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Today is Monday, March 27. There are 45 days until my next Disney cruise. In case this email is too long, a really good whydunnit here, delight in ripping on classic books here, Chelsey Weber-Smith tells us terrifying bedtime stories (sort of) here.
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Natalie and Kaitlin Prest
Kaitlin Prest's work in podcasting, performance and installation has been featured at audio festivals and conferences around the world. She is the founder and host of Radiotopia’s The Heart, where she explores intimacy through innovative approaches to sound and storytelling. Her latest series, Sisters, is made with her sister Natalie, a singer and artist who is a producer for The Heart. Follow Kaitlin on Instagram here, Natalie on Instagram here, and The Heart on Twitter and Instagram.
From what I know about you, you were broke and that's why you got into audio. Is that when you fell in love with audio or do you think audio found you? What is your relationship with it and why do you love it?
Kaitlin: It's true that I was broke and that I wanted to do theater or studio arts. I applied to do studio arts and I couldn't afford paint or canvas. I was just like, who has the money to buy this thing? What the hell is this? And radio just took hold of me. It just completely took over my heart, you know? It took over my whole life. Now it's been 14 years and I look back on that time and I realize that radio is the great love of my life. I chose radio over everything else.
Now when you think of an art project or something creative or beautiful, you want to make it audio. How long has it been the first place you go to?
Kaitlin: Whenever you see people who are in love and they've been in love since they met and they’re still together, and they're like 90 and you're like, man. What the hell is that? Some people just get lucky like that. I feel like I got lucky like that with radio. I have a vocation. It even got to the point where it was unhealthy, I'll say. It always came first. Radio is the love that will never leave me. I can hang out with it any time. And I did. I used to be a total party queen, a social extrovert person. And little by little I would see creative people spending the weekend working on their art. And then I became that person. I think of the creative constraint of audio in a romantic way. Anytime I've ever dipped my toe into the idea of putting something image-first out, I feel like I'm cheating on radio. To me, sound is the language of the soul.
Every time I go through an adaptation process, I'm always trying to push for sound to come first. I'm just like, there has to be a voiceover. And we have to figure out a way for sound to work in a way that is surprising.
I'm committed to trying to help everybody else fall in love with audio in the same way that I have fallen in love with it. And so, even in the early days, I tried to bring narrative recorded sound into performance spaces. I think it started with working so hard on an audio documentary. And back then when it was radio, you had worked for months on that thing, it played on the radio and it was gone forever.. And you're just like, oh my God, what just happened? I really wanted to bring this craft into the places that celebrate creative work. Like theater, film, or the art gallery.
You've been sort of podcasting since you were little.
Natalie: When Kaitlin was seven, we had these Scholastic book orders with the Animorphs. She had a little tape recorder. She'd press record on it and narrate the Animorphs. And whenever they had sound effects, she took one of those children’s books that have buttons on the side. You know, like the Disney ones? She took the Aladdin book, made the Tiger sound, and recorded it into the little tape recorder. And we have all these little tapes. She made so many of these. She was always recording stories.
You have that audio?
Kaitlin: Yeah, there's no sound design in it. I remember there was an explosion in one of the stories and I remember standing on top as high as I could get in my room on my desk. And I threw a chair down at the recorder, to make the sound of an explosion.
I played that tape for Brendan Baker from Melvin Radio and he was like, wow. Your read was more natural when you were little. You were just rolling off the tongue. It was one of those compliments that's half a compliment, half a diss. I was just like, thanks, babe.
In Sisters, how much behind-the-scenes work was there before you decided what you remembered? Were you disagreeing about that a lot? I feel like my biggest fights with my family are when we’re talking about how we remember things.
Kaitlin: Uh oh, okay. A little look of recognition. Originally for Sisters, I guess I had this idea early on that we would tell the whole story, five episodes of five different performances. The Jem Con episode was one of the ones that stayed like that. I wanted to set the story of our lives, these performance moments that are magical and fun to sound design. And everybody thought that episode wasn't gonna work, but I really was committed. I really wanted it to feel like a rom-com. And what do you do in a rom-com? You problematize something that is utterly trivial. I was just like, what's the conflict in this? And so we problematized what I thought was trivial but then it became obvious that it was not at all. We kind of unearthed this whole thing about the costume conflict. And things kind of came to the light. There was also a scene that we reenacted: the car fight. The weirdest thing is that we actually ended up finding the real recording of that. We found the clip and it was kind of intense because we had completely different memories of it. I remember her being mean to me and she remembers me being mean to her.
