The voices that shaped my world
How radio led me down an unexpected path
In the living room of an art residency in the woods of rural Wisconsin, I heard my first podcast.
A Hackintosh in the center of the room quietly played the entire catalog of This American Life among the clatter of kitchenware and keyboards. Subtly, I found myself transported into different lands as I explored my art practice with remnants of these stories finding their way into my writing, intertwining like the linen pillows I curled into. The shared space reminded me of my youth, riding around with my grandfather in his pickup truck while he listened to AM radio.
I was hooked.
I cracked open my laptop and moved to the corner of my assigned bedroom with the best wifi signal, popped open iTunes, and downloaded episodes one by one to fill my iPod for the 4 hour drive next week. While downloading, the dinner bell rang, and we made our way to the kitchen about a quarter mile away from the cabin.
As we waited for the final touches of dinner, I sat down with a couple of friends on a bench made from the woodshop around the corner and gazed at the beautiful sunset that filled our vision. A conversation about the cosmos naturally replaced our small talk.
“That reminded me of an episode of Radiolab.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a podcast where…”
His voice began to trail off in my mind like a crossfade as I wondered about the subjects covered on this show, the worlds you can visit, and the questions you can explore on demand. I grinned with excitement.
Immediately after dinner, I found myself in the same spotty wifi corner of my room, downloaded every backlogged episode I could find, and synced it to my iPod.
After the residency, I packed up my 2006 Nissan Sentra, downloaded the maps to my phone to offset the lack of 3G in rural Wisconsin, and hit the gravel home. The billowing hills of the country and long dirt roads were soundtracked by these audio explorations of the urban and supernatural life. I felt my body transcending and floating above the street as I drove along, taking extra stops and avoiding toll roads to prolong my drive. Podcasts were the easiest way for me to escape the life I hated at the time.
As I got older, so did cell networks. 4G was introduced and smartphones got smarter. Twitter became a bigger part of my life, and my art and design career began to expand. So did my listening list. I got my first corporate design job and started my second artist residency at the same time. The 2 hour commute in and out of Chicago was a regular dance in my early 20s. Between getting to know Chicago’s culture, design meetups, going to exhibitions, attending residency meetings, and studio visits, commuting became the escape from my small town. Podcasts absorbed the microaggressions and homogeneity I experienced at work, and the conversations that envigorated me on the shimmy between I–80, I–57, and I–90. It was no wonder that in this point of my life, I began to crave voices in my podcasts that were not the cis white males that I saw enough of at work.
This Week in Blackness and The Black Guy Who Tips were the first time I heard people like me on a podcast. Their voices were the comfort that got me through 8 hour work days as I looked across my all white open office, and the laughter that decompressed me on the ride home. I laughed with them through celebrity gossip, and cried with them as police shootings got caught on camera phones and Twitter. They felt like the friends I didn’t have in my isolating environment.
Podcasts helped reinforce the bridge to move to Chicago by keeping me in the loop with art happenings. Podcasts helped me keep in touch with friends I met, and gave the human connection that I craved. Podcasts soundtracked my move from one homogenous corporate job, to another homogenous corporate job in Chicago, and gave me the strength to get through the daily grind of contributing towards paying bills for my family in a brand new city. Radio was becoming more and more important in my life, so it only made sense to try making a show myself.
At the start of my third artist residency, I had a giant cavernous studio and it was there that I created my first show. It was me speaking into the void. It was boring and lasted one episode, but it got me used to listening to what my voice sounds like. I scrapped it and kept the idea of starting a podcast in the back of my head, until I brought it up to my friend Cher Vincent.
Open Ended was a labor of love. It was a testament to what working publicly looks and sounds like; a playground to how we explored bending audio as an art form. We met up after our day jobs, recorded and edited during our off-time, and poured ourselves into growing this show. Open Ended has seen us quit jobs, laid off from jobs, deaths of family and friends, apartment moves, celebrations, failures, and continued as an audio diary of our friendship. After following the growth of our show, friends asked how they could create shows of their own. Luckily, our friend Alexandra Cox shared the same vision.
We founded Postloudness and became the radio mentorship that our friends and others wanted, all while we held down our day jobs and personal projects. We launched show after show, while handling branding, production, and distribution. With our love of radio and the skills we learned over the years of day jobs and life experiences led to this perfect storm of collaboration, and others began to take notice. While my visual art practice continued to grow, I noticed my design practice slowly becoming usurped by radio and journalism. I blinked and I was producing 4 to 5 shows a week and teaching a graduate journalism course at the School of the Art Institute.
I was called on to give workshops on audio design and paid to travel to speak on journalism topics. People were hiring me to consult and produce their stories. I wondered why I was becoming more involved in a world that I didn’t “formally” study in school. I was being seen as an expert in a field and as much as that voice in my head told me I didn’t deserve it, I kept pushing it down and continued to learn more and hone my craft.
Then one day, I received an email with the provider “@viacom.com”. My filters thought it was spam, but I opened it anyway.
Radio is such an emotional part of my life. You’re hearing someone’s voice piped into your eardrums in private and intimate spaces. Sometimes, if you work for yourself or an isolating environment, they can be the only voice you hear for hours on end. I wanted to give back and create some of the stories that people would hear in transit or find a moment of escape with as well. I never thought that something I used soundtrack my workdays would lead to a career in teaching, mentoring, and creating narratives of my own.
So now, I have a new chapter to add to this narrative.
I am now a producer for MTV News and by the end of the year, will be moving to Los Angeles or New York to work on some great stories. Postloudness will still operate as normal and I’ll continue to do visual design, host shows, mentor and produce stories there, but remotely.
If I could tell myself 5 years ago that a side project would lead to my career taking a pivot, I wouldn’t believe me, but now I’m excited to see where this next step will take me and the platforms I’ll provide for other voices — just as I daydreamed about on those rural Wisconsin dirt roads 5 years ago.
Listen out for me soon. ✌🏿✨