🍰 The incident of cake and the Dalai Lama 👶 a podcast for babies 🍑 bouncing butts 🎶 stinky songs 🎸 F9 x9 🚗 mystery box 📦
🍭 👂 TRUST ME! 🌈 🤸♀️
Today is Monday, January 9. In case this email is too long, here’s a weird Dalai Lama story that has to do with cake, listen to this before it disappears forever, and here’s the best podcast for babies. (It’s never too early to get them started.)
ps If you are pleased with Podcast The Newsletter, please spread the word.
👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Gilbert King is the writer, producer, and host of Bone Valley, a 9-part narrative podcast about murder and injustice in 1980s central Florida, from Lava For Good and iHeartPodcasts. He is the author of three books, most recently, Beneath a Ruthless Sun. His previous book, Devil in the Grove was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2013.. Follow him on Twitter here.
For Bone Valley, why were you able to discover new things in this case that had been overlooked before?
I think because the State of Florida wasn’t really interested in investigating Jeremy Scott, or a search for truth. When Jeremy is questioned by investigators from the State, he’s actually feeling them out about another murder he committed–the 1987 killing of a taxicab driver in Osceola County. He wants to see what they know about it, or if he’s going to be charged. So he actually brings it up in a vague way, but the investigators laugh him off and steer him back to Michelle Schofield’s murder. To me, those were breadcrumbs–little clues Jeremy was leaving behind about his violent past. So we were able to follow those leads and they paid off. The State of Florida was more interested in protecting their conviction of Leo Schofield, rather than looking into other murders that Jeremy Scott was responsible for, so we were able to investigate people and places they never looked into.
What was it like when you got the confession?
We had put so much into our investigation of Jeremy Scott that we were already convinced he was responsible for killing taxicab driver Joseph Lavair. We had a lot of evidence. He had even hinted about it in letters he’d written to me. But to be sitting in the room with him, watching his body shift in the chair as he walked us through how he shot the taxi driver, then stole the cab and crashed it into a power pole–that was a surreal moment. We knew, as he began describing all the details, that there was no way he was lying about this, or that he had gotten this information from another source. Jeremy did this, and it was very clear to us that he felt tortured by his past. He was confessing because he wanted to come clean. And when he finally told us the story of how he killed Michelle Schofield, you could see and hear his torment as he confessed to us. He was processing memories, and saying things out loud that he’s probably never said to anyone before.
How was the final podcast different than what you imagined it would be?
We had a very detailed outline of how we wanted the series to be structured. In truth, we had an overabundance of material and tape–easily enough to do a podcast series on both Leo and Jeremy’s stories. I had been playing around with the idea of doing a parallel narrative on both these men, the way I might have done if I was writing a book. But it just didn’t work in audio, so we had to pivot away from that idea and basically introduce Jeremy Scott halfway through the series. We also didn’t know how the series would end. We were hoping we’d get to interview Jeremy, and that turned out to be one of the very last interviews we did. And obviously, we thought that interview was so important to the story we wanted to tell, we decided to almost do the whole final episode around Kelsey and I going to visit Jeremy in prison. Until that point, we didn’t really know how Bone Valley was going to end. We had a sense of how we wanted it to feel. But we ended up following Leo’s lead, and he led us to a very powerful and unexpected place.
Anything from the cutting room floor you can share with us?
We left a lot on the cutting room floor, which is the way it should be. But there was one exchange, between Jeremy Scott and his grandmother, in a phone call that was taped by the prison. We use part of this conversation at the end of Chapter Four. It’s the first time you’re hearing Jeremy’s voice, and he’s telling his grandmother that two cold case detectives just visited him, telling him that they found his fingerprints in Michelle Schofield’s Mazda. Jeremy is clearly rattled by the visit, and he’s trying to explain the murder to his grandmother. At one point, he’s describing what the detectives told him, and Jeremy tells his grandmother, “So then they found, you know, they found all kind of blood and all that shit at their house. That’s what…that’s what got me so fucking confused, right?” To me, that line is telling. The detectives told him that Michelle was stabbed in the trailer and dumped in the drainage canal. Jeremy knew that wasn’t true because he knows where he killed Michelle. That’s why he was confused by what detectives told him. We ultimately felt that explaining the significance of this line would have taken listeners out of the moment of hearing Jeremy talking to his grandma. It was a powerful conversation on its own, so we left that part of the exchange on the cutting room floor, so to speak.
Do you think this podcast will impact Leo’s case?
I’m a big believer in the power of storytelling, and I’ve seen this happen before with my book, Devil in the Grove, which ultimately prompted the State of Florida to reopen the case of the Groveland Four, and to finally exonerate them in 2021. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but I do believe that people who listen to Bone Valley are going to reach the same conclusion that we did–that Leo Schofield is an innocent man who has been wrongfully incarcerated for the past 35 years. We are already seeing that people are outraged, and many of them are asking what they can do to help correct this injustice. This is the time when heroes often step up. And that’s exactly what Leo needs right now. Someone heroic, who wants to see the right thing done in this case, and who has the power to see it through.
