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By Stephanie Roloff
After years of hearing the hype over podcasts, I decided it was finally time to give in. As a Millennial, it may surprise you to hear that I had not yet joined in the podcasting craze, but I had made the vast assumption that podcasts only consisted of NPR news updates and obscure indie band reviews. I was motivated to explore the podcast route after reading 10 Podcasts Piper Listens to On the Road and realizing listening to podcasts would be a great way to break up my time between Netflix reruns and Pandora playlists while working from home. When I was ready to jump on the podcast bandwagon, I downloaded the Apple Podcasts app for my iPhone and was amazed by the variety of options available. There are podcasts for anything and everything from shows called You Must Remember This all about sorting out the Hollywood scandals of the early 20th century, Missing Richard Simmons about solving the disappearance of the famous fitness guru, and Fore Play written by common golfers for common golfers. Overwhelmed with where to start, one show that kept popping up with rave reviews was the brand new S-Town, brought to us all by the makers of Serial and This American Life.
I subscribed to S-Town through the podcast app on my phone and was ready to dive in. After just a couple weeks of turning on S-Town while I worked, as I got ready for bed, while folding clothes or cleaning, I was not only a huge S-Town fan but also converted into a firm believer in the power of podcasts. S-Town was exactly what I didn’t expect to hear in a podcast, but everything I was hoping for. It was great storytelling told heartfully, simply and captivatingly. At the click of the play button, I was transported into the town of Woodstock, AL. Narrator Brian Reed takes listeners to a world I can only guess many of us feel detached and far from listeners first start to listen. However, by the last episode, Brian had me, and I’m sure many followers, identifying and relating to almost every character in Woodstock.
After the first episode of S-Town, I was curiously engaged as I explored the town and characters of Woodstock along with Brian, as he tries to put together the pieces of a murder investigation. S-Town seemed like an interesting podcast about strong Southern accents, an incompetent small-town justice system and an unlikely genius stuck in between it all like a diamond in the rough. It was easy to feel distant and removed from these colorful characters that came across as comical, dramatic and at first completely unrelatable. After all, I can only guess, but I would say most of us cannot relate to living in a town that lays claims to being the poorest county in its state, having the highest child molesters per capita in its state, and living somewhere with only two high schools and no secondary education options, but still has room for over 95 churches.
Then all of a sudden S-Town takes a turn in its story that none of the writers, producers, or listeners of this show could have ever predicted. By end of episode two, I am now hooked and realizing there’s more to S-Town than what we hear on the surface. As we learned about each character, the closer we felt to each one, and the less distant their lives and stories became.
It’s about halfway through, that S-Town starts to shift too much larger topics that hit closer to the people and communities many of us know and love. S-Town covers the battles of mental health, systemic oppression through bureaucratic government systems, and how to know if you’ve lived or are living a purposeful and happy life. For a story to have so many spontaneous twists and crooked turns, it is easy to hear about S-Town and assume the show might be confusing and hard to follow. But somehow, it’s all pulled off beautifully, like an intricate maze that seems random with its splits and turns, until you look from above and see every path was part of the design.
This was a great first podcast for me because it opened my eyes to the possibilities of audio storytelling. While most days as I work from my desk at home, I listen to new music or put on a movie I’ve seen a hundred times that I can tune out, now adding podcasts into my daily mix has been a great way to change things up. Listening to a great storytelling or an intelligent conversation this way has really helped keep my brain alert and engaged while working without excessive effort or distraction. For those searching for a new perspective and want to hear well-done, honest story-telling with the most unpredictable turns, S-Town will not disappoint.
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By Stephanie Roloff – Director of Digital Media, The Plaid Horse
Stephanie Roloff graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and PR Management. Aside from her social media prowess, she has a strong background in journalism, working as both a writer and editor in her time at WWU. She has a passion for volunteering and non profits, and has spent extensive time volunteering with the YWCA of Washington, her most recent focus being PR and organization for the 23rd annual Women of Achievement Gala.