👻 Halloween stores, prom revisited, bats, Soul Train🕺🏿
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
Today is Monday, October 4. There are 240 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. If you don’t have time for the whole newsletter: this made my heart melt, I audibly moaned when this episode was over, and I couldn’t believe how much interesting shit was packed into this.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Justin Chen, my husband (!!), podcast nerd, and product designer currently plying his trade at Facebook. Prior to joining FB, he was a lead UX designer at iHeartRadio, helping improve their app experiences (to varying degrees of success). Before that he worked on streaming platforms for Nickelodeon, tried his hand at founding a cannabis testing startup, and eons ago he was a silly web designer at Sesame Street/Sesame Workshop photoshopping muppets and working on co-viewing experiences for parents and kids.
The app I use: Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Hark
Listening time per week: I'd say ~16 hrs that's split 50/50 between weekday mornings and the weekend.
When I listen: It's nearly a 50/50 split between weekday mornings and the weekend with the exception of Daily Zeitgeist's afternoon episodes, which we usually throw on right before bed so we have a nice chuckle as we pass out.
How I discover: Hey, I have the algorithm (Lauren) in my apartment, so I feel pretty fortunate. If it weren't for Lauren I'd probably still be stuck just listening to NPR and NY Times every morning, which is fine, but now my days start with even more texture to them and I'm eternally indebted to her for that.
Favorite shows (in no particular order): The Daily Zeitgeist, Invisibilia, Arsenal Vision, The Scroll Down, High & Mighty, The Bechdel Cast, The Flagrant Ones, All Fantasy Everything, Action Boyz, Time to Say Goodbye, Sound Deals, I Weigh, There Are No Girls on the Internet, Keeping Records.
Anything else? I've been on the other side of the discovery coin at my last few jobs learning how people discover new content for podcast and video formats and then actually getting them to engage based on UX research. Discovering something you love/hate still has plenty of trial and error involved. It's a two-way street, instead of always making bets on what you think will work or gaming an algorithm, it might be helpful to seek out voices in the crowd, find the audience, and listen. Podcasts as a format is beautiful because there truly is something for everyone.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Talk about the grind. Doing The Daily Zeitgeist every day must wear on you. Please tell me you’re taking care of yourself. Miles, we need you!
It’s hard! But I also love that I can make the news easier to digest for people that might otherwise choose to disengage from it all. Prior to the pandemic, I wasn’t really taking my mental health seriously but I quickly realized how much I needed to look after myself (not in some cucumber slices on the eyes type way). I love what I do so I’m keeping myself in peak podcasting shape. Big shouts to my therapist!
You do a good job of making anyone seem smart and interesting. What's the secret to doing this?
Over the years I have interviewed ALL kinds of people - rappers, actors, tattoo artists, Playboy Playmates, FBI agents. I used to spend a lot of time trying to figure out ‘how’ to interview people but then I realized I got more out of just trying to connect on a personal level and allowing that trust to lead to the fun stuff. Not sure if that’s a secret but that’s how I look at it.
Does smoking weed make you a better host or does that make podcasting more challenging?
TBH, I never host DZ high. When I start my day I have to comb through the news and figure out how to make it work so getting the wake and bake ain’t it for me. I also want to be able to articulate my feelings as clearly as possible and I don’t want to do myself a disservice by being high. 420 Day Fiance is a totally different show and has a different energy to it so that’s where I indulge my most ridiculous high thoughts.
It seems like you have a strong friendship with Jack. Was that an instant click or has your relationship made huge developments?
Naw, we were very awkward with each other in the beginning. For those unfamiliar with DZ LORE it would help to know that Her Majesty used to work at Cracked. She is the connective tissue. So, I met Jack at a random Thirsty Thursday event (remember those?) at their offices and over time, we began talking more and my genius became undeniable. Or so the legend goes.
What do you hope The Daily Zeitgeist does for people?
I hope that it keeps people engaged. Full stop. The news can be a source of distress but that’s what I hope Daily Zeitgeist can help alleviate. Let’s laugh AND know about fascist fuckery!
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
🎙️I’m no doctor, but I think my heart lifted outside of its chamber, if that’s possible, when I listened to the new episode of Heavyweight. We meet Brandon, who remembers being a) a dork in high school and b) being asked to prom by a popular girl named Allie. And fifteen years later, he calls her and asks why. Was it a guilt-ask or did she truly want to go with him? I wonder what this episode would have been like if Allie revealed it was some kind of She’s All That situation. But that’s not what we get. They each have gratitude for each other and for that prom night. I feel like I should listen to this episode every morning when I wake up to remind me of the goodness of people.
