by Robert Merriam
I’ve been pretty busy lately. All the extra work that comes with the move to Sixth Form and the massive (but absolutely worthwhile) commitment to ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ (tickets now available) has meant I have had less time than I am used to ‘waste’ on entertainment. As I usually waste an hour or more procrastinating but doing nothing that I actually enjoy I often find myself in bed having had an evening of nothing but work and dead time. Now of course reading in bed is great and I do fair bit but I have to say that if pushed for a choice, I would have to pick podcast as my preferred form of pre-sleep entertainment. The lowly podcast has been on the up and up in recent years and with good reason. In a world of clickbait, social media feeds and pop up ads it often feels that by giving everyone a voice the internet has made nothing but a cacophony, with billions of voices all vying for attention at any given moment.
It is heartening then, that a medium as old fashioned as the audio podcast still thrives. The most successful the bunch have thousands of listeners and many in most cases there are communities attached, groups of people bought together by shared interest in a person or thing. Perhaps the largest in the UK is the podcast of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film review. It airs every week of BBC radio 5 Live but it is the Podcast that draws the most listeners. And it is not only voices from traditional media that have a steak in the podcast scene, people who began with a microphone and an internet connection now have loyal bases of listeners for no other reason than that people like to hear what they have to say. At the risk of sounding like an old man I think it’s great that people take as much as two hours every week to tune in to those they respect or enjoy and to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
Having grown up in a house in which radio 4 I have certain appreciation for radio, its power as a narrative and informative device. A little more concrete than a book but a little freer than a film radio can transport us in a unique way. This brings me, at last to the reason for the article; ‘Welcome to Night vale’.
Podbay.fm has it listed as its 27th most subscribed podcast but apart from the friend who introduced me I have never encountered anyone who listens to it and I’d like to change that. WTNV takes the form of a twice monthly news bulletin for the residents of the fictional Night Vale, a backwater Southwestern American town where all manner of bizarre things happen all the time. Hooded figures, glow clouds, black helicopters, angels, the Sherriff’s secret police and the visiting scientist Carlos are all described by the dulcet tones of Cecil Gershwin Parker. It is the most bizarre, terrifying, hilarious, beautiful and utterly unique thing I have ever witnessed and its twenty minute episodes are perfect for listening to before falling asleep.
It is of course not for everyone, anyone after a coherent continuous narrative will be sorely disappointed but what I love about WTNV is that its aim is not to create a story but a world, a whole world with nothing but one man’s voice and some well placed music. I may well be wrong, but I think what Commonplace Books are doing (and have been doing since 2012) has never been done before.
It certainly is not everyone but if you think you might like it definitely give it a try, it really is worthwhile.