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🇰🇷 K-Pop 👩🎤 the teddy bear challenge 🧸 a resurrected author ⚰️ silk press 💇🏾♂️hazing 🏈
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Today is Monday, February 27. There are 73 days until my next Disney cruise. In case this email is too long, K-Pop meets coming of age here, something to listen to if you love Bot Love (and who doesn’t?) here, I felt manipulated by this but listened to it twice, anyway.
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👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
How do you describe City of the Rails to people?
On the day of her high school graduation, my daughter skipped town and disappeared into the rails. As a reporter by trade, I followed every lead. I befriended hobos, rail cops and workers to learn more about where Ruby was and how I could entice her home. This is her story, my story and stories from the remarkable characters found in the City of the Rails.
Now describe it in 10 words or less.
Helluva story about a mom searching for her train-hopping daughter
When did you realize this was a story, and when did you start telling it?
The story took root when I realized that Ruby had not run away from home. She wasn’t mad at me. Instead, she was running towards something – a place that has its own sense of values and justice. And then I realized, there was a lot more about Ruby I needed to know and the answers were somewhere in this 100 feet wide and 140,000 miles long City of the Rails.
So, I explored the characters, the sounds, the history, the smells, and realized it was too big for a book. Podcasting intrigued me. The incredible intimacy of speaking directly into a person’s ear was a responsibility I could not take lightly. I needed to share the story, the characters I met, the sounds I heard and the lessons I learned.
Fill in the blank: You will like City of the Rails if you like _____.
Hell On Wheels (television series) Woody Guthrie, O! Brother Where Art Thou?
What does Ruby say about the podcast?
She asked that I only tell the truth, even when it was hard to be that open and vulnerable. As I say in Episode 1, Ruby was always cool like that.
Did you have a hard time getting people on the mic?
I had a very hard time getting hobos and railroad people to talk to me. This is a closed world and mostly people like it that way. Persistence pays off, plus word of mouth. If I got someone to talk to me, at the end of the interview I’d always ask: Who else should I talk to? That really helped.
What do these hobos have in common?
Hobos are free spirits. They don’t want to be tied down by possessions and obligations. They choose to live a life with very little money so that they can be free. In the small world of travelers, reputation is everything and they hold each other to a code of honor. Also, they are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Many of them have had a rough time in the conventional world, so they are incredibly loyal to each other. It’s what helps them survive.
Were you in any scary or uncomfortable situations when you were reporting?
I made a fool of myself trying to hop a train, which you can hear in episode four. I walked down some dangerous streets and into a lot of abandoned houses to interview people in episode 9. A lot of the people I’ve interviewed might look scary to people who’ve never explored this world, but it didn’t take many interviews for me to recognize that someone with a rough exterior usually wasn’t frightening at all.
How did this project change you as a mom?
In the course of working on this, I had to open up idea of motherhood. I had a plan for Ruby when she was graduating from high school, a very conventional one about her going off to college and making her way from there. When she disappeared into the train yard, I realized her idea of her future was a lot different. Instead of seeing how she didn’t do what I wanted her to do, I had to recognize she was an adult making her own choices. In some sense, I had to get to know her again. In doing so, I needed to understand why she was making those choices. This was a lot of work, considering how much danger she was embracing.
What did you learn about Ruby making City of the Rails?
Ruby and I come from a long line of badass women. Ruby, though, was the baddest of us all with this train hopping thing. I respect her and I am still amazed at her bravery. As everyone will tell you, Ruby is always the coolest person in the room.
What did you learn about reporting making City of the Rails?
In the train yard my fancy journalism credentials didn’t do me any good. People were less likely to talk to me if they heard I’d worked for The New York Times. Word of mouth was everything, so I had to be honest, decent, and candid, no hidden agendas, in order to get people to open up to me. Not being able to rely on the reputation of my employer, and needing to rely on my own, was refreshing.
Did any other podcasts serve as inspiration for City of the Rails?
I enjoyed the candor about family life that was so much a part of Stay Away From Matthew MaGill.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you want to say?
Going from a book author to a podcaster challenged me. The lesson I will carry forward is that in our DNA we are wired to be storytellers. If you have a good story, people will listen. It’s in our genes.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
K-Pop Dreaming technically traces the origins of K-pop from its origins to its global popularity today, but more specifically it’s about the host, Vivian Yoon, who finally is able to fangirl over a kind of music she been secretly loving for years. Growing up she didn’t feel safe expressing her obsession with it. But now, loving K-Pop is more widely accepted and Vivian is free. So this is a history made from Vivian’s pent up joy for the art and her grappling with her own identity. It’s tricking us into a lesson in K-Pop with a coming of age story that will make us think about the own joys we harbored when we were younger, and the freedom to embrace those things as grown ass adults.