✨Friday marked fifty years of Walt Disney World, and the Hark team (very reluctantly) let me put together this Harklist of moments that tell the story of the park, with a focus on day one, October 1, 1971. Hear about Walt’s secret land-buy The Florida Project, how his brother Roy kept his legacy alive after Walt’s death in 1966, and so many of my favorite facts and thoughts about the happiest place on earth. (There are no bathrooms in Liberty Square for a reason! In The Haunted Mansion, you go in alive and leave dead! Adult Disney fans are more enlightened! A real Disney Princess spills all!)
✨You Are Good is a treasure trove of originality, but one thing that sets it even further apart is the music. Each episode is accompanied by a beautiful song hand-made by Carolyn Kendrick, that both fits with the theme and deepens its story. Sarah and Alex have dropped an album of all of the songs, The Music of You Are Good, Volume 1. Like “Sweet Marissa” from the Dazed and Confused episode, “Worms” from the episode about the Saw franchise, and “Gales of November” from the Perfect Storm episode. These songs are so gut-wrenchingly beautiful, I’ve always thought they deserve a bit more attention. All of us podcast-lovers need to be listening to more music. And this album was made for us.
✨Laura Joyce Davis’s Kasama Collective podcast training program trains and mentors future female and non-binary creative entrepreneurs. Members learn a lot about podcasting and emerge with production credits (trainees learn their craft by working on episodes of Shelter in Place, with Davis coaching them through every step of the process), and are welcomed into a creative community that offers support well beyond the program. (Applications for the spring cohort open November 1.) Last month, the International Women’s Podcast Awards honored Shelter in Place with the Shure Changing the World One Moment at a Time Award, featuring Kasama Collective graduate Sarai Waters on being homeless for 6 months. Shelter in Place launched its third season the same day kasama trainee Bethany Hawkins won the Best Black Comedy award for her podcast Chatting Over Chowder at the Black Podcasting Awards.
✨NYU’s American Journalism Online Master’s Program is a podcast development bootcamp that starts October 18. You’ll learn how to pitch podcast concepts, write a treatment proposal, design a pitch deck, outline staffing needs, launch the show, and get the latest on production. More here.
✨On EarBuds, Arielle Nissenblatt spotlighted Ellen Scanlon’s How to Do the Pot, a show that seeks to guide women who are either new to cannabis or thinking about getting into it. Listen to EarBuds here. (And follow Arielle on Twitter.)
🎙️Scene on Radio is taking the story of climate change back to the Bible. John Biewen and Amy Westervelt are joining forces for The Repair, a series that tells a story about an aspect of climate we haven’t been considering—the systematic structure of religion that it’s steeped in. I think people have been ignoring climate change podcasts (and the issue all together) because it isn’t sexy. But Scene on Radio’s thorough investigative storytelling delivers—and can help us change the world by getting to the root of the problem. Episode one focuses on the idea of dominion—in the Bible, we are given dominion over nature. But does that mean we are its overlords or protectors? (This was covered in a book—Dominion—which was unfortunately written by Sarah Palin’s speech-writer.) I’m a few episodes into The Repair and am already seeing how the Bible has separated human from nature, which was at the time, a totally new concept. Crusades, capitalism, and concentric nature—it paints a picture of a beautiful world take hostage by greedy capitalistic idiots who cartoonishly shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to taking care of their home.
🎙️Maintenance Phase presented part one of a Rachel Hollis series (author of Girl, Wash Your Face and others) and when it ended I think I audibly screamed, “noooo!” because I wanted more, as soon as possible. Michael pulls in research, audio clips, and biographical information of Hollis, using her social media posts to tell a story of a woman who is a talented writer with no self-awareness of her privilege. I’m pretty sure this could be a podcast on its own—Rachel is the perfect villain who is fun to hate. Michael’s reporting exposes Rachel’s empire as a manipulative, inauthentic one. But I don’t think it’s just for people who have doubted Hollis from the beginning. This episode should be heard by the people who have fallen under her spell, so she can be knocked off the pedestal. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
🎙️Settle in for Once Upon a Time…at Bennington College (the first season was Once Upon a Time in the Valley, the story of underage adult star Traci Lords) which dives into the campus life of literary greats Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt, and Jonathan Lethem. There is a certain mythology surrounding these three, and the podcast exposes the untraditional school they attended (in episode one Bennington is described as college’s not-college) and the wild lives of the writers who went there in 1986. Vanity Fair contributing editor Lili Anolik is immediately presented as a reliable narrator—she’s not fawning over these authors. She acknowledges the impact they have had on the literary world and is trying to tell the story of how they defined a generation. It’s an interesting format—some episodes focus on Bret, some Donna, and audio of Jonathan is mixed throughout. The story is a perfect mix of literary and dishy, and I admit somewhat unexpected. I started this series wondering how many people, other than total booknerds, would care about this. I ended episode one positive that this tale has all the elements of a page-turner chock full of relationship drama, character study, and history.
