Jersey native with a burly, John Belushi-esque build and the tousled hair of a Roman emperor, compared the experience of immersing himself in this project to diving into a pool without knowing what's in it.
'Maybe it's empty,' he said. 'Maybe it's filled with razor blades. Maybe it's filled with water. My head is about to find out.'
Later this month he plans to resume broadcasting at thebestshow.net, having grown it into an on-air hangout for pop-cultural kibitzing, eccentric callers and comedians like Patton Oswalt, Julie Klausner and John Hodgman. Whether Mr. Scharpling, who has also worked as a music video director, a journalist and a writer-producer of the USA series 'Monk,' can find online success with 'The Best Show' will depend on how well his comically crabby persona stands out in a field already crowded with choices, where every stand-up, storyteller and improv comedian seems to have a podcast.
Either way, the real Mr. Scharpling is uncharacteristically sunny about the project.
'It's my favorite thing to do,' he said. 'It's the one thing I'm actually good at, in a way. Everything else feels like a grind. This thing feels like flying.'
Mr. Scharpling was already a jack-of-all-trades - a fanzine editor, a sheet music store employee, an impresario of his own indie-rock label - when he arrived in the mid-1990s at WFMU, the independent Jersey City radio station known for its unpaid, volunteer D.J.s.
With Jon Wurster, a drummer for Superchunk and other rock bands, he began performing seemingly spontaneous (but in fact carefully scripted) comedy routines in which Mr. Wurster phoned in under various annoying guises.
Perhaps their most famous bit was their first, 'Rock, Rot & Rule,' in which Mr. Wurster played the author of a book that, in frustratingly arbitrary manner, classified pop artists into those three categories. (The Beatles rock, but do not rule because 'they wrote a lot of bad songs'; David Bowie rots because he went through 'too many changes.') Mr. Wurster said in a telephone interview that in spite of the 'curmudgeon-osity' of Mr. Scharpling's radio persona, he is 'a super-caring guy' in real life.
'People are annoyed by random, inconsequential things, and they love to hear him comment on that,' Mr. Wurster said. 'There's no one who addresses those little aggravations as well and as comically as Tom does.'
In 2000, Mr. Scharpling created 'The Best Show,' which he and Mr. Wurster populated with characters who live in the fictional New Jersey town of Newbridge.
With this format, Mr. Scharpling became one of the most popular personalities on WFMU's roster.
The exact number of listeners for the show, either on the radio or the wfmu.org website, is difficult to measure. The longtime station manager, Ken Freedman, said that Mr. Scharpling was probably its biggest fund-raiser, who alone could generate $250,000 in contributions in two days during pledge drives. But Mr. Scharpling said he was worn out from expending energy on those drives and was frustrated that he could not make money by doing 'The Best Show' for the station. Mr. Freedman said in a phone interview that Mr. Scharpling's departure was inevitable.
'His show had become such a phenomenon, and it was interfering with his ability to do other work,' he said. 'Meanwhile, he was watching other comedy podcasts get sponsors and turn into full-time jobs.'
Mr. Freedman said Mr. Scharpling 'gave me a ton of notice, many months before he left, and I'm very happy for him.'
Mr. Scharpling now says his exit was intended only as a temporary hiatus to plan his next steps. During this time he worked on a 'Best of the Best Show' boxed set, which will be released in March, and directed an infomercial parody for Adult Swim based on his Newbridge characters.
Most crucially, Mr. Scharpling said, he realized he had to make the show his priority.
'Rather than look at it like a calling card or a fun sideline thing, what if I do it like it's the real thing?' he said.
The show's new incarnation will continue to involve Mr. Wurster, and Mr. Scharpling has received logistical support from Brendan McDonald, a producer who helped turned the comedian Marc Maron's podcast into an Internet phenomenon.
Mr. McDonald said he has been advising Mr. Scharpling on studio equipment (still neatly contained in boxes on a mid-November visit) and a business model that relies on advertising rather than listener subscriptions.
What will help Mr. Scharpling gain traction online, Mr. McDonald said, is not only his social media presence or his Twitter following, but also the many years of practice he has put into his program.
'Tom is not a new voice who needs to come in and establish himself,' he said. 'He has a command of the medium and a dexterity with what you can do with it, to create this theater of the mind.'
Matt Fraction, a comic-book writer and listener in Portland, Ore., said that Mr. Scharpling spoke to a specific kind of audience that would not be satisfied with other programs.
'You have a feeling, immediately, that you are in presence of someone who is going to get all your jokes and who is funnier than you,' Mr. Fraction said.
Describing the identification card he received from a WFMU pledge drive that recognizes him as an official 'Friend of Tom,' Mr. Fraction said, 'We carry these little pieces of paper with us so we can show each other when we meet out in the world. It's that kind of level of fanatical devotion.'
For all the positive energy directed his way, Mr. Scharpling said the fundamental crankiness of 'The Best Show' would not change and that he still reserved the right to hang up abruptly on callers who had lost his interest.
'It's the thing everybody wants to do in real life,' he explained. 'How many times do you wish you could just go to somebody and say: 'You're boring. I'm going to stop talking to you now.' '