✨At least 18 podcast marketing tips from Jordan Harbinger via Podcast Marketing Magic.
THE SECTION WHERE I TALK ABOUT ON AIR FEST
👏At the Normal Gossip event at On Air Fest, Kelsey McKinney and Alex Sujong Laughlin explained exactly what goes into making an episode, from what they’re looking for to how they build the elements in the story that make it feel so much a choose-your-own adventure, and something ripe for arguments. The difference between this show and The Juice is that The Juice features gossip that feels more like a secret. Stuff like “my neighbor Daphne’s son is actually her trainer’s son.” Stuff that might make you go daaaamn but lacks the kind of detailed story that will put your ethics and decision making to the test. At the event they shared secrets from the audience and announced one of their own—that they’re joining Radiotopia. Yesterday, they released an episode that goes into great detail about the decision behind that, what it took to make the move, and how it will change what they’re already doing. They are super transparent and I think it’s a valuable episode if you’re a podcaster. Listen here.
👏We are in the midst of The Heart’s Sisters season. And because The Heart isn’t like the other girls, I am telling everyone they need to drop what they are doing, throw distractions out the window, tell your family to shut the fuck up, tie yourself to the bedpost, and listen in darkness. I listen to podcasts while doing other things. I do not listen to The Heart while doing other things. Episode two, Jem-isode, takes us along with Kaitlin and Natalie to the Jem and Holograms Convention. Through actual and imagined recordings of what happened, we sit in on a sister argument about a costume that’s so tiny and huge and human that it’s impossible not to relate to it. I got to meet Katilin and Natalie at On Air Fest and was in awe. When I talk to audio people we talk about other podcasts, and I usually give a recommendation. (I am wired to do this, it’s annoying.) I could not give Kaitlin Prest a recommendation. This was a first! How do you recommend a show to the person who invented a genre that nobody else is doing? The Heart is irreplicable art that Kaitlin makes maybe because nobody else is. What would you recommend to her? Listen here.
👏I got to sit in on a live taping of Grown from The Moth, a show that shares stories of that awkward time between childhood and adulthood. David Lepelstat, who was featured in the first episode of Grown, was there to tell a story about teaching. With his energy and words, he had the complete attention of everyone in the packed room. Oh, the latest episode of Grown has a beautiful story from Alistair Bane, whose story about moving to New York as a young man in the 80s was cinematic. Listen to that here.
👏Also at On Air Fest, I attended a live recording of Mobituaries, with Mo Rocca and Connor Ratliff (Dead Eyes.) Mo and Connor were magical together, and Connor’s ability to punch up Mo’s jokes and make them eeeeven funnier was killing me. I was texting Arielle his funny one-liners throughout. Arielle and I were laughing so hard I thought we were going to get kicked out of the room. Listen to Mobituaries here. Dead Eyes here.
🎙️Love Items is a daily podcast from Ochenta (it’s available in French, Italian, and Spanish) about Cloe, an AI researcher, and Eloc, her artificial intelligence assistant that is able to analyze the love in objects. Cloe steals objects from the guys she dates in order to find the right one. It’s a twist on the whole bot-love genre that we’re obsessed with right now. It feels fresh and fun and addictive. Listen here.
🎙️[SPOILERS INCLUDED] For The Coldest Case in Laramie from Serial Productions, Kim Barker is revisiting her hometown of Laramie, which she does not have fuzzy feelings about (she says her time there was worse than when she reported from Islamabad) to investigate a case that has completely gone cold—the murder of Shelli Wiley, who in 1985, was stabbed, dragged into her apartment which was then set on fire. Two people were arrested at one point, but the charges were dropped and important records have been completely expunged. At the beginning, we’re led to believe the killer is Fred Lamb, a former PD who at one point, in a lengthy interrogation with one detective Robert Terry, kind of admits to killing Shelli, but says he doesn’t remember doing it. The conversation we hear is so much longer than what we are used to hearing on podcasts, but by letting us get almost bored by the repetition of Lamb’s initial defiance, we get to see Lamb’s argument go from “I don’t kill people” to “you’re a good cop, maybe I did do it” and it’s really something to observe. Especially when you find out that this was a seven-hour long interrogation with a 70-year-old, diabetic man who had not eaten. But a closer look at that interrogation tape (I bet you’ll listen to it twice) and Fred Lamb’s full story, a reframing of the facts, we see we’ve been manipulated by Kim’s narration. We don’t know it was Fred Lamb. There isn’t anything close to a smoking gun, or enough to have a real case against Fred. Nobody really remembers anything at all or correctly. The case seems straight-forward, as true-crime stories go, but in The Coldest Case in Laramie, nothing is solved. Nothing new happens. But I did listen twice, the second time to try to figure out how the manipulation evolves and where exactly I was tricked. How I could have been so wrong to be so convinced it was Fred. This isn’t a true-crime story, it’s a story about truth, memory, and how we digest the stories we are being told, and the ways these stories are told. I’m not sure this was what Kim Baker intended to do, but she created a piece that challenges the way you listen to true crime. When people ask me if I liked this show I say, “well I listened to it twice.” Listen here.
