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🍭 The real Hansel & Gretel 🗿 Rapa Nui 🫁 iron lungs 🪄 Harry Houdini 🐇 Donuts 🍩 axe-throwing safety 🪓
💌Podcast The Newsletter is your weekly love letter to podcasts and the people who make them.💌
Today is Monday, October 25. There are 219 days until I go on my next Disney cruise. If you don’t have time for the whole newsletter:
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Adell Coleman, whose career spans over 16 years, beginning as a producer and host of “2KNation” on a local D.C. station at the age of 15 all the way to her time as Executive producer of Urban View at SiriusXM. Currently she serves as Chief Content Officer of DCP Entertainment, who's mission in podcasting is to share diverse stories from underrepresented communities. Her passion for audio has won her many notable accolades from the Alliance for Women in Media, The National Association of Black Journalist, Webby Awards as well as most recently two New York Festival awards for her podcast she co-hosts and Executive produces Say Their Name.
The app I use: Apple, Tidal and Spotify
Listening time per week: 8-10hrs...
When I listen: I like to listen when I'm cleaning or working out, and especially when I'm driving.
How I discover: Industry friends always have good recommendations, or if I am particularly interested in a subject I'll do a search of podcasts based on that theme. Like I found some cool ones around mental health! Also I love it when a show I like mentions another podcast, I almost ALWAYS check it out!
Anything else? I think podcasting is slowly becoming a more diverse space for BIPOC creators, I'd love to see / hear more content of hosts with diverse backgrounds and experiences. I would love to see them featured more in top places and suggestions on podcasting apps.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Martin Austwick is an award-winning podcaster (Radio Academy/Sony/Aria Gold for Answer Me This! in 2011; British Podcast Award 2017 for Song by Song). He’s co-created, presented and produced podcasts since 2007 including Answer Me This!, Song by Song, Brain Train, Global Lab, and created music for the above and The Allusionist and many more. Martin is the founder and lead curator of the Podcast Maker Weekend (2017-) as part of the London Podcast Festival. Follow him on Twitter here.
How did you get introduced to the audio space?
I started making music in Garageband in 2001 and gradually amassed some recording gear - in 2007, my wife wanted to start a podcast with a friend of hers and asked if I would help. The podcast was called Answer Me This!, and it just finished after 14 and a half years, several awards, and a lot of wonderful listeners.
You recently launched Neutrinowatch—what was your goal with that show?
To do something really creative that hadn’t been done before. To see what I could come with when the rule is “the episode has to change from one day to the next”. What stories are interesting to tell in that way. To hang out with Jeff Emtman.
Which one of your awards was the most exciting to get?
The 2017 British Podcast Award for Song by Song - the niche podcast I make about Tom Waits with Sam Pay - because we were up against “proper” shows and I really didn’t expect to win.
You’re a composer, writer, host, producer, and sound designer. Which of these is your favorite, and what is most challenging?
I like them all. Production - audio editing - is the part that feels most like a job. Writing is the hardest but the most important part I think. It’s the most abstract in a way. I can never work out if I’m a vague person or a details person.
How does your background in physics help you podcast?
I’ve run a Transmission Electron Microscope and seen individual atoms. If a technical process is difficult to understand, it not because I’m stupid. It’s either because it’s difficult, or the software is designed badly. It gives me a certain amount of confidence that it’s not my fault if I’m finding a technical aspect hard. (NB I did not study acoustics)
How does your music discovery journey different than your podcast discovery journey?
I go on word of mouth for both, but in the podcast space there are voices (e.g. Bello, Wil Williams, yourself) that I trust to guide me towards stuff I’ll enjoy. Music is very hyped and I don’t know who I’d read.
What do you want to be doing more of in 2022?
Making better work. Earning more money for making better rather than making more work.
What are three elements, tropes, or genres that will always get your attention when you’re looking for a new show to listen to?
Something original. Something that doesn’t care about being niche. Bats. [Ed. note: Martin is the one who introduced me to Give Bats a Podcast!]
Who is someone in podcasting who isn’t getting enough recognition?