A lot of the things that you created have made me temporarily uncomfortable, and then it releases me. I can see how this whole thing would've just been a big therapy session. I don't have a sister, but I have people that I go there with. How did having each other change your relationship? I'm trying to figure out what I'm missing out on, not having a sister.
Kaitlin: I left home feeling like these people are not my people. I'm gonna create my own family. I will go home for mandatory events so I don't feel like a bad person. Cutting ties with your family wasn't really normalized at that time. I did kind of build my own family: my own sisters, my best female friendships. The thing about sisterhood that I discovered in my twenties when I started to really fall in love with Natalie as a best friend, was that it’s the history. It's that thing when you turn 40 and you realize how meaningful it is to have a history with people. When you see people around you that you still love that you knew when you were 20. Natalie has seen different versions of me. But to have that go back all the way to when you were born is really beautiful. I remember the first time when I really realized the meaning of that. We were just talking on the phone about indecisiveness. And I realized that we had the same illness around decision-making. No one has it exactly the way we have it. Being able to bond over that is really special.
I guess something that I've been thinking about, and something we've been asking that doesn't get talked about in the series at all, is whether or not it’s okay to be awful to your family. For many years I was like, I don't like the way we talk to each other. I don't like it when we get that way. We learned anger in our family and it's normal for us. But I don't want it to be normal. I want us to treat each other with kindness and patience and calmness and to move through conflict in a really mature and evolved way. I started thinking about how anger just has no place in our lives. Especially as women, we internalize all the things that we're supposed to be angry about. We direct the anger inwards. But there's no safe place to get angry in our lives. I saw anger as violence and as something I tried to fix. And I'd started to ask myself, is it a beautiful thing to have a relationship that is strong enough to hold anger as well? To have one place in your whole life where you're allowed to get angry and be a cunt?
Kaitlin: That's it. But more than honest. Mean. Mean and nasty and gross. And then expressing that anger, whether it's fair or not, and feel safe doing that. Not being afraid.
But there is beauty and goodness in anger. People that don't get angry are boring.
Kaitlin: I know. And repressed.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Did you know that the US military shot down three unidentified flying objects over a three-day stretch last month? As a podcast marketer, I’m impressed. This was clearly part of Payne Lindsey’s marketing campaign for his new show High Strange. It’s a big step up from his Up and Vanished Grandma’s Cowboy Cookie marketing campaign, which I also enjoyed. On High Strange, Payne is look at what UFOs really mean and their relevance in society today. Roswell illustrates how muddled UFO stories can get, how far they stray from truth and end up seeping into the worlds of conspiracy theories and science-fiction. We rarely get to talk about aliens through fresh eyes, but what if we really tried? On episode one, Payne brings us to a trailer in Snowflake, Arizona for an interview with Travis Walton, who witnessed something in the 70s that Payne cannot explain. “How long has it been?” Payne asks. “45 years and three months,” Travis says immediately. “I wish this has never happened. My family doesn’t see the real me.” Such a cryptic response. And now I have to wait for episode two to hear the whole story.
✨Sign up for my Podcast Marketing Radio Bootcamp class.
✨Thanks for all the birthday wishes. I don’t usually even tell people that it’s my birthday, but because Arielle is the most loving friend, many of you knew and reached out and it was a LOT but I had a very nice day. I could not get enough to the responses to this tweet:
✨Arielle also got my favorite podcast, The Daily Zeitgeist, to wish me a happy birthday (my name is in the episode title) and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.
✨Read 10 women in podcasting you need to hear from via Podcast Marketing Magic.
✨Arielle Nissenblatt spotlighted Intra Quest in her newsletter and podcast.
💁♀️ Kate’s Corner, week 3 🎧
Last week I had my friend Kate “the Podcast Hater” Later listen to You Didn’t See Nothin and Nerdette.
I listened to the trailer of You Didn’t See Nothin because it felt less daunting than an episode. When do people have time to listen to all these podcasts? I don’t think I’m doing it right…
I think I will like this one. Probably because it features my great love, Chicago. I tested out the first few minutes of episode one too, and I don’t hate it. We will see. Nerdette summaries look interesting. I was particularly curious about how often we should wash our towels (or how often they think bc I have my own correct answer), but I got annoyed before it came up. I think I’m the problem here.