🎙️I don’t watch Antique’s Roadshow, but I have been enjoying the behind-the-scenes stories told on Detours, where host Adam Monahan goes behind-the-scene to the hottest items from the show. The show feels like a tiny treasure you’ve stumbled upon, a treasure about treasures. A Jug of Many Faces was both touching and funny for the mistake made in an appraisal. It tells the story of a “19th century grotesque face jug” brought to the set in 2015, valued at $30,000 - $50,000. After the episode aired, someone called into the show with some news that drastically changed that number. Sure, it was technically less valuable, but to me, the story makes it priceless. (Listen to hear the full story.)
🎙️Who’s Your God?, which interviews comedians about religion and their mental health, has come to an end. There aren’t too many shows quite like it. Listening to the episode where Amy Miller and Steve Hernandez announcing the ending made me think about how emotional it is to end a podcast. (One of my favorite examples of this is the tearful final episode of Pop Rocket—I feel like crying myself every time I hear it.) Amy and Steve are just ending a podcast, sure, but they have built a community on Slack and Patreon. They have a book club. Their show has become a meaningful thing in people’s lives. It’s understandable why people have to end their shows, but it’s not not a big deal. Cheers to Who’s Your God?! If you have never listened, you have a whole archive of old episodes to enjoy. (Here’s a good one.)
🎙️If you can spend a full hour talking about Halloween stores you’re either stoned or brilliant. On Secretly Incredibly Fascinating, host Alex Schmidt and guest Jason Pargin start there, and end up covering the retail business, the cultural reason we are pouring more and more money into Halloween, and why Halloween has been an important holiday for the queer community for decades. In a way, Jason and Alex are punching your brain in the dick. Now you can be that annoying person who drives past a Spirit Halloween store and says to your friends, “despite the brick-and-mortar retail apocalypse taking place across the country, Halloween pop-ups like Spirit have endured.”
🎙️When the Pope compared bats to sinners last year, bat-enthusiast Nate accidentally went viral by @-ing the Pope on Twitter. The tweet’s virality connected him with other bat experts worldwide, and made him realize there is a hunger for bat truths. Give Bats a Podcast is his attempt at setting the facts straight about bats. (They’re actually great and interesting.) What a great way to properly celebrate Bat Appreciation Month. (h/t Martin Zaltz Austwick)
🎙️In Inside Podcasting, Shreya Sharma interviewed the creators of a new show called Scrolls & Leaves, a 3D sound podcast made in India that attempts to “de-colonize stories of our current world order by re-telling them from a South Asian perspective.” The first season, Trade Winds, is set in the Indian Ocean and the conquest and exploration that took place there centuries ago. Buckle up. The sound blew my socks off. I felt like I was in a fucking I-MAX.
🎙️On I’m Sorry, comedians Hoja Lopez, Mohanad Elshieky, and Kiki Monique review apologies in our culture, and it seems to be getting better and better. Why spend time looking back at the cringe-worthy mistakes of the people we have propped up on pedastals and the miserable ways they try to cover their asses after they are cancelled? Because it’s delicious. On a recent episode the trio unpacked CBS’s The Activist, the television show that almost was. The idea was that activists from all over the world would compete to make meaningful change in the world, under the guidance of Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough. Here we get the opportunity to hear three apologies, although we only got two. After CBS decided to change the format, Usher stayed silent. Which allowed Hoja, Mohanad, and Kiki to reflect on what a nonexistent apology really says.
🎙️Often the villains of the media we consume seem obvious—we like things to be black and white. But when you listen to The Villain Was Right, you realize the best stories blur the lines between good and bad. On each episode, Craig Fay and Rebecca Reeds take a movie or TV show and through a funny conversation try to identify who the villain is. The last episode unpacked Saved By the Bell, and you know I love Saved By The Bell content, despite the fact I’ve never seen the show. (Here are two of my favorites.) Reliving Zach Morris’ crimes, the utter stupidity of the adults in his orbit, and the terrible writing and storylines, is fun. I’ll let you think about who you think the villain is on Saved By the Bell. The fact that there’s more than one answer proves that this show was accidentally brilliant. (I swear I’ll check it out one day.)
🎙️I’m not an at person, but every episode of The Lonely Palette has been a gentle introduction to a piece of artwork that I’ve always thought I should know more about. (The one on Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece is one of my favorite episodes of all time.) This week we got an episode of Grant Wood's 1930’s piece American Gothic. (You know the one.) It opens with people simply describing it, which reminds you that you are free to have your own interpretation. Keep listening for a lesson on regionalism, modernism, and nostalgia, and the quintessential Americanness of American Gothic. And how our reactions to it test how we feel about America.