Ross Sutherland, always. Even if he was as famous as Ira Glass. Anyone making good work that the new slate of mainstream podcast commissioners who’ve come in from TV, film, print etc don’t know exist. They’re in for a treat.
What’s a show that nobody talks about but everyone should?
IDK I think I hear about podcasts because people are talking about them. I did some consultancy/mentoring on a show by a friend of mine called Down to a Sunless Sea, about the life and decline of his dad - it covers memoir, politics, science, history... That’s the podcast, my friend is called Dave Pickering. They make longform stories which I think puts some people off. But Sunless Sea is absolutely worth spending the time on. It did get written up in the Guardian but I think it’s a show that deserves more attention; Dave’s a really interesting creator and it’s my favourite thing they’ve done.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
The Rapa Nui Islands (The Easter Islands) hold great mystery, but the full story is one I did not know, and one that is layered and surprising. As each minute ticked by in this episode of Outside/In, an entirely new layer of the island’s history was revealed. The mystery that I thought was the mystery isn’t, actually. The people of Rapa Nui didn’t disappear (like we so often like to think,) they were killed off by colonizers who introduced disease to the island and captured them into slavery. (It was once falsely assumed by Jared Diamond that the civilization destroyed itself.) Who moved the statues and how isn’t unknown, either. Two scientists made the “ground-breaking” discovery that the statues could walk, or be moved by rocking back and forth. But because this mystery is full of non-mysteries, the walking method was something the people of Rapa Nui knew all along. This island’s whole story is about a culture cloaked in unnecessary blind spots from the outside, and about how hard it can be to cut through our preconceptions of a culture. It was so well done that I actually started to wonder how on earth it was so expertly stitched together. I have been thinking about that all week, and it gave me appreciation for all of the audio storytellers out there, making magic out of voice and story.
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🎙️Lemonada has dropped a true-crime podcast called Believer Her, the story of Nikki Addimando, a young mom of two who killed her boyfriend in self-defense and was sentenced to nineteen years to life in prison for murder. Hosted by journalist and author Justine van der Leun, it contains rare access to police audio, official documents, conversations with Nikki, and three years of original reporting. In most true-crime stories, it is very clear who the victim is (and she usually dies.) This one blurs the line between victim and perpetrator, and if Nikki is the victim, she is the victim who lives. I just watched the second episode of Maid last night, and was reminded what we expect abused women to do before we promise them protection. I am only two episodes in of Believe Her, but it seems like a story of a woman who had been enduring abuse for a long time, but is surrounded by people who don’t trust her story and think that Nikki’s partner wouldn’t harm a fly. (The guy loves ducks!) An upcoming episode promises to cover Nikki’s doubters, but right now this is just a frustrating, well-done, story of a woman’s overlooked abuse.
🎙️On Judge John Hodgman, Jessie brings the case against her husband Carter, who believes he was raised in a haunted house. Jessie disagrees. It ends up being a funny conversation about the comfortable things married people argue about but also faith—Jessie insists that because Carter is an atheist, his conviction that his childhood is haunted is null and void. I loved hearing Carter run through his evidence only to have Jessie shoot him down. And as always, John Hodgman eloquently takes us through the spat, and offers an imaginative solution for Jessie and Carter. Now is as good a time as any to plug my favorite episode of Judge John Hodgman, another episode that starts with something stupid but gets deep, the episode that I was in, about my mother insisting I flush her ashes down the toilet at Walt Disney world when she dies. (Something I refuse to do.)
🎙️American Hysteria released two episodes that you should listen to before Halloween—one about extreme haunted attractions and why we love to be scared, and another featuring an interview with a scare actor who talks about using empathy to scare people, which sort of blew my mind. There is so much Halloween content out there but Chelsey has a way of tying these things to American culture, social connections, and human identity that offers a whole new level to your spooky season.
