👩❤️👨 Awkward adolescence 📓 the sinking of a cruise ship 🚢 sick in Disney World 🤮 a mystery box 📦
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
Today is Monday, November 8. There are 204 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. If you don’t have time for the whole newsletter: Here’s a new show that is so much fun, this is about a musician saving the lives of 571 people on a sinking cruise ship, and this was so emotional that when I passed it along to a coworker, she was unable to finish it.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Zoë Ruderman, Head of Digital at PEOPLE, overseeing one of the biggest websites in the country. She’s also currently executive producing two podcasts for the brand: the daily news podcast, PEOPLE Every Day, and Me Becoming Mom, a weekly celebrity interview show, which she hosts.
In each episode of Me Becoming Mom she interviews a famous woman about her journey to motherhood. It launched with Hoda Kotb, who spoke about adopting her two girls (and yes, everyone, including me, cried.) More recent episodes included Real Housewife Kandi Burruss, Alyssa Milano, and Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson East.
The app I use: I listen on Apple Podcasts. Almost everything I listen to is something I heard about from another podcast, whether it’s a host crossover or a mention or an ad read. I’m also very fortunate to work with a very culturally tapped-in staff, so I get recommendations from coworkers who often know about shows before they become big. I love quick-hit information-giving shows, like Up First, but also longer-form serial narratives, like the new Fallen Angel.
Listening time per week: I spend about 30-60 minutes a day listening to podcasts. Of course, I listen to PEOPLE Every Day…well, every day, and then I listen to other shows in the background as I do other things. I used to listen on my subway commute, but post-pandemic, I’ve had to carve out new times. I almost always listen when I shower. Also, when walking around Brooklyn Heights, after daycare drop-off, or while on a coffee run. I like to save new episodes of shows I’m addicted to for doing laundry or cleaning up around the house. It makes me dread something, like unloading the dishwasher, a little less.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
What’s your relationship with ghosts?
I grew up Catholic which I find is a great training ground for paranormal enthusiasts. I mean Holy Spirit, exorcisms, Jesus rising from the dead, drinking his blood HELLO. I grew up in my grandparents’ old house that we moved into shortly after my grandmother died and I believe that I encountered her spirit many times, including seeing her apparition once as a preteen. So basically I have always believed in this phenomena, I think ghosts like me (and I often go looking for them), and at any chance I get I demand from people “TELL ME A GHOST STORY!!”
I love your EVP segment. Can you explain it? Is EVP bullshit?
EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena. It is when ghost hunters believe that they have captured an audio recording of a ghost talking. I discovered that on youtube thousands of people post this “evidence” and I’m obsessed. So I play those recordings for my guests and make them guess from multiple choice options what the youtuber believes it says. Is it bullshit? Sometimes, I’m sure. People want to believe that they have proof of the afterlife and honestly I find that beautiful. It gives them hope. But I personally believe they can be real. And sometimes downright terrifying!
Why are you the perfect host for this show?
Well, my name is in the title so it makes sense! I created this podcast because I was obsessed with the tv show “Celebrity Ghost Stories”. I love hearing creative people and people that I admire telling these stories and sharing their beliefs. I love podcasting and I have formal training as an interviewer so I wanted to think of a topic to interview interesting people about every week that I wouldn’t ever get bored of, and after 3 years of this I love it more and more every day! I also consume a lot of paranormal content and I was baffled that there isn’t more comedic approaches to it. I’m a comedian first and foremost and I love to take things that aren’t overtly funny and find the humor in it. I also find that oftentimes paranormal shows are hosted by people with agendas and/or they have very strong beliefs on these topics. I sort of have a few ideas of what I believe in here and there but this shit is called “the unknown” for a reason. None of us know and I think it is important for people to keep open minds about it, which is something I always strive for. I want to have a platform for people to share their experiences and thoughts, I’m not here to earnestly say “that’s a demon!” or “here’s what you need to do..” So much of me creating this show is also about representation. I identify as queer, a person of color, and on the transgender spectrum and so do many of my guests as well. Sadly if you look at the paranormal entertainment genre over the years you don’t see much diversity and my podcast shows that we all have these experiences. I’m sure there are more reasons why I am the perfect host for the show but I’ll stop there because I already got the job.