As with all of these, content is amazing. I just don’t want them talking at me….Can I read it? Can they come to my house for dinner and tell me? Can they be on my TV? Am I just 100 years old?
Listen, I think she wants something constructive. How about How To!, Kate?
Reply to this email with your own recommendations for Kate. I’m starting to think she might need recommendations about what to do while listening? Maybe it’s not the show.
🎙️High Strange might keep you up all night worrying about alien abduction, but Sleeping with Celebrities is the opposite. It’s a podcast that pairs John Moe with celebs to talk about something they know a lot about. Nothing so interesting you’ll be gripped to the content, just interesting enough to calm your anxieties and make you feel calm, relaxed, and nurtured. I obviously listened to the Disney World episode with Justin McElroy that includes mundane details about tickets and lines. It ended up being a comfortable thing to hear as I was closing my eyes for a nap. It’s friendly and low-stakes, funny but not so funny you’ll be giggling yourself awake. It’s for people (like me) who are uncomfortable with silence and need something to turn on that doesn’t consume focus. Listen here.
🎙️Marlon and Jake Read Dead People is a podcast hosted by Man Booker Prize-winning and internationally bestselling author Marlon James and his editor, Jake Morrissey. It’s unlike any other book podcast. Marlon and Jake roast books that are so often lauded, but might be unworthy of the praise. As experts in the publishing industry and total book lovers, they have great takes about books we were supposed to love but don’t. By limiting themselves to books written by authors who have died, they stay in a safe space of not hurting anyone’s feeling. At the worst, they’re yucking your yum. (They say The Bridges of Madison County is “boring for stupid people,” which is either validating or offensive.) Through fun conversations, they really define what makes us love certain books, what makes the industry like certain books, and what makes readers like certain books. Those are three different things. It’s the kind of honesty we don’t always get. In 200 years, if our planet hasn’t burned to a crisp and today’s podcasters are all in podcast heaven, I hope we have a show that critiques podcasts with such honesty. Listen here.
🎙️I dare you to listen to the first two-and-a-half minutes of this episode of Kerning Cultures (A Past Life) and not finish the whole thing on pins and needles. (There is an incredible and unexpected payoff in the final thirty seconds, too.) A young girl gets a knock at the door at her home in Lebanon from someone who claimed that they knew her from a past life. Now, as an adult, she’s wondering who she is, and who she’s always been. Reincarnation in Lebanese Druze culture is seen as an undisputed fact and a basic part of life. Why? As with everything we get from Kerning Cultures, this piece is painstakingly beautiful, with tiny audio details that will make the story stick with you forever and into your next life, too. Listen here.
🎙️WBUR + The Marshall Project are collaborating for Violation, which begins with the story of Jacob Wideman, who was released from prison after serving more than 30 years for stabbing a fellow teen to death while traveling with their summer camp to the Grand Canyon. Wideman was released on parole in 2016, but was the reason he was rearrested (crossed messages with a psychologist he was supposed to see) adds to the mystery of this case. This isn’t a whodunnit it’s a whydunnit, a question that nobody not even Jacob, knows. This is also a look at our parole system, a system that put Wideman back in jail for, what some see as a trivial reason. (More why?s.) So we’ve got a senseless murder, a(nother) potential injustice in our criminal justice system, but if that doesn’t have you hooked, hang on: you might recognize Jake Wideman from The Coldest Case In Laramie. Jake falsely confesses to the crime at the center of that podcast in episode five. And literature fans will recognize the name John Edgar Wideman, Jake’s father, an acclaimed writer and Rhodes scholar. It was upsetting to see there was only one episode of Violation available at the time of this writing. I want more and I want it now. It’s got me. Listen here.
🎙️The final episode of the second season of I’m Not a Monster was so intense I think I was holding my breath for the first few minutes and felt exhausted when I realized I had only listened to the intro to the episode. This series was outstanding but this final episode has pushed the thing over the top, and it’s an interview Josh Baker had less than 24 hours before the episode was published. He (sneakily) talks to the girl who led Shamima to ISIS in the first place to get intel about Shamima’s ISIS involvement. It’s also a depressing look at the life of Shamima, a victim of trafficking who seems to be a shell of a person stripped of her citizenship, haunting a detention camp, aware of what she’s done, feeling totally alone. How much participation and responsibility she had in ISIS is still unknown, and whether or not she should be allowed back in the UK is contested. Josh gets some answers to the question that’s been plaguing us the whole way through the series—why did Shamima do this? Listen here.
