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Today is Monday, November 20. In case this newsletter is too long…this made me smile like an idiot, this had me laughing at everything hours after I was done listening to it, and this will make you less anti-cannibal.
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Ronald Young Jr.
Ronald Young Jr. is a critically acclaimed audio producer, host, and storyteller, based in Alexandria, VA. He is an avid pop-culture enthusiast and the host of the television and film review podcast Leaving the Theater. He is also a regular contributor to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour as a guest panelist. He has hosted shows such as Pushkin’s Solvable and HBO Docs Club, from Pineapple Street Studios. Selected as Vulture Magazine podcaster to watch, 2023, his newest show Weight For It, tells the vulnerable stories of fat folks and folks everywhere who think about their weight constantly.
He is passionate about social justice and equity and recently helped to tell historical and present accounts of black folks throughout American history with his work on Seizing Freedom from VPM, and Black History Year from Pushblack.
Describe Weight For It in ten words or less.
Narrative show for folks who can’t stop thinking about weight.
How long was this show idea percolating in your brain?
When I was hosting Solvable back in 2021 we did a series on bodies and interviewed some folks talking about food addiction, fat fashion, and health at every size. Those episodes did better than the previous episodes of Solvable and I thought that there might be room to do a whole show talking about weight specifically. So it’s been a few years.
Did any shows serve as inspiration for Weight For It?
There are other shows that talk about weight, but they’re all interview shows. Like, Maintenance Phase of course, which does a great job of debunking health and diet myths. However This American Life did an episode called Tell Me I’m Fat which I thought was brilliant, and more of the type of storytelling I wanted to do about weight. Then Death Sex and Money did an episode entitled The Weight of Love, which dealt with fat folks trying to date and fall in love. From that episode I tracked down producer Sarah Dealy and hired her as my editor because I knew she’d have a great idea of what we were trying to accomplish on the show.
You’re bringing to light a lot of stuff that women think about a lot, men maybe not so much. Was it scary to do that? Are these conversations men are having in private or are you kind of blowing this open?
I think everyone thinks about their weight. Men and women alike. I think that the conversations we’re having depend on who is in the conversation. For men these conversations tend to be around a specific aesthetic value that we think women are looking for. Which is why Men’s Health is yelling at all of us to get rock hard abs and bulging biceps. I also think that the assumption is that because we see fat men in in sitcoms and on television with straight sized attractive women, that for men being fat is not as much of a factor for being attractive. I think that’s just media. A lot of those shows are just Hollywood magic and aspirational thinking from men writers. ( i won’t speculate much more on that) In my lived experience I haven’t seen that trope proliferate to real life. It wasn’t scary to bring my thoughts into the open because my assumption was that if I was thinking it, then I likely wasn’t alone.
You brought your recorder into your doctor’s visit…that was an explosive episode. How did your doctor react when you told him what you were doing? Has he listened to the show?
I didn’t tell him and I don’t know if he listened. Virginia is a one party consent state and that’s why I never use his name. I wasn’t doing it to embarrass him or ruin his practice but more to demonstrate what fat folks are dealing with when no one is around to hear. Based on the feedback for that episode I think we really showed a lot of folks how hard it is for a fat person to be heard, even when in some cases our lives depends on it.
What has making the show taught you about yourself?
I’ve learned that I’m still hashing out a lot of stuff in my mind about my weight. I know I’m not as settled into my body as I’d like to be or as much as I think I should be. It gives me a lot to pray about and seek therapy for. *nervous emoji*
Which was the episode most difficult for you to make?
Probably A Shame Spiral. This was an episode where I’m the villain. I mistreated someone because they were fat. Trying to walk the line of nuance in the episode was tricky and I appreciated having the editing insight of Sarah Dealy to guide me through and make sure I wasn’t either overly punishing to myself or not making Caitlin a full character in the story. It was hard balance to make but I think we pulled it off. It took a bunch of drafts.
Can you talk about how you got into audio and Time Well Spent?