If people haven’t listened to your show, where should they start?
I think that the beginning is a good place to start as you will see how my approach to these conversations has evolved. All 120+ episodes are still currently posted for free wherever you get podcasts and one thing I really love about these conversations is that they don’t have shelf lives! My first intro episode tells the story of me owning a haunted Ouija board that I purchased from a thrift store so that gives you a bit more of my experience. But another fun thing to do is to just scroll through the feed, I’m sure you’ll recognize at least one famous name on there!
Who is your dream guest?
Well I had her, Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira Mistress of the Dark! She is my number one idol and she has such an amazing ghost story to share! But I definitely have a long list of people that I would love to talk to. It’s seems that every pop star has at least one story and I would love to talk to them all. Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Kesha are a few that have a lot to say on this topic! I mean, RuPaul would be phenomenal. Dolly Parton. I plan to do this show for the rest of my life and I want em all!
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Awhile ago, Hillary Frank asked her fans to send her anecdotes from their awkward middle school experiences—it wasn’t an exercise in Schadenfreude, she wanted to weave real stories into her new scripted show Here Lies Me, which is about teens, but feels like it was made just for adults, too. 13-year-old Noa is the shy misfit who is encountering a BINGO card worth of humiliating adolescent-centric incidents, all of them are so weird and specific that they truly are able to capture what it’s like to be a teenager. (So weird and specific that you can tell that some of these are stories collected from Frank’s fans. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.) The plot seems to circle around a boy who calls himself God and publicly proclaims his love for Noa, which hit me so hard. (It was rare someone ever had a crush on me, but when they did, it was always the weird kid who called himself God.) The idea of awkward adolescence is timeless but in Here Lies Me it feels modern. This time around it forces us to think about the difference between puppy love and harassment. The dialogue is sharp and hysterical, the feel of the show is friendly and alive, and I feel invested in this story in the same way I would if this was a non-fiction audio diary of a real teen. There is something so magical about middle school, as awful as it can be. This podcast makes the bad and terrible things fun, and makes me nostalgic for something I never thought I’d feel nostalgia for.
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✨This is podcast tangential, but I went to see Jamie Loftus perform at Union Hall in Brooklyn with my parents and husband last week. When we saw her standing at the bar, my dad broke the ice by showing her a photo of a trick-or-treater wearing a hot dog costume that he took, my mom, not to be outdone, told Jamie she wished that she too could be blocked by Marc Maron. I wrapped things up by going into a long story about how I went to one of Jamie’s first live podcast recordings and brought her a jar of weird gummies. Parasocial relationships to exist, you guys. (Jamie was kind to us all and she then walked up to the stage and killed it.) BTW three of the comedians there that night were included in Jesse David Fox’s Comedians You Should And Will Know in 2021 piece on Vulture, and you can hear some of them tell their jokes and be interviewed on an episode of Good One.
✨Cat Jaffe’s House of Pod might be closing. Click here to hear why, and how you might be able to help.
✨The most recent issue of Podcast Marketing Magic dropped on Friday. Thar she blows. (We get into how to write a good pitch letter and I share a great one that I have received for this very newsletter.)