🎙️Josh was a guest on Bad People to get even deeper into the argument of whether or not Shamima should be allowed to come home. Hosts Dr. Julia Shaw and comedian Sofie Hagen point out that people who definitely and without question have committed heinous crimes have been allowed to return to their countries. We still aren’t sure what Shamima did. Why can’t we put her in jail and let her keep her citizenship? Josh is not an activist, he’s a journalist trying to get us to the truth. But even if we have that, there’s still a lot of questions about how to best handle her case. Julia and Sophie ask Josh to tell a funny story and he tries, but ends up talking about how on his birthday he ends up almost dying and his producers have to eat his birthday cake without him, hosing him down in his underwear while he’s basically passed out on the floor, which is an image that belongs on some merch. Josh’s reporting buries almost anything I’ve ever heard on a podcast, and this anecdote illustrates that. Listen here.
🎙️If you enjoy Toby Ball on Crime Writers On…there is more of him where that came from! His podcast Strange Arrivals (key extraterrestrial encounters from history, and their impact on our world and culture) is back with a twist: this time looking at UFO researchers who developed theories to explain the phenomenon and the consequences those theories had for people who believed they had experienced the paranormal. The first episode takes us to Florence to examine unexplained phenomenon in Renaissance art to Papua New Guinea, where 38 people reported seeing a craft flying over the ocean. These stories were reported without preconceived theories based on science or religion. Much like Payne’s Snowflake Arizona story, it was told with fresh eyes. In episode two, 60 students at the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe reported seeing an unknown craft and strange creatures in their playground. Researchers rushed in to report on the story, but it also seemed like they were shaping it. Their recordings of the children's testimony is laughable and flawed. Children can be adorable but they are often wrong, especially when manipulated by adults on a mission. Examining these two stories that illustrate the ways we look at stories about aliens will help us do a better job doing it with fresh eyes. Start here.
🎙️Over on American Hysteria, Chelsey Weber-Smith is running a 3-parter on Chick Tracts. I know you know what these are (Jack Chick’s short evangelical gospel tracts in a comic book format) but I bet you don’t know Jack Chick’s story (it’s wilder than you could imagine) or how influential these things have been. More than a billion of them have been distributed all over the world, making Jack Chick the most widely read theologian and biggest indie comic in history. If Chelsey wasn’t such a beautiful writer and captivating narrator, these episodes would be hard to pull off. We can’t see these little horror movies in audio format, but the way Chelsey describes them is worthy of an award. It’s like Chelsey is tucking us in with nightmarish bedtime stories, filled with sin, debauchery, and people burning in hell. This series should be nominated for an award. Well-researched, blowing up an unknown cultural story, and absolutely wild. Start here.
🎙️Our Opinions Are Correct is releasing a series of monthly episodes about how Silicon Valley appropriates science fiction. I thought this would be a funny look about how they misinterpret and miss the nuance of sci-fi, but it was more dark, terrifying, and racist than fun, pointing out the dangerous outcomes of Silicon Valley’s zany thought experiments, their inability do tell the difference between AI and humans, a complete misunderstanding about what intelligence is, and the tendency to use this thinking to retroactively justify their products. Using texts like Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels and Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence, hosts Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders let us inside the thoughts of rich and stupid people at the top, and wow is it dark up there. Listen here.
🎙️In two parts, Rabia and Ellyn Solve the Case covered the story of Jan Broberg, who was (twice) abducted and sexually abused in the 70s by a family friend. Jan was the subject of the Netflix documentary series Abducted in Plain Sight and the new docuseries Friend of the Family. On an episode with Melissa Peterman, Rabia and Ellyn were pretty harsh about Jan’s parents, who seem (after watching the Netflix doc) guilty for child neglect by sending their daughter to the care of a pedophile. I think Jan heard the interview and wrote into Rabia and Ellyn, expressing her frustration with how her story is being told and how the original documentary misrepresented how her parents handled the situation. She came on for part two to straighten things out and defend her parents. Ellyn and Rabia admit that they were responding the story that we’ve been told by the media and are open to the idea that their judgment on Jan’s parents might have been unfair. True crime podcasts are always telling victim’s stories and those victims might be listening. They may have a lot to say. Jan’s story is wild but these Rabia and Ellyn episodes offer an interesting twist that forces us to question storytelling, the truth, media reporting, and how podcasts participate in that retelling. Listen to part one here and the episode with Jan here.