I used to listen to podcasts while I worked on an IT support desk. I would listen to This American Life, Snap Judgement, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Ted Radio Hour, and Radiolab. That was really what planted the seeds of live storytelling and storytelling in general for me. I had interned in commercial radio when I had first got out of college, so I had the technical skills to make audio but when I started diving into storytelling I really wanted to make my own show and tell my own stories. So I started Time Well Spent kind of as a version of that storytelling from my perspective and personal experience. In a lot of ways Weight For It is Time Well Spent. The DNA from those early days of audio making were what led me here.
How did this show turn out differently than you thought it would?
There were a lot of parts of this process that I couldn’t have predicted. When pitching the show we had a lot of interest from folks, but nobody necessarily serious about providing a production budget. When I decided to just fund the whole thing myself, it ended up being a longer road, which ended up being a blessing for us. We were able to submit the show to Tribeca and get selected, which I never expected but was happy to get. We were able to get a marketing, ad sales and distribution deal with Radiotopia, which I also wasn’t expecting. So looking at the artwork now and seeing both of those bits of branding on the show was definitely not something I thought would happen when I set out to just get the show made and heard.
What was it like to reach out to your ex-girlfriend? What did it take to convince her to get on mic?
We were already in casual contact. What led to this being an episode was that we happened to be having a long catch up conversation and she mentioned a few things from years ago that made me ask if she’d talk to me for Weight For It. So it wasn’t much to convince her, she seemed ready to have those conversations with me, and was very generous with her time even though she didn’t necessarily have to be.
If you were going to start another podcast…don’t worry about the logistics or whether or not anyone would like it…oh! And your budget is $1M…what would it be?
Narrative interview show about people deep in their careers who still have a specific goal in mind they’re trying to reach but they haven’t quite gotten there yet. We’d talk about how far they’ve come and what they feel they have left to do.
Are there too many podcasts?
Yes. But there’s also too many songs, too many movies, too many books, and too many television shows. Having too much of something is not a reason to stop making it. But I do think there’s an argument for who gets to decide what we hear, and currently those decision makers aren’t doing a good or equitable job of getting quality audio in the ears of hungry listeners.
What’s a show you love that everyone already loves?
Hang Up from Caitlin Pierce! It’s a reality dating show but is also a podcast. I like it because it’s low stakes and as a person who watches a lot of reality dating shows, this one felt like they’re fans of the genre and took great care to make something good. Something that responds to the problems of reality dating shows, but was also lighthearted and fun. I really enjoyed it.
What’s a show you love that not enough people know about?
I don’t know if this counts, but I don’t hear enough people talk about Stuck with Damon Young. Damon is a writer and cultural commentator who founded Very Smart Brothas with Panama Jackson. His podcast is just conversations with writers and luminaries on the topics he feels Stuck on. It’s provoked some real thought in me while listening and as an overthinker it’s right up my alley.
Self-care ritual: Getting a haircut regularly.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
I was smiling like an idiot through every single second of Feedback, Cue6 Theater’s new audio drama about Akbar, a queer, brown aspiring drag queen who gets connected with Valerie, a white senior citizen, while he’s working his job as a phone company rep. Valerie is perfectly and accurately cringey and sweet and Akbar feels like someone I know. They’re both going through stuff—Akbar just hooked up with his ex and Valerie’s son seems to have been red-pilled. I’m in love with this phone call format, which places so much focus and importance on the words. It’s conversational and thinkey like My Dinner with Andre but also feels like a mystery (where is this going?) and a platonic rom-com between two mismatched strangers. I mean who knows, maybe they bang, I haven’t listened to all of it. Why oh why do I feel like specifically Devin Andrade will like this?
✨Read my piece in Lifehacker, 13 Podcasts for Your Holiday Road Trip.
✨On Feed the Queue, Andreea interviewed Amanda B. of 6 Degrees of Cats (and we share an episode!) Listen here.
✨In Podcast Marketing Magic, The indubitable importance of show notes here.