🎙️J Dilla is one of the most revered hip hop producers of all time, but his story is a tragedy. He died of lupus at age 32, dropping his immersive album Donuts just three days before. He finished making the album when he was on his death bed, literally. His mother would bring his equipment to his bedside. (I have a beautiful portrait of him making Donuts hanging in my living room.) On The 33 1/3 Podcast, we have Prince Paul in conversation with Peanut Butter Wolf telling the story of J Dilla, his emergence into the underground Detroit hip-hop scene, how he quietly made his impactful music, and how he was working on beats until the day he died. I have listened to a few podcast episodes about J Dilla before on other shows, and have always been disappointed. This one delivers. Peanut Butter Wolf remembers hanging out with Jay Dee and Mad Lib in Detroit with stories that make you wish you had been there, and my favorite part of the whole story, Jay Dee’s mother, who carried Donuts across the finish line. The podcast weaves vignettes from J Dilla’s The 33 ⅓ Book together with conversation and beautiful stories that bring J Dilla to life for an hour or so. I’ll be saving this episode forever, it’s a beautiful tribute.
🎙️I was completely surprised to start listening to the first episode in the first season of Stuff the British Stole. The story is so explosive, complex, and true-crimey that I think an entire series could be dedicated to it. It tells the story of the Motunui epa, five elaborately carved panels buried in a New Zealand swamp to protect it from a war. 150 years later, they were picked up by a British collector who sold them to a Swiss-Bolivian collector in Geneva. The story of how they got from New Zealand to Europe involves the musket wars, an illegal transportation of the panels, one of the most secretive vaults in the world (“the world’s biggest museum you’ll never see,”) and a 5-year-old being abducted by Italian criminals. In this story we follow the panels through interviews with the people who got tangled up in it and learn how they were returned to the Taranaki people by the New Zealand government. And the incredible events that unfolded between.
🎙️Mortified is the podcast that lets us hear people read from their teenage diaries, an exercise that is inherently funny and cringey because any teen determined enough to write their thoughts down clearly has something bold to say. In the episode Hadley’s Playground, we get to hear from an epic novel written about a gay teen about a closeted teenager, who seems to have written the whole thing to convince himself he’s not gay. The character’s name is the least gay name the storyteller could think of, Hadley, a name that lacks traditional masculine vibes, and technically means “a field that is plowed by a man.” The reading is over-the-top and lacks self-awareness in the most adorable way.
🎙️Left-Handed Radio brings you tiny audio sketches and is the perfect thing to throw into your queue when you need a little lift. The latest episode, Axe-Throwing Safety Speech, had me laughing because of the concept (that there would be so many rules for axe-throwers tells us that at one point, people were doing these things, or else the rules would not need to be instated) but also the dedication to the joke. It starts out funny and just gets funnier, the ridiculousness of the amount of rules is the joke. This piece reminds me of why I love the Bible—we learn so much about the people by hearing about what they decided amongst themselves they should not be doing. (In the Bible, it’s “don’t fuck goats.”) You get a joke but also you can let your mind wander into this fictional place and think about the people who live there.
🎙️When a book proving that Hansel and Gretel were historical figures, The Truth About Hansel and Gretel, published, the world took it at its word, believing it was unlocking the key to how fairytale archeology could improve cross cultural understanding, and often going to great lengths to fact check the author’s work. But the book was complete satire, and on Cautionary Tales, Tim Harford asks us to think about the truth behind our fiction with a few stories that were truly stories, but thanks to our imaginations and desire to believe, were taken as fact. The story of The Truth About Hansel and Gretel is the equivalent of Trump retweeting a story from The Babylon Bee, and illustrates the danger of false stories that aren’t identified as such. I loved the story of the story of The Truth About Hansel and Gretel, but if we’re listening to Tim Harford, should we believe it?
🎙️When I first started listening to Dave Holmes’ Waiting for Impact, I thought, ‘oh another podcaster is tracking down some weird mystery using the internet.’ (It’s Dave Holmes’ passion project podcast, trying to track down the musical group Waiting for Impact, who seems to have vanished from everywhere, including the internet.) But as the episode progresses you get the sense that Dave Holmes, who is a keystone to pop music in the 90s, is trying to get at something bigger. Waiting for Impact has disappeared, and much about the 90s has disappeared along with it. The cusp of pre- and post-internet is a rich time to explore, and Dave will be unlocking relics from the past using Waiting for Impact as the driving force. All this will help us understand the 90s better, and if we were there, it will help us better understand ourselves. And even if we weren’t, what culture has shaped our every day in undetectable ways? It’s both a show about the 90s and an investigation to how we got where we are today in pop culture.
