On the last day of a recent podcast conference (yes, there is such a thing), the inimitable hosts of Buzzfeed’s Another Round delivered a keynote address. Their topic was essentially their own stratospheric rise in the podcasting world. In a year and a half, the show, hosted by Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, has rocketed to the top of the iTunes podcast charts. They have become game-changers in the world of on-demand audio.
There were a couple of important takeaways from their talk. One is that Clayton and Nigatu never would have succeeded if they had tried to sound like Ira or Jad or any other radio luminaries — Terry Gross, Nina Totenberg, other white-sounding people over the age of 50. Critical to their success was sounding like themselves — young, shrewd, black women who worked in media.
But sounding like themselves could be risky. How many young, black female mediamakers were owning the iTunes podcast charts when their show dropped? By my count, maybe one (I see you Crissle). So they had to blaze their own trail. (N.B. — Obviously, there were black podcasters before Clayton and Nigatu. But few achieved commercial success and none were backed by a media behemoth like Buzzfeed.)
As the pair explained during their keynote, whitewashing Another Round to make it more palatable for the majority was never going to happen. That meant their language was authentic, their cultural references were resonant and their approach to interviewing was singular. I mean, would I have asked Hillary Clinton why she doesn’t seem to sweat or whether her husband “really fucked [things] up for Black people” with mass incarceration policies? Uh, no. But someone had to.
The second takeaway from their talk was that if some listeners — let’s be real, white listeners — didn’t get their slang or their cultural references or anything else about the show, that wasn’t their problem. They believed it was incumbent on the listener to figure it out.
“We’ve been listening to white shit our whole lives because we had to,” Clayton said during the keynote. “I know the entire cast of ‘Friends’ by name and I’ve never even seen an episode.”
Another Round’s gamble paid off. Being your unvarnished self works! But they aren’t the only ones in the game. In this time of racial disharmony, community tension and #BlackLivesMatter, it’s important to note the breadth of critical black voices upping the podcast game. And there are many. Podcasting — it’s not just white dudes anymore!
This list is by no means complete. As the host of WAMU & NPR’s broadcast about podcasts, The Big Listen, I know about a bunch of shows. But I certainly don’t know all of them. This list is a compilation of podcasts I am familiar with and those recommended to me by listeners.
Pop Culture/Grab Bag/Beyonce, etc.
Special shoutout to Postloudness, a podcast collective featuring the work of Black, brown and queer-identified audio producers. While you’re checking them out, also hit up the Indie Creative Network, a “media platform created to elevate voices in Urban communities around the world.”
*Anacostia Unmapped, Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City and Precious Lives are productions of Localore: Finding America, a project of the Association of Independents in Radio, of which I am a board member.