🎙️Search Engine is this great combination of feeling home-spun yet highly researched and well-produced. It seems like something PJ really wants to do. Recently he spent an episode answering a very good question from a four-year-old named Otto: why don’t we eat people? This is a question I would love to talk to Otto about. Not to brag but I have always felt a little less anti-cannibalism than everyone else. It cross-references two of my favorite subjects—the Donner Party and vegetarianism. (I haven’t eaten meat in 31 years, someone please explain to me the difference between eating human flesh and animal flesh.) Anyway, this is a highly researched episode packed with history, a mystery, and even a recipe! Plus, the adorable voice of a four-year-old who incorrectly uses the word “snowmans” for the plural of snowman. This is broadly an episode on taboo things, and the thing about taboo things is that generally we won’t even go there, we won’t even talk about them. Here, PJ does, and I think we discover that our repulsion to cannibalism is one of those things that makes less and less sense the more we think about it. Is eating human flesh the worst thing we could do, or the most intimate? That’s where the mystery part comes in—PJ finds a culture that finds beauty in eating our loved ones when they pass. I used to think I’d be 100% down for Justin eating my body after I died, I would have just loved that. The answer to the mystery presents a catch to that idea. But still, if this episode doesn’t make you slightly less anti-cannibalistic I’d be surprised. Listen here.
🎙️Artists on Artists on Artists (an improvised “Hollywood roundtable podcast”…every episode is like eavesdropping into a meeting of morning radio show hosts, hot dog vendors, etc.) welcomed the hard-working team that brings us the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the mic, for an inside look into what will befall us on November 23. Kylie Brakeman, Jeremy Culhane, Angela Giarratana, Patrick McDonald, and guest Kimia Behpoornia weave this absolutely psychotic world (it truly is improv comedy at its best!) of a factory farm-themed parade, Barbie / Robert Oppenheimer Rockettes, and a “skin flailing orgy float,” which conjures up an image I cannot get out of my mind. It put me up in such a giggly mood that when I was done listening I found myself laughing at everything everyone was saying in real life. Like, suddenly the entire world, my entire existence, seemed absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. I thought it’d be hard to make fun of something that’s already as ridiculous as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but AoAoA did it, and if what Stizz and the team say is right, that the parade is a reflection of ourselves, and I think they are, then yikes. Listen here.
🎙️I saw MallWalk posted in Reddit, with the comment (something like) “I’m not sure this is real or not.” I am sure it is not real (description reads…emphasis mine: “On November 11th 2004, 14-year-old Conrad Cliff jackhammered into the water main at The Royal Galleria near Belmont, California. Twenty-three people drowned. Three people were electrocuted in the arcade. Two people were fatally bitten by a hammerhead shark that escaped from the mall's aquarium.”) But bless this naive Redditor for putting this strange show on my radar, I feel like I’ve stumbled upon some weird secret. The show is a mockumentary style investigation into finding Conrad, who has never been found. The guy with him has been tight-lipped for 18 years and is finally ending his silence. I love the weirdness, the production is so well done that I guess I can see why you’d think it’s real. I originally though the Redditor was talking about Mallwalkin’, another show I love. I guess I just love all mall podcasts. (Also dearly miss Mall Talk.) Listen to MallWalk here.
🎙️You would think the Grinch would be swamped this time of year, but he has made time for a podcast, ’Tis the Grinch Holiday Show, where he rants against Christmas and belittles his guests for liking it. He’s pretty funny, sarcastic and charming—one may even use the word “charismatic” to describe him. He’s nicer than I thought he’d be. With his court ordered kid producer Cindy Lou Who (child labor laws don’t seem to apply in Whoville) he asks guest Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson East what her favorite bunion or callus was, and nearly breaks down into tears when Bob Odenkirk invites him to Thanksgiving dinner. (“I don’t know if you know this about me but I have this tiny heart and when it grows it goes crazy.”) I’m a sucker for Christmas stuff, the only thing that could make this show better would be if the Grinch would take a stint as a mall Santa Claus. Listen here.