🎙️The second story on Snap Judgment’s Double Trouble is about the sinking of the cruise ship Oceanos, and I don’t think it will take much muscle to convince you to listen to it. Moss Hills was a musician on the ship, which set sail and began to sink in the summer of 1991. The captain—this is unbelievable—did not seem to give a shit about the ship’s dilemma, and it was up to Moss, the cruise musician, and a bunch of the cruise staff to attempt to try to rescue every one of the 571 passengers and crew. The tension in this story is thick, as you hear how hundreds of people had to be lifted off the ship via helicopter (something that was much harder to do than it even sounds.) Hundreds of lives were in the hands of Moss, who calmly takes us through this frightening story. I am the kind of person who would just collapse on the deck and sink into the sea with the ship. (Again, it did end up completely sinking. You can see a video here.) Moss has built a website with photos and stories from the people who were there. But his story on Snap Judgment was one of the most thrilling, unbelievable things I’ve heard, and I have no idea how I haven’t heard this story before.
🎙️It took me awhile to figure out what I was listening to when I pressed play on Rumble Strip. (I heard a promo for it on The Constant.) “Good conversation that takes its time” is very vague. But that is the beauty of this show. Erica Heilman picks up the mic, and talks to people, that’s it. It would seem to random of there wasn’t a throughline of brilliant interviewing. The conversations feels raw but expertly crafted, rooted in Vermont but with universal appeal. I feel like I just discovered buried treasure with this show, and after some light googling, I find I’m late to the party. But maybe Rumble Strip is new to you, too. The first one I listened to was The Defense, where Erica has somehow pulled out stunning, sad, inspiring stories from lawyers who have defended people nobody else wants to defend. The most recent episode, Finn and the Bell, features an interview with a mother whose son killed himself. I got completely swept up in the moment where she describes realizing he was gone, I felt like I was running into the snow with her, seeing everything in all existence flash before my eyes, too. It’s a moment made of raw emotion, Erica has captured the agonizing moment of a mother realizing her son is gone. (BTW I shared this with a coworker and she couldn’t even finish it—it’s a hard listen and not for everyone.)
🎙️I forget how I stumbled upon Constellation Prize, but it feels like a gift I didn’t ask for. From Believer magazine and hosted by Bianca Giaever, it’s a podcast that deals with loneliness by offering conversations with regular people about their daily existence—how art, God, and loneliness fit in their lives. (If you are feeling lonely, find someone more lonely than you.” —one of the Popes.) The episodes feel so hand-crafted, it’s clear they were made after many interviews and much time spent with the subjects. You really get a look inside their heads. Bianca is e a great interviewer—she works to get the subject’s trust and captures the best audio pieces to tell a story that comes alive. It’s also clear she spends time with them before deciding to interview them. Each person is there for a reason. Their stories are linked by loneliness but come to it in their own way. A crossing guard named Sophia is beloved by the people on the street but is mourning a divorce. We get to tag along with Bianca as she shadows Sophia on the job, and get to learn about the thoughts .
🎙️Haileywood has an interesting premise—Bruce Willis, determined to live a private life, moved to one of the smallest towns in Idaho and wanted to transform it by buying up the entire main street and turning it into a Hollywood spectacle. It’s a story that illustrates the clash between small town and big Hollywood. Episode one will pull you in, and episode two gives you the background about Willis that you need to understand how on earth this happened. (Fans of Willis’ films, particularly Die Hard, will be pleased.) Dana Schwartz is your guide to a secluded place that got taken over by Bruce Willis’ dreams of anonymity, that could probably be the plot of a movie in itself.
🎙️Ear Hustle has an episode about imprisonment in foreign countries that captures the fear of being trapped in a place where you don’t speak the language of your inmates and you live feeling even more isolated from your friends and family, and often more confused by the a new legal system. (As if ours makes any sense.) Nigel interviews Sarah Shourd, who spent 410 days inside Iran’s Evin Prison, for hiking near a tourist site in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan, where she was tortured. I’m pointing out this episode to you podcasters, though, and Ear Hustle fans, because there is a story of a man held in a prison in Thailand whose mother sent him transcripts of the podcast, and it’s a moving story about why transcripts are so important! Which I love.