🎙️On City of Tents, Anna Scott is bringing listeners inside Veterans Row, a big tent city built by homeless military veterans that lies inside one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. To the neighborhood it’s an eyesore, to the people who live there it’s a refuge, and it’s become a battlefield for everyone, a huge physical representation for our inability to solve the homeless crisis. Anna gives voice to the people who built it to sustain the camp, tracking how they got there and why they won’t back down. Anna is telling the story of a human crisis that’s become political by bringing us up close to the people at the center of it. Listen here.
🎙️On All the Wiser, Kimi Culp has a conversation with Anthony Brown, someone who went through the system of abuse, addiction, housing and incarceration in cycles until he broke free when one day, mid-cycle, a cop actually asked Anthony if he wanted some help. Today he’s a registered nurse, an author, speaker and founder of Brown Manor, a safe place where those in need can restore their lives. The part of Anthony’s story that made my jaw drop was hearing him talk about prison being the most comfortable part of his cycle, a reprieve. It’s a human look at homelessness and incarceration that illustrates just how unlikely but possible it is to break out. Listen here.
🎙️Somewhere in Vermont…Sheila LaPoint posted on a forum seeking someone who could turn her grandmother’s fur coat into a teddy bear for not a lot of money. On Rumble Strip, Erica Heilman uses this to craft a story about neighbors, seasonal depression, and a teddy bear. She visits her friend Clare Dolan, the maker of the Museum of Everyday Life, which celebrates the many critical and underappreciated objects we use in our daily lives, as Clare accepts the teddy bear challenge. Erica uses the teddy bear to tell a story about two people spending cozy time together in the frigid cold, and giving a beloved object new life. I felt the cold and the warmth. Erica brings you right to the human of her storytelling. Listen here.
🎙️Were you hazed in high school? I went to a boarding school that was built on rich traditions (Saturday school, a mandatory three sports a year, applauding when a freshman dropped a tray of heavy plates during the daily sit-down, family-style lunches.) One of the rituals dictated that every freshman had to be thrown into a disgusting pond on campus in the first weeks school by a Senior. We creatively called this “ponding” or “getting ponded.” It was expected and not that bad, and it was totally allowed and mandated by the school. The kind of hazing that is happening in high schools now makes that looks like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Kids are getting physically attacked, mobbed by groups of fifteen other people. And the damage and trauma it does to the hazing recipeients is long-lasting. Roughhousing is an exploration of hazing in high school sports. Episode one takes place in Mobile, Alabama, where a freshman who had a promising football career ahead of him, was brutalized in a locker room initiation that physically set him back, but also shattered his dreams and ended his love with the sport. Listen here.
🎙️The Daily Rally is a new non-news news podcast from Outside that helps people get through whatever lies ahead in their day via un-pep pep talks. What that means: mini stories of resilience that strive to transfer power to you, every day, without beating you over the head with “crush your day” hacks. There isn’t a host for this show, the stories are coming straight from the storytellers. It’s kind of tricking you into feeling that nothing is surmountable, even when it feels that way. If you ever roll out of bed feeling weighted down by what you have to do, or you have just listened to an episode of The Dailiy that has you dreading the future, turn on The Daily Rally, which is the opposite of the doom and gloom the news is bound to deliver to your podcast feed every day. Listen here.
🎙️Publishing scandals delight me (one reason I loved Missing Pages) so when I heard about Susan Meachen, an independent romance novelist who faked her death in 2020, miraculously resurrecting in 2022, excitement took over my body. The very first thing I thought was, “I want to hear this story in depth, and I want Laci Mosely to be the one to tell it to me.” On an episode of Scam Goddess, Paula Poundstone was on Scam Goddess to cover the case and Paula’s own brush with scam, which involved Paula being attacked at a Dunkin’ Donuts for catching a woman trying to steal from the cashier. It’s the best celebrity scam story I’ve heard on the show. Paula Poundstone is a delight. This story is wild. And delivered by Laci, it’s one of the most entertaining things that has entered my ears as of late. Laci has the life force of 1,000 comedians, her way with words will have you doubled over with laughter. Listen here.