What was the hardest moment you had making Bone Valley?
The hardest moments were usually around meeting and interviewing people whose lives were upended by the violent acts of Jeremy Scott. Hearing Dan Otte reduced to tears as he told us about how his father sold all the cars in his junkyard to pay for Dan’s defense attorney, and how his mother had three strokes during his ordeal, and was convinced she’d never see her youngest son get out of jail. People like Tracey Slaughter, who described being assaulted by Jeremy when she was just 16 years old, and Jessie Saum, who told us how his sister Michelle’s death had devastated his family. And of course, knowing that Leo has been in prison for more than three decades for a murder that Jeremy is responsible for…it’s all so heartbreakingly painful to contemplate. There were many moments like this over the years we spent making Bone Valley.
If you were going to start another podcast, don’t worry about the logistics or whether or not anyone would like it. Your budget is $1M. What would it be?
Honestly, it would be any story that I’d get to work on with the same team from Lava For Good. As someone who mostly writes books, it’s a pretty solitary life. I’ve never been a part of a collaboration like this before, and I absolutely loved it. We were almost always on the same page together, and everyone working on Bone Valley brought something creatively valuable to the table that made the story better in ways I couldn’t even imagine. And of course, our executive producers, Jason Flom and Kevin Wortis could not have been more supportive. They trusted me to tell Leo Schofield’s story, and they assembled a dream team to help tell it.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Over the weekend I evaporated into Lights Out, a documentary podcast from Falling Tree and BBC Sounds. I often am doing other things when I listen to podcasts but for these you shouldn’t. These documentaries reflect on the news, but the format is cinematic. Creators like Phoebe McIndoe and Redzi Bernard (whom I love, they’re from the brilliant Telling Stories podcast) pull you into personal and immersive mini worlds of a radio amateur living in an apartment in Kyiv, the exploitative drug scene in the UK, and gender and its connection to colonialism and land. One piece by Jess Shane, Accounts and Accountability, is an inventive, meta look at how journalists buy and sell stories, whom they belong to, and why we’d want to collect them or tell them. Phoebe and Redzi’s County Lines episode exposed me to an underground world I didn’t know existed and it horrified me. Listening to great stuff like this really fucks you up because not much can compare when it comes to storytelling and audio quality and it makes other shows sound lazy. Each one of these felt like a gift I didn’t deserve.
✨Over on Podcast Marketing Magic, we asked people in podcast marketing to share their 2023 podcast marketing insights. [Here’s a good one.]
🔮 “Insights from independent podcasts will drive other independent podcasts, as opposed to data from a selected number of ‘top’ podcasts.” - Shreya Sharma, Writer, Inside Podcasting
✨For Lifehacker, I highlighted a bunch of shows releasing in 2023 that you should be really excited about.
✨Podcasters ask us to leave ratings and reviews for their shows every day but I hardly ever do it. But those reviews are important, free, and can take five seconds. This year I’m leaving an Apple Podcasts rating and review for a new show every day. Follow along, and join in if you can. Even if you give one podcast a rating and review every week in 2023, that will be more than 50 opportunities to tell a podcaster how much you appreciate what they are doing. Their appreciation is probably worth much more than the time it takes you to do it.
✨Courtney Kocak is hosting a Podcast Bestie x Pandemic University BIPOC scholarship for her upcoming seven-week podcasting course. The deadline to apply is January 12th.
✨Call 1-844-POD-AT-ME (1-844-763-2863) to hear a daily podcast recommendation, and leave your own recommendation at the beep! You can suggest your own show so this is a great way to market your show. Don’t worry, we won’t answer the phone! (We know calling random numbers can be terrifying.)
✨Arielle Nissenblatt spotlighted Digital Folklore in her newsletter and podcast.
✨Subscribe to Devin’s Podstack newsletter if you haven’t already.
🎙️One of the many gems in Tink’s Audio Delicacies was Soundworlds, recommended by Gayathri Vaidyanathan. Each is a step into an immersive audio world commissioned to different artists, musicians, and theater-makers. With a mixture of music, storytelling, fiction and documentary, no two stories are alike. They are all portals into strange places. Bingeing them was almost surreal, I felt like I was dropping through different layers of the universe. Gayathri recommended Are You Ready, B*tch? (four trans friends leaving the house to go to the grocery store) but I really loved iLoop, a solo hip-hop piece that explores a musician’s mental health crisis. But I loved all of them. They’re short so I think if you start one, you’ll find yourself finishing them ASAP and wanting more. Listen here.