🎙️Episodes of S***hole Country feel like little poems. They are short but include beautiful, emotional storytelling that sits with you for awhile. In the most recent episode, Afia Kaakyire (lol not her real name) talks about the haves and the have nots in both the United States and Ghana, which challenges everything we think we know about “third-world countries.” Both places are opulent, both places are poor. And Afia wraps up this episode with a trip to Disney World to reflect on what the dingy dolls in the It’s a Small World Attraction say about her world in both countries.
🎙️On Unholier Than Thou, Phil Picardi asked a panel of great thinkers, writers, and theologians: What role does Christianity have in an increasingly secular America? It’s a great conversation about how we can, if we are uncomfortable with calling ourselves Christians (with it comes a lot of bullshit,) pave a new way and redefine what it means. And how can we right Christianity’s wrongs? This is a group of smart people who have thought of innovative ways to follow the life of Jesus, which as they say, is a vibe. But he’s not the only vibe. The whole conversation feels like a lively sermon—if I had been seated in a pew, I would have stood upon it and cheered. It’s an inspiring conversation about faith.
🎙️I relistened to Imaginary Advice’s Six House Parties, an imaginative collection of pieces strung together with a hilarious assertion (that the narrator is attending several themed parties, all ruined by a douche bag named Dave) and a long-running joke with a well-worth it punchline. You should listen to all of Imaginary Advice, but this is a great gateway episode. It’s short, genius, and the writing is superb. Ross Sutherland includes so many tiny details that make you go “wait, what? how did he think of that?” and that carry beyond their weight in what they do for the story. This is an episode favorite.
🎙️Mississippi Goddam continues to stun me with its great reporting and storytelling. As Rebecca Lavoie points out on Crime Writers On…, Al Letson is a poet and his knack for writing slowly and imaginatively shows. It almost doesn’t feel like podcast writing. At the beginning of episode one of this series, Letson explains that this isn’t your ordinary true-crime podcast, and on Crime Writers On…, Toby Ball wonders if this distinction is necessary. If it’s not true-crime, why call it true crime? There is good true-crime out there, and not everyone feels the need to separate themselves from true-crime podcasts by calling that out. But I am grateful for this note. It reminds us how to listen to the show, and how future true-crime podcasters can do their work ethically without losing the thread. Each episode of Mississippi Goddam ties the content to Al’s personal connection to the story, why he felt he had to make it, each episode opens with something zoomed out before getting into the story of Billey Joe Johnson Jr., a high school football star who either killed himself when stopped by a police officer in Mississippi, or was killed by the cop. The reporting talks to major players in the case and gives the context we need in order to understand why the people of Lucedale, and Letson, are gripped by this story.
🎙️On Storytime with Seth Rogen, Seth talked to Paul Sheer who told a story about getting sick at Disney World which is obviously one of the most devastating things that can happen to a kid, and probably the adult who is taking him. (Thanks to Very Amusing, I was already aware that Paul is a huge Disney World fan.) It takes you to an anecdote of little Paul making his dad take him back to the hotel in the middle of the day of fun (the horror!) where he finds himself literally shitting the bed, and a lactose intolerance diagnosis—another thing no kid wants to hear. The story is funny and sweet, it’s a great kid story, if you know what I mean. And the playfulness of the editing makes it quite the experience. Richard Parks III’s ability to surround you with a variety of unexpected sounds makes you feel like you’re shitting the bed, too.
🎙️Constellations is soliciting sounds from you (and me and everyone we know) for their Mystery Box series. They are collecting short audio bits and sculpting them into beautiful soundscape. It’s an exercise in editing and experimental audio and creative storytelling in one. Ever since I listened I have been examining the sounds in my life more closely and listening to the episode, you begin to wonder about all of the worlds you are temporarily visiting. This is a fun audio project that can’t be missed, whether you are submitting a sound or not.