🎙️That Intimate Feeling is a genre-resistant show that takes on a new theme each episode, the latest theme explores possessions—cherished items loved and lost, the declining quality of goods mirroring the decline of relationships. It’s a gentle manifesto against artless minimalism and disposability; an ode to craftsmanship and frayed edges. The stunning sound makes you feel like you’re easing into a bath, it comes at you from all over and washes through you’re body, with whispers, echoes, music, and crystal-clear voice. I was so excited to discover it (h/t Kattie Laur)—the vibes are very The Heart. But I was confused to see that there were only three episodes released since 2020. Fortunately, it started airing regularly on CJRU in Toronto on March 2nd and I’m told there will be new episodes coming out each month. So more episodes headed your way soon. Listen here.
🎙️I always think I know everything about Disney, but I was hanging on every twist and turn of the Business Wars series on Disney-Pixar vs Dreamworks. It’s written so cinematically I find myself rooting for certain movies and IPs, against Jeffrey Katzenberg, and biting my nails away even though I know what happens in the end. It’s a catty, up and down story about streaming culture, animation, and the movies that I think will please everyone. Start here.
🎙️Re: Pixar, there’s a great story about it in the latest episode of Cautionary Tales, which is about work offices. There’s also an anecdote about a “little red wagon” that made me want to die, and comparisons about what makes office settings work and what makes them make everyone else want to die. It’s storytelling and surprising insight into what makes people hate or not-hate going into the office. “The road to office hell is paved with exactly the right color of good intentions.” If you like 99% Invisible, you’ll love it. Listen here.
🎙️It was so satisfying to hear Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri of If Books Could Kill roast Hillbilly Ellegy, JD Vance’s bullshit book lauded by the right and liberals everywhere during the rise of Donald Trump in 2016. This book received rave reviews by The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, and more. JD Vance was seen as some sort of red-neck whisperer, the guy who we looked to when we wanted to know how on earth we elected Trump as president. In the book, Vance paints himself as a country boy who fell into Yale and the higher echelons of society. But in reality, this book was a calculated move to position himself for a life of politics. In the book’s pages we learn that Vance isn’t into data (we can’t trust data about how much poor people work because poor people lie!) and he seems to want us to know he’s not racist. He hates all poor people equally. The things this guy got away with…referencing The Bell Curve and saying that people from his hometown hated Obama not because they were racist, but because Obama didn’t wear overalls to work...will leave you gobsmacked, looking back. (Which presidents did wear overalls to work?) Hillbilly Ellegy argues that poor people are poor because of their bad attitudes and allowed Appalachia to be a punching bag of American culture. But the interesting thing is trying to figure out how the media fell for Vance’s argument. The story of Hillbilly Elegy is a story about America during a troubling time. It’s popularity is a story about American fear and desire to answer complicated questions with simple solutions. Listen here.
🎙️In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, it’s no secret that AI is rapidly changing the way we create and consume content. And now, a new podcast series called Synthetic Stories is pushing the boundaries of AI even further by using cutting-edge technology to design and create every aspect of the show. From the script to the sound design and everything in between, Synthetic Stories is a truly groundbreaking podcast series that explores the potential of AI in creative fields by leveraging the latest advancements in machine learning and natural language processing, the show promises to deliver a truly unique and engaging listening experience. Listeners can expect to hear a range of different stories, from sci-fi thrillers to heartwarming dramas, all brought to life through the power of AI. With each episode featuring a unique storyline and cast of characters, Synthetic Stories promises to keep audiences engaged and entertained from start to finish. Don’t miss out on this groundbreaking new series – start listening today! This copy was AI generated.
📦 From the Archives 📦
[From December 5, 2019 ] The Realness is a fascinating look into the life of the rapper Prodigy, so if you love Mobb Deep's Shook Ones, this short series is for you. What makes the podcast extra important is its treatment of sickle cell anemia, how it's overlooked in the American health care and justice systems, and how it led to Prodigy's untimely death. The pain he felt while rapping. How it shaped who he was. I read in graphic detail about sickle cell in one of my favorite books, The Sport of Kings, and I still get nightmares...NIGHTMARES...thinking about it. Oh my god. Like right now. The descriptions of the excruciating pain in that book were...bone-chilling. I'm still talking about it, right now. Oh my god. GAH. Anyway. The Realness shines some light on this overlooked disease and the short life of a rapper we should all know more about.
Terry sent me.