🎙️Coasters is a “miniseries about community and the small stories that define us,” from Sophie Woodrooffe, an award-winning journalist and associate producer for CBC Radio. It’s super local to B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, which I appreciate (it’s what Erica Heilman is doing for her corner in Vermont) and while it’s technically fantastic and skillfully made (I’ve said this about other audio projects I love) it breaks the rules of podcasting because Sophie understands what those rules are. She often interrupts interviews to add her own thoughts, and episodes sound like nothing else you’ve heard. The subjects are niche and weird and fascinating—the community’s relationship with The Beachcombers, free little libraries and their role in the non-profit industrial complex, and a story about the marbled murrelet. Coasters is an ode to the small-town stories that feel big, and illustrate how local stories are compelling for the whole world. More stuff like this, please. Listen here.
🎙️I cannot believe how much I enjoyed the episode of The Comment Section with Drew Afualo that I heard. (I don’t listen to a lot of interviews.) Drew and her guests explore the comment sections of their tagged videos on TikTok, warts and all. It is a launching pad into conversations about media and what it’s like to be a content creator. Drew is just plain hilarious. The episode I listened to was with Matt Bellassai, and it was a joyous reminder of the Matt I loved from his podcast (that I miss so much) Unhappy Hour. The conversation was casual but the jokes were coming fast. Listen here.
🎙️Secret Histories of Nerd Mysteries is now part of Maximum Fun, and back with more episodes and a new format. Friends Austin and Brenda do deep dives into the questions you’ve been losing sleep over—why Bratz dolls disappeared, why people hate Barney, and something for the amusement park fans out there like me, the influence of Sally Corp, the people who went from making Chuck E. Cheese animatronic copycats to elements of theme parks all over the world. Austin and Brenda are cracking cultural mysteries I didn’t know needed solving, but the second I hear about them I become convinced I do. Listen here.
🎙️As After Lives points out, in the trailer I think, if you’re trans, being sent to Rikers is basically a death sentence. And if you start to work backwards, it gets really scary. How did you get to Rikers? What was your bond and why were you served one? Why couldn’t you pay the bond? Why were you arrested? Why were you doing whatever it was you were doing? Who are you? Who were you? Who loved you? You start to realize that if you are trans, the death sentence could start the day you are born, it’s like you’re fated to go to Rikers and be thrown in solitary confinement and abandoned to die of a seizure, or some version of that. That is what happened to Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman who died in Rikers’ solitary confinement in 2019 after staff failed to provide her with medical care that could have saved her life. After Lives is a tribute to Layleen, hosted by Raquel Willis, starting with both the family she grew up with and the family she chose in New York City’s ballroom scene up to how this happened, and all the stuff between. Listen today on Trans Day of Remembrance (11/20.)
🎙️Jessa Crispin is back on the radio! I was a huge fan of her first podcast, Public Intellectual, which was a really smart and bullshit free place to hear Jessa’s thoughts on culture. Jessa would say things that would raise my eyebrows, not because they were nuts or wrong, but just because she says things other people might be afraid to say, she’s smart enough to back it all up, and she knows how to pull things together to make interesting observations about the world. Her new show is The Culture We Deserve (an extension of the newsletter) and on the first episode she explores the changing role of the critic in a world where algorithms and technology have changed how we discover and create things. She ties this to her own distaste for Mahler, an Austrian composer and conductor particularly renowned for his symphonies, which often include elements of folk music, literature, and philosophy. It’s something that interests her, it’s a signal that our current system for criticism is failing. Like Public Intellectual, The Culture We Deserve made me think about things I’ve never considered before. Listen here.
🎙️Anyone reading this newsletter is dorky enough to be obsessed with this episode of On the Media about podcasting’s first boom and bust. It’s a quick history of podcasting, an explainer of how Spotify shaped the entire industry with nothing more than an enormous misunderstanding of audio, and some projections into the future, with a shockingly optimistic view from Nick Quah. There’s also a bit with Anna Sale about the birth of Death, Sex & Money, and what the future might look like there. Anna gets emotional. It’s a really smart piece I listened to several times, and it’s completely the opposite of this frustrating episode of Sounds Like a Cult about podcasts, which seems to be made for people who don’t know much about podcasts. Only listen if you want to roll your eyes. Listen to On the Media here.