🎙️As you read this, I am probably still doing my celebratory “It’s Daylight Saving Time” dance. I love it when the clocks turn back—I love darkness, I love change, I love night, I love cold. I know I’m in the minority, here. And I know that I’m probably wrong. But each time abolishing Daylight Saving comes up I get nervous that that it’s going to be taken away from me. Two weeks ago on The Argument, Jane Coaston asked for people to call in defending or skewering Daylight Saving, and I did, and they used my piece, and you can hear it if you wanna. In the full episode, you get a back and forth between Dustin Buehler and Dr. Joseph Takahashi, who supply us with many shocking facts about the negative impacts of my favorite holiday. (Did you know that people living on the western edge of a time zone have higher cancer rates?) And then you get my dumbass quote, which they edited down, so you only hear me say something along the lines of, “I like love the dark! Whateverrrrrrrr.” The only other person who appears to be on my side in this collection of audio submissions is a surfer dude who wants more surfing time with his bros. (It’s me and him against the world.) I will now be considering myself a woman with strong, unpopular opinion and a New York Times byline.
🎙️After the release of JAWS in 1975, we saw a surge of Jawsploitation films that tried to profit off its success, swapping in piranhas, tentacles, etc., in place of sharks. One of these cheap knock offs, Grizzly, about a crazed bear eating people, did well enough that a sequel seemed like a good idea. (Premise: Different crazed bear eating people at an outdoor concert.) On The Industry, we hear the 37-year-long journey to get the film made, featuring interviews with Suzanne Nagy, who was originally the assistant on the film but left to take the reins when the producer fled the country. Nagy tells the stranger-than-bear-attack-fiction story of starting and finishing Grizzly II on her own terms.
🎙️From 1982 to 1991, Deirdre O’Donoghue hosted KCRW's SNAP!, LA’s freeform alt and indie music and culture radio show. She became famous for her warmth, her passion for her subjects, and her ability to connect about the songwriting process that seemed to cut straight to the chase. She was beloved. KCRW has hours and hours and hours of audio from her personal archive and they’re sharing bits of it for a mini-series called Bent by Nature. Most of the audio hasn’t been heard since it was originally broadcast on the airwaves of KCRW in the late 1980s. These interviews (with interesting people like Dream Syndicate and some other unexpecteds) are so lacking of bullshit you almost forget they are interviews at all, and we get to hear all about Deirdre, her odd departure from KCRW, and her death, which feels a bit mysterious. To me, it feels like the life of a woman who had the gift of connecting with artists on a special level, but yet was incredibly lonely. This podcast is a slice of the 90s and a ticket back to a time in music when we needed our radio DJs to show us the way, and we relied on interviews like these to expand our love for music and musicians.
🎙️A new season of your weekly, trippy, movie trailer-of-the-week show The Skewer is here. Each episode is like an art installation made up of intermingling pieces of the week’s news, set to pulsing beats, wild music mixes, and augmented audio. It feels like if you did a lot of mushrooms and, while tripping, tried to remember what happened in the news. Seemingly opposite stories blend together to find a common thread, you’re not quite sure when one starts and the other ends, you often find yourself laughing a bit too long after the punchline of the joke, and in the end, you’re not really sure what happened. It is hands down the best way to get your news if you’re not interested in really understanding it, but just feel like getting a cool vibe.
🎙️On an episode of Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace I was “hell yes”-ing the whole way through this episode of imposter syndrome. I have always thought that imposter syndrome was a tad bullshit—by admitting you have it inherently means you have a certain amount of confidence about your work. This is the conversation that spells out the bullshit. Jodi-Ann Burey and Ruchika Tulshyan are guests who have actually read the study about imposter syndrome, which is available on the internet, and noticed that the sample was both white and small. They explain what’s wrong with the study and why the idea of imposter syndrome catches on—it taps into something that feels true. And if everyone in your orbit is claiming they have imposter syndrome, there is definitely something wrong. But it might not be as obvious as you think.
🎙️I love you!