🎙️Dig’s first season focused on the results of a yearlong look at how rape cases are investigated in Louisville, Kentucky. A bunch of new episodes just got dropped into my feed from season two, still rooted in Louisville (since the airing of season one, a place now known for the police killing of Breonna Taylor,) but this one is focusing on the relationship between the police department and the Black community there, beginning five years earlier, when Louisville was considered a model city for police reform. It opens with a Black business owner, David McAtee (also known as Yaya,) who owned a barbecue spot that was both his home and a place where Black members of the community and the police department could mingle in relative peace. (“The Eye of the Storm.”) When Yaya is shot and killed by the Louisville police, it blows up the city and exposes cracks in the system. How did Louisville go from relatively peaceful community for Black people to a city that seemed to be at war with its own citizens? The reporting in the first season was tight and, well, revealing. This season is the same. Dig is so good that these episodes effectively sent me to a very dark place.
🎙️On Criminal, Phoebe Judge tells the story about two famous friends, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, and the one issue that stood between them: can we speak to the dead? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer in the afterlife, while Houdini dedicated his life to battling spiritualism. But in the end, it seems part of him hoped there was an after life that engaged with the living. This story goes into the life and death (and non-existent after-life?) of Houdini, and his mission to stop people offering false hope to anyone who lost a loved one.
🎙️The new season of Endless Thread is so damn good—Amory Sivertson and Ben Brock Johnson are going deep into meme cultures, spending episodes covering our most influential memes. From Rickrolling to Scumbag Steve, they’re remembering some of these moments using interviews with the people behind them, and an explanation as to why these memes took hold. Amory and Ben recently published a piece with “Disaster Girl” and an interview with Gordon Hurd, a man who fled Cameroon for the UK more than two decades ago and found himself renaming himself Big Man Tyrone and offering scripted testimonials that made him the accidental leader of a fictional alt-right country called Kekistan. These stories are so weird and initially seem so niche, but end up telling a huge story that goes from internet to our larger culture. They feel like too much fun to be smart, but they’re valuable studies that teach us how we got to who we are now on the internet.
🎙️Reveal has started a series about Billey Joe Johnson Jr. (Mississippi Goddam) a high school football star who seemed to have everything going for him. Early one morning in 2008, the Black teen died during a traffic stop with a white deputy, who says that Billey Joe took his own life. It’s a painful, important conversation that goes through what exactly happened that fateful morning and that the people of Lucedale, Mississippi, and why they are so desperate for answers. I’m only two episodes in but am totally hooked—the journalism isn’t cutting any corners when it comes to searching for truth. At the end of episode one, Al Letson reminds us that this isn’t a crime story for us to gawk at, but that Billey Joe is a real person with real family who deserve to know what exactly happened to Billey, whether it is easy for them to hear or not.
🎙️CNN’s Clarissa Ward has launched Tug of War, a limited-series podcast that takes us along with Clarissa on her travels to some of the most volatile corners of the world. The first episode brings us to Afghanistan to meet women both quietly protesting (by working) and marching in the streets, and people who were desperately trying to leave. Hearing this pulse-pounding audio takes understanding the toppling of the Taliban to another level, and gives you the slightest idea what it would feel like to watch your freedom vanish all around you. This episode was dire, frantic, heavy, and intense. I think I fell in love with Clarissa Ward, just a little bit. Because it’s not just the story of the people of Kabul, it’s about the journalists, both foreign and not, risking their lives to bring these stories to us up close. And in Tug of War, they feel very close.