🎙️Two years ago, Cristina Marras (of that beautiful Imaginary Advice piece I wrote about in October) started recording daily episodes for 3’ Grezzi (in Italian, means three uncut—literally ‘raw’—minutes) first to challenge herself to produce audio without script and without editing. Each story is short and unstructured (and in Italian) about anything that’s on her mind. (Saturday’s was about DoesTheDogDie.com.) She explained it to me as a sort of contrappasso, a fitting punishment as in Dante, from her usual work. Since then it has become so much more, a diary, a way to keep. in touch with family friends and strangers, and since she started including English translations of the short, daily pieces, a great way for people to brush up on their Italian. I have been listening to true crime podcasts in Italian lately (my favorite is Elisa True Crime) because I usually know the stories of Jon Benét Ramsey and Amanda Knox by heart, but 3’ Grezzi has become part of my daily routine. Ascolta qui.
🎙️On Rabia and Ellyn Solve the Case, Rabia and Ellen covered the story of Sandra Bland, the woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a fucking traffic stop. This is a messy story but Rabia and Ellyn break down each move of Sandra and the cop who nearly tore her out of her car, what was legal (not much) and not, and what happened in the cell where Sandra spent her last moments. The conversation clarified so many things for me and made me sad. The past few episodes of this show has boasted pretty big guest names, but I must prefer it when it’s just Rabia and Ellyn solo. When Rabia puts her lawyer hat on, I am glued to her words. Listen here.
🎙️Midnight Burger is releasing a mini series about the origins of the diner’s cook, Leif. Part one made me re-fall in love with the entire series (I actually started the whole thing over again,) but if you haven’t listened to Midnight Burger yet, it’s a great way to get you hooked. This tiny episode spins out an already explosive world of characters, emotions, and philosophy into another one. It’s as beautiful, human, comforting, and funny as the rest of the series. Listen here.
🎙️If you listen to enough iHeart shows, you have probably heard no less than 100,000 promos for Where Were You in ‘92, a podcast that cracks open the songs that made the year 1992 an interesting one for music. Every time I hear this ad with my husband the line in the promo “What were you doing in 1992? Bouncing your butt to Sir Mix-a-Lot?” we laugh. Every time. It’s something about the way host Jason Lamphier says it, making the “B”s in “bouncing” and “butt” pop. (If you’ve heard the promo, you know what I mean.) It also evokes a pretty funny image, and is a creative way to describe people dancing. I don’t think we’d normally have listened to this show. On its surface, it kind of sounds like one of those “we read Wikipedia pages to give you facts you don’t really need” kind of shows. But after hearing this promo so many times, and laughing aloud so many times, and repeating “BOUNCING your BUTT” to one another several times a day, we gave the show a try. And it was great! We only listened to the Sir Mix-a-Lot episode, but it was a fun unpacking of the song that provided necessary context, with interviews of people in the music video and Sir Mix-a-Lot himself. A lot went into production. And the promo worked. Podcasters take note: a quirky promo can make a difference in grabbing people’s attention. Listen here.
🎙️On UnReality, Talia Augustidis is experimenting in the liminal space between fact and fiction with four audio stories, each feels like a present that Talia has carefully pushed into your hand. In episode one, she literally bring us into bed with her boyfriend and his dreams, to find out what’s happening when he sleeps. In another episode, she talks to someone who used technology to create a magical reality for kids. I love how she swims around in this subject, letting the format take passenger seat to what really drives the show…beautiful exploration and audio depth. It’s a trippy podcast that makes you do a lot of reflecting. Listen here.
🎙️Dan Harris traveled to India for an hour with the Dalai Lama, and from that experience created a 5-part series on Ten Percent Happier called The Dalai Lama’s Guide to Happiness, which is thoughtful, instructive, surprising, and confusing. The series covers The Dalai Lama’s past, then Dan sits in on one workshop where he both gets confronted by a protester who wonders about the worth of altruism in a relentlessly unkind world, and another that will have you wondering if the Dalai Lama pushing cake into a grieving woman’s mouth could get him cancelled. I told you it was surprising. (The cake story was really symbolic of the whole trip if you ask me, either moving or incredibly full of shit if you’re a skeptic.) Dan cuts through the Dalai Lama’s canned messages of peace and love to distill the hard things he is actually talking about—empathizing the people we hate, never angering, never owning, sending our narcissism to sit in the corner—without a pandering tone. His hour-long interview is broken up into three episodes with commentary from Dan and Dr. Richard Davidson, who founded the Center for Healthy Minds. It’s like a director’s cut of the conversation. I think there’s something for everyone here. Hope if that’s what you need, or just a look at a fascinating figure if that’s what you want. Start here.