🎙️Build for Tomorrow has an episode about knitting that’s not actually about knitting, but about the idea of how our idea of simple pleasures has changed. By looking at the history of knitting, which seems so harmless and cozy, and the heated debates that have been brewing around it (bet you didn’t know!) we see that nothing, not even knitting, is safe from being politicized. If nothing is safe, maybe everything should be safe. I have said it before and I’ll say it again—Build for Tomorrow (ironically called Pessimists Archive in a former life) is the most optimistic show you’ll listen to. It makes you think we’re gonna be okay. But if you look at it another way, it points out that humans have always been complete idiots about something. What that thing is changes, not us. I guess it’s a glass half empty/ half full kind of thing. (And I think the old logo for Pessimists Archive was a half-full glass.) To get the absolute best of Build for Tomorrow listen to this Harklist Jason made celebrating some of his best episodes. It’s one of my favorite Harklists to date.
🎙️Soul Train debuted 50 years ago last weekend, and on It’s Been a Minute, Sam Sanders talked to Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, about the show’s history and why it made such a cultural impact. Taking some time to remember this show that was beautiful in its simplicity is worth your time. And will have you scratching your head when you think about why there hasn’t been anything else quite like it.
🎙️It comes as no surprise that there’s a difference between Black sign language and American Sign Language, but it’s something I hadn’t thought about. On Spectacular Vernacular, Nicole Holliday and Ben Zimmer are joined by journalist Allyson Waller to talk about how Black sign language has evolved. It kind of blew my mind to think about kids who grew up code switching sign language, or realizing they couldn’t understand their white teachers. I really like the new direction of Spectacular Vernacular (it used to be Lexicon Valley with John McWhorter.) It’s offering the modern conversations we need to be having about language.
🎙️Ever since I made my Disney World Harklist, I’ve been listening to The Walt Daily, a straight-forward Disney podcast made of bite-sized episodes that give facts—literally any fact you could hope to imagine—about the world of Disney. (The other day I learned why, a few years ago, Disney World switched from selling yellow ponchos to clear ones. Eye-opening!) I think you should subscribe to The Walt Daily, obviously. But I guess the takeaway here, if you don’t give a shit about stuff like poncho colors, is to find a bite-sized show about something weird you love. I swear it makes every day better. It’s guaranteed happiness, the stakes are low, you’re never disappointed.
🎙️When I go to Taiwan with my husband, we often see many dishes with a mix of tofu and meat. In Asia, tofu isn’t seen as “the vegetarian’s only option.” This Gastro Pod episode on the history of tofu explains why tofu’s US marketing department should be fired, and how hippies were able to make eating it a solution to tiny things we can do to be more eco-friendly, particularly with a little flier that went onto become the book and cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet. (My copy is so dog-earred and the spine has been bent back so much that it’s in about 200 pieces.) They visit a man who teaches them how he makes tofu delicious, and I wanted to go out and get some the second this episode was done.
🎙️Proof takes an interesting look at vegetarianism with Why Be Vegetarian? Sheila V Kuman examines her own vegetarianism by looking at her family’s history. She is Indian and both of her parents are vegetarian, but they can’t really explain why. She uncovers that it has more to do with the Indian Caste system than religion, which makes her evaluate why she’s been abstaining from meat all these years. It makes you think about vegetarianism in the United States and why people eat meatless here—how much of it is ethics, family, wealth, our lofty dream of being able to change the world (when we were eight) or our desire to piss off our parents (when we were sixteen?
🎙️Phoebe Judge’s Criminal tells the story of Beverley Schottenstein, who inherited $90 million when her husband died. When Beverly was 94, her care taker started to suspect that Beverly’s grandchildren were taking advantage of her and her money—and discovered that the boys, Avi and Evan Schottenstein, who had been her her brokers at JP Morgan for five years, were managing her millions but wouldn't tell their grandmother what stocks they were buying and selling. It’s a story of elder abuse and a woman who was taken advantage of by the people she trusted the most. And, she says, if they had just asked for money, she would have given it to them. The story has a happy ending but highlights a special kind of criminal—one who would take advantage of their grandmother.
🎙️On Do You Even Podcast?, Lainey Mays and Alex Hightower cover the podcasting world and give tons of great recommendations. (If you like my recs, you’ll like theirs! When I listen to their show I am just like, “hell, yeah.”) I was blown away to hear a shout-out for Podcast the Newsletter this week.
🎙️I am not going to tell you to listen to Detour to Neverland, a podcast hosted by travel agents who love Disney World, I wouldn’t do that. But if you happen to be going on a Disney cruise in 240 days (or my new friend John Hammontree of The Reckon Interview, who has 371 days to go) you might want to listen to this episode. It describes what it’s like to board a Disney cruise in a post(?)-pandemic world. Masks and all.
🎙️I love you!