🎙️On June 8, 1953, five-year-old Martha Lillard contracted polio. And today, she is one of two people in the United States who still relies on an iron lung for survival. To have your life depend on something seen as an antique is a scary thing, and on Radio Diaries, Martha explains what it’s like to sleep in one and maintain one. This is a story so wonderfully edited you forget that anyone else is there—it feels like it’s just you with Martha, hanging on her every word. And it introduces so many questions about our health, technology, and the future of our medical devices.
🎙️On Working, June Thomas interviewed Rebecca Lavoie about her extensive work in podcasting. Rebecca has had her hands on all sorts of interesting projects and opens up about exactly how she gets it all done, offering instructive, helpful tips. This is worth a listen if you’re a Rebecca fan like me, and I think it’s a must-listen if you are someone who makes a podcast. Rebecca is host of one of my favorite shows, Crime Writers On…, which is my go-to show for true-crime TV, podcasts, and film. I rarely even turn on something true-crimeish without listening to it to hear her review. The banter with Rebecca’s co-hosts, her husband Kevin Flynn, Lara Bricker and Toby Ball, makes it really fun to listen to.
🎙️In Rebecca’s working episode she talked about …These Are Their Stories, her unsung show that reviews Law and Order’s Special Victims Unit or Criminal Intent, then talks about the real life "ripped from the headlines" case that inspired each episode. It’s a very playful show, Rebecca considers it a bit of a “junk drawer,” a place for her to experiment with fun segments and music. I just listened to a good one from SVU: Jennifer Love Hewitt Gets a Rape Kit.
🎙️On Everything Is Alive, Ian Chillag interviewed a bagpipe (Atsuko Okatsuka) for a conversation that’s quirky, but like so many of these interviews, it speaks to deeper questions about what it means to be human (or non-human.) It turns out a bagpipe has interesting things to say about funerals, their shape, and their own technical details. A tiny joke about bagpipes breaking can set you wondering about death for hours. This episode, as a bonus, has an interview with Bagpiper to the Sovereign, Pipe Major Scott Methven, about what it’s like to wake up the Queen every morning with a bagpipe tune.
🎙️How to Do the Pot takes a unique look at cannabis—it’s for women who are beginner pot smokers and growers, and for women who are cannabis-curious. It’s a mix of instructive (host Ellen Scanlon goes inside your brain to answer the questions you’ve been googling about edibles, essential strains, “good weed,” and cannabis for better sex) and wonderful storytelling. Something that has sprung up from Ellen’s show is this wonderful series where women take five or so minutes to talk about the first time they bought legal weed. These tiny episodes act as connectors between the listener and Ellen, letting Ellen step aside to share real-life stories that might seem more relatable to new weed smokers. Last week, she shared Skye Pillsbury’s story, and if you’re a fan of Skye this is a great gateway episode for you. (And if you’re not a Skye fan yet, listen to her award-winning episode of Heavyweight and then you will become one.)
🎙️I wrote about The Shining and the documentary about it, Room 237, last week, and I found a podcast episode about it for all of you who’d rather listen than watch the movie. Movie Geeks United has interviews with people featured in the doc plus more, offering eye-opening (and convincing!) theories about Kubrick helping stage the photos of the moon landing, The Shining as a metaphor for the holocaust and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, and all the tiny details that were Kubrick’s wink to the person paying very close attention to each frame. Completely omitted: Kubrick’s horrific treatment of Shelley Duvall, which makes me wonder if there are secrets that are still buried deep.
🎙️TED has connected with data journalist Mona Chalabi for a podcast called Am I Normal? to make stats understandable. By bringing forward the questions we ask in private (how long should it take to get over a break up? or how many friends should I actually have? or WHY are we so obsessed with women's fertility as they age and not men's?) and putting numbers to them, we’re all meant to leave feeling a little more normal. Or even wondering what normal really means. The friend episode gets into how many friends you should have, how long those friendship should last, and how long it might take for them to end. I especially loved the episode that dropped today about dentists and whether or not they are scamming you, something I have long been suspicious about. (They are, but it’s not really their fault.) So much interesting stuff about why dental care is not treated the same as medical care, even though our teeth are inside our bodies.
🎙️I love you!