🎙️Jon Favreau interviewed Johann Hari, author of the New York Times bestseller Stolen Focus, for an Offline interview about our attention spans that’s fascinating and unsettling. If you’re worried that tech companies are fucking with us, our screen addictions are destroying our brains, and that our attention spans are completely suffering which is a problem serious enough to upend the world, Johann will back up your fears with facts. Yet, it’s a fun episode. Johann is lovely. And he gives tips for what we can to do steal our attention back. If you have trouble concentrating, if you’re a multitasker, if you feel uncomfortable without your phone, you should listen. Here.
🎙️Glennon Doyle opened up on We Can Do Hard Things about being diagnosed with anorexia, explaining that she’s going to bring her listeners with her through the messy process of trying to get better. Most of the time we hear the beginnings and endings of these stories, the “ta-daaa!” moment when everything is okay. For Glennon, everything is not okay and it will be interesting to see how she lets us in on the struggle. I don’t think there’s a real blueprint for this. I hate to use this over-used word, but it seems pretty brave. And with the ending of Brené Brown’s podcast, more people might be flocking to hear it. Listen here.
🎙️I never miss an episode of Buzzcast, a weekly roundtable discussion about podcasting from the people at Buzzsprout. It’s one of the most fun ways to keep up on the audio industry. I have always felt like I was the dork lingering around the cool kid table in the lunch cafeteria, listening in. I nearly fell over when I heard, on the latest episode, the team cover the post Arielle and I made about the Ins and Outs of Podcast Marketing in 2023. So appreciative for them, for constantly keeping me entertaining and up to date (and thinking in new ways, they always have smart takes on things) and for including Podcast Marketing Magic. Listen here.
🎙️This one’s for your baby or your favorite baby friend—Small Talk Baby Podcast, where former librarian Miss Pam delivers little songs and games intended for you and babies to experience together. Episodes guide you through classic rhymes like “Peanut Butter Marmalade and Jam” (every episode begins with that one…it will be in your head for years after the first two episodes) that you might not like, but babies will want to be rocking out to on repeat. Miss Pam is a magical host who seems to be able to speak babies better than everyone than I know, and her voice is a calming lullabye for babies (and their parents.) Listening to Small Talk Baby Podcast helps babies with language—there’s even some Spanish sprinkled in. Listen here.
🎙️They promised they’d do it, I didn’t think they would, but they are. For season six of The Worst Idea of All Time, Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt are watching the entire Fast and Furious franchise, in reverse order, for about a year. Each movie will be watched the number of times according to where it comes in the series. First up: F9, nine times. Start here.
🎙️Every so often Constellations releases a Mystery Box, a short compilations of found sounds submitted by listeners, joined together by a special guest mixer. Each one is beautiful, different, and surprising. And every time they release one, they delete the old one. They just released a Mystery Box mixed by Ariana Martinez. Listen now before it disappears. And submit to the Mystery Box here.
🎙️Joshua Dudley released a 3.5 minute audio documentary short The Human Polygraph about his wife’s grandfather, a famous polygraph detective in New Jersey who might be the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s character in the film Meet the Parents. It was made for radio station KCRW's annual Radio Race contest. The theme was "Your Secret is Safe with Me.” It’s a flawless sweet and fun little story that feels effortless, yet it’s clear was made with blood, sweat, and tears. It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel appreciative of audio storytelling. Listen here.
🎙️I love you!
From the Archives
I was revisiting old episodes of Pretend and I stumbled upon my gateway episode, The Cousins. It starts with a woman named Susan Fensten who starts connecting with people she believes are her cousins, relatives that end up trapping her in a world of fear for her life, torture, rape, bondage, cannibalism, and murder. The cousins are not who you think they are. You could guess for 100 years and you’d never get it right. It’s a jaw-dropping story that will hook you onto this incredible show. Start with episode one of the series.
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of independent producer Cristina Marras. (Of 3’ Grezzi, above.)
The app you use to listen: Mostly Stitcher (but only because it’d be too much trouble copying everything somewhere else), also Apple and Castbox.
What speed do you listen to podcasts? If a podcast is not worth being listened to at normal speed, it is not worth my time. But I am not criticizing, I do understand people who must listen to lots of podcasts for work.
How do you discover new shows? Newsletter and promo swaps.
One show you love that everybody loves. This American Life.
One show you love that not enough people know about: Cold Case Crime Cuts.
Hot take: When in public places, always listen to other people’s conversations, slow down your walk if necessary, just be careful not to get caught.
Self-care tip: Learn to recognize and accept your weaknesses, then forget them and focus on what you do best.
Grazie mille for this recommendation of 3' Grezzi. I'm a foreign language junkie and love the idea of listening to podcasts in the various languages I know to boost and test my comprehension, but it can be hard to wade through and find a good one. The most obvious are always about language learning itself or about the news -- I much prefer something like this.