🎙️I love you!
📦 From the Archives 📦
[From June 1, 2020] I was sent an episode of VENT Documentaries, When Life Gives You Pain Make Champagne, but didn’t read anything about it, I just listened. And listening without knowing anything was a really interesting experience that I recommend. Maybe go listen now, before you finish the rest of this paragraph! As it turns out, for each episode of VENT, a young Londonite gets the mic to talk about whatever, and this episode is about Drill music, something that’s blamed for causing violence on the street. But Khalid Dovie, 15, of Brent, doesn’t think the critics are giving Drill music a fair shake. He talks to Drill’s biggest artists and producers to find out what Drill is really about. It’s a beautiful piece about something new to me. The episode is beautiful and feels like a careful, surprise gift that surprised me in the best way.
From the Desk of Tink
Today we’re talking to Tink clients Stephanie Marudas & Emily Previti, hosts of Obscured.
Describe the show in ten words or less: Underreported, complex issues missed by the daily news cycle.
Who is it for and what do you hope listeners take away from your podcast? The show is for listeners who seek in-depth coverage/long-form journalism and thoughtful perspectives about public policy outside the daily news cycle. We hope listeners will come away from Obscured having learned something they might not have known before about issues that get little to no attention in the media. Our goal is to cover critical issues that are complex, overshadowed and unfold largely out of the public eye; reveal the impact at stake, relevant history and who’s accountable while cultivating listeners’ understanding and exploring potential solutions. And to do so in the formats that best serve listeners. To that end, the show combines episode formats: in-depth limited series as well as enlightening conversations featuring policy professionals, researchers, and journalists.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your reporting? Some states still don’t have laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated (forcing them to sue); in Pennsylvania, it’s been on the table for at least 20 years with basically no action and one former state attorney general publicly opposed it, calling it a “solution in search of a problem” (this said in 2005, well after the majority of states were taking action amid universal recognition of this problem). And even in some of the states that do have those laws, people are barred from pursuing compensation if they’d pleaded guilty, confessed etc., even if it’s been shown they were coerced or manipulated into doing so.
Can you share a memorable moment or breakthrough from the production of From Words to Weapons? There are many, but this sticks out: hearing from a longtime attorney that he’d never met or even talked to a client (unprecedented for him) whose case ended up getting a lot of attention (national media coverage, etc.). We did end up finding Jimmy Warren (the client) and he’s the focus of our first episode.
Would love to be a guest on…The Pulse, Snap Judgment, Today, Explained, Criminal, An Arm and a Leg
Dream partnership: Teaming up with a production house, media outlet or organization that shares our love for combining reported narrative episodes and conversational Q & A style episodes to cover critical issues that are complex, overshadowed and unfold largely out of the public eye.
Favorite podcasts that have inspired you: Grapple, Suave, Running from COPS, Sold a Story, Hidden Brain, Sent Away, You Didn’t See Nothin, The Breakdown with Shaun King, Fresh Air, 1A.
The inaugural series is about survivors of law enforcement trauma. What can listeners expect from these intimate stories? From Words to Weapons focuses on survivors of law enforcement trauma and related challenges, solutions, hope and resilience. The series begins on October 18th, and revisits the story of Jimmy Warren, who was the subject of a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case that ruled a Black man who runs from police shouldn't necessarily be considered suspicious. Despite the fact that Jimmy’s case made headlines, no journalist has ever spoken directly with him before now. The series will also feature perspectives from law enforcement, trauma survivors, formerly incarcerated individuals, healthcare providers, attorneys, policy professionals, advocates, journalists and researchers about the path forward and navigating obstacles along the way.
Podcast The Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.