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Connected S-Town podcast hooks listeners

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of overnight camping trips.

Whether it was a fishing trip or church camp, those thoughts still make me smile.

After a day of swimming and catching fish, everyone huddled around a campfire to sing songs (mostly off key) and tell stories (mostly about fish we didn’t catch).

The stories I looked forward to the most were the scary ones, from someone who really knew how to tell a tale. Sometimes it was my Uncle John, a master storyteller in our family, or some wacky camp counselor who had clearly spent too much time outdoors.

Flash-forward 30 years and I still like to hear a good story. But if you’re at all like me – a job, raising kids, paying bills, household chores – I have very little time to read.

Life gets in the way of a good book.

So, I started listening to stories online. About 15 years ago, when I was still a webmaster, we called it “audioblogging.” It wasn’t until Ben Hammersley’s 2004 article in The Guardian that we had a name for it: podcasting.

Podcasting has really grown up since 2004, thanks in part to professional storytellers on series such as Planet Money and Radiolab. It’s the perfect blend of spoken word and investigative journalism.

Yesterday, the team behind successful podcasts This American Life and Serial launched a new, seven-episode series titled S-Town.

To be sure, there was a lot of anticipation for this series. This American Life and Serial have a huge cult following, so there was reason to expect this kind of reception for S-Town.

Brian Reed, host of S-Town and producer with This American Life is my new Uncle John, my new wacky camp counselor.

I just started Chapter 2 – “Has anybody called you?” – and I’m absolutely intrigued.

Early yesterday morning, starting at about 7 a.m., people started downloading episodes of S-Town to their mobile devices.

Twitter and Facebook were alive with S-Town listeners. Here is a sample of their comments: “@cearnett: So I definitely thought @stownpodcast was going to be about some tiny little town well south of me, not somewhere I drive through regularly”; and “@wplittle: The first 15 minutes of @stownpodcast have changed me as a person.”

I tweeted: “People will wonder why productivity is down for March. Blame it on college basketball. Not @stownpodcast. Shh ... no one will know better.”

If you didn’t guess, @stownpodcast is the official handle for S-Town.

What makes S-Town so successful, and why people like me flock to this kind of content, has everything to do with storytelling on budgeted time. I’m able to listen on my time schedule, on my commute to work, or while I’m exercising.

And if you’re going to tell me a good story, I might actually get on the treadmill and stay on just a little longer.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.