🎙️The highly-anticipated season two of Bear Brook is here, this time focusing on Jason Carroll, who is serving life in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, despite the fact that he confessed on tape. Other than that taped confession, there’s no evidence that Jason is guilty, but there’s a lot of evidence he didn’t. There’s an odd detail that adds a layer to this story—Jason’s mother is one of the cops that can be heard interrogating Jason. The sound is crystal clear, and the narration feels different. It’s not only a true-crime story, it’s an exploration into true-crime storytelling, asking us to question what versions of truth we are getting, and how sure we can be of anything we see or hear. Listen here.
🎙️THE MLK Tapes came out last year, but I have been relistening this month and think I’ll make it an annual tradition. It’s so explosive and detailed there was so much I had missed or forgotten. It’s the story of King’s assassination but really of James Earl Ray, who died in jail for shooting Martin Luther King Jr. The details tell us that he wasn’t the mastermind he was painted to be, and that the government had unusual involvement in the assassination. But how, and why? It’s one of those stories that feels too hot to handle, like one of the biggest American lies we’ve been told. William Klaber puts pieces together that will flip you feelings on MLK’s assassination upside down. Listen here.
🎙️The thing that inspired me to revisit The MLK Tapes again was an episode of Ellyn and Rabia Solve the Case that featured Marcia Chatelain, who used to be on The Waves. I love how Ellyn and Rabia present these stories, distilling complicated cases into explanations that almost always clear out the fogginess that you get when you’ve only picked up details from main stream media. Marcia is brilliant and this episode will give you the background you need to be fully educated on the untold story of King’s assassination, in case you don’t feel like dedicating almost 5,000 minutes of listening time to The MLK Tapes. This month Rabia and Ellyn also dropped an episode about the assassination of Malcolm X, with the help of guest Maz Jobrani. Did you know that the two men convicted of killing Malcolm X were quietly exonerated a little more than a year ago, and given $36M? It’s fishy that this news wasn’t everywhere. But this whole thing is fishy. Listen to two stories about the government’s involvement in systematic murder. The MLK one here, the Malcolm X one here.
🎙️On Strong Sense of Place, Melissa and Dave bring you on a globetrotting tour of the world, highlighting the food and culture of cities they visit and dream about. The show makes you want to eat everything, go everywhere, and read everything. It’s all about making you feel like you’ve been somewhere you haven’t. In their Spain episode, they make you feel like you’re in the La Sagrada Familia, downing chicken paella, tapas, and Vermouth, and they tie it all to a hefty stack of book recommendations. One of the books is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which, like Strong Sense of Place, is a portal into Spain. Nothing makes me want to a) book a flight to somewhere on the other side of the world and b) spend $4,000 a week at The Strand. Melissa and Dave, my bank account hates you. Listen here.
🎙️I love you!
From the Archives
[From October 31, 2019] Comedian Chris Garcia's father has passed, and now he is unraveling his father's story, Nancy Drew-style, via Scattered. Chris's dad had a dying wish—that his family scatter his ashes off the coast of Cuba. Chris's mom doesn't ever want to go back to Cuba again. With Scattered, Chris is retracing his father's life, unearthing disturbing details about what the man endured in Cuba under Fidel Castro. It's a very personal mystery. This show lets Chris's talent as a storyteller shine.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Madison Richards, a marketing and audience development manager at The Podglomerate. She lives in Jersey City, NJ.
The app you use to listen: Spotify. I can’t seem to abandon all the Spotify playlists that I created years ago, so it’s easiest for me to listen to my podcasts within the same app.
What speed do you listen to podcasts? Regular speed, unless I’m listening to an episode that is over an hour. In that case, I’m all about working smarter, not harder!
How do you discover new shows? Like most folks, I learn about new podcasts from word-of-recommendations and cross-promos on some of my favorite shows. Also, whenever I start working with a new client, their podcast is of course added to my queue!
One show you love that everybody loves. Normal Gossip (duh!). The show’s low-stakes approach to gossip is the perfect mix of scandal and thoughtfulness.
One show you love that not enough people know about. Messy Situations. If you’re a fan of Normal Gossip, you’ll love Messy Situations. While Messy Situations might be a bit more unfiltered, the podcast is all about embracing the messiness of our lives. And, I’m here for that!
Hot take: Episode descriptions should be longer than a sentence. They should provide a brief outline of the episode, including any guest names, links to those guests’ podcasts, companies, etc. It would create a better experience for the listener (not to mention increase your show’s SEO!).
Self-care tip: Clean your AirPods. Admittingly, I don’t do this enough, so hopefully this tip serves as a reminder for someone else, too!