I’m late to the game, but I’ve finally entered the world of fiction podcasts, or in other esoteric words, re-ignited an unrealized love for radio broadcasts.
I used to listen to radio all the time when I was a kid. My parents listened to radio on the weekends, waking me up on Saturday mornings with talk show stories and news reports. That, pared with a delicious brew and breakfast, always made the day start the right way. I listened to NPR and Pea Green Boat and All That’s Considered and the featured concerto of the early afternoon. In the evening, I would hear the rerun of Car Talk and Christy the Wordsmith, followed by Brazilian samba or Hawaiian steel drums.
Once I left for college, I never took up the habit of listening to live radio—not when my iPod provided all the tunes I needed and I no longer had to anxiously wait with a tape ready to record my song of the week from 98.9 K99 through my blue Sony boom box. I missed it sometimes, in a nostalgia way, but not strongly enough to take up the habit. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the miracle of podcasts, and by stumbled I found a tweet that mentioned something called TANIS (which was a character in a long ago Dragon Age book I had read), which led me to The Black Tapes, which led me to finding strange Tumblr montages depicting the mysteries of both said podcasts, and suddenly I was downloading an app and filling my phone with episodes.
It might have been nostalgia kicking in, but it also felt like an adult rediscovering something I didn’t realize I’d been missing. And, not to sound like this was THE MOMENT, but I had listened to recommended podcasts before—yet I always became distracted by my own thoughts and when my brain returned from whatever far off fantasy land it had adventured to, I had missed half the story and thus, didn’t understand the ending.
This time though, I had planned to do things differently. I listened while road-tripping. Which proved incredibly productive. I then began listening while doing housework or cooking and that proved to be even more effective—not just for my listening skills, but in my productivity to get shit done. Ten minutes left on the episode? Hell, that’s enough time to load the dishwasher.
Despite the never-ending drudge of housework, it still has taken me an inordinately long time to finish a podcast, but I’m proud to say I’ve completed the first seasons of The Black Tapes, TANIS, and Limetown.
There’s a lot of good content out there, people. It also brings back the magic that comes with oral storytelling: the cadence of speech, the ambiance that comes from different people retelling a familiar tale, and all those extra goodies that can’t be transferred to paper. I’ll always be a pen and paper girl, but these were good podcasts.
Out of the trio, Limetown is the one that exceeds them all. The story is fast-paced and engaging, the sound mixing is phenomenal, and the narrator is wonderful—I found her voice to be rich and a joy to listen to. It’s also the most well-written out of the three, and leaves you ready to strangle the producers if they don’t make a next season. Limetown follows an investigative reporter as she attempts to discover the fate of the small town of Limetown, where one day, all of the inhabitants disappeared. As survivors in hiding begin to crawl out of the woodwork to reveal the truth, her investigation takes a disastrous turn.
The Black Tapes, on the other hand, also features a podcast semi-reporter named Alex Reagan, who debunks supernatural occurrences with Richard Strand, a scientist hell-bent on challenging the notion that ghosts and ghouls exist. Because irony is a bitch, Strand hides a set of black VHS tapes (Omg…The Black Tapes??) that contain cases he has not debunked yet. Alex and Strand revisit these black tapes while exploring other cases which leads them to their biggest case—or supernatural event—yet. Can I just say, that when Alex had to explain what a VHS looked like for younger listeners, I felt incredibly dated?
The Black Tapes is good, but it also likes to tease its listener in an incredibly annoying way. Questions only lead to more blatantly mysterious questions and once you feel like you’re getting somewhere, Alex gets cut off and due to her kind Canadian personality, refuses to follow up. The Black Tapes reminds me of the later seasons of Supernatural where there’s enough built up to keep you interested, yet just enough cheese to turn you off. Other than that, the sound mixing makes it feel as if there’s a live broadcast happening—if you can get over the “well-timed” dun dun dun sounds—and there’s enough real world content to make it seem plausible. It’s a good story. It just has some quirks.
Which brings us to TANIS. TANIS is a spin-off of The Black Tapes, featuring Nic Silver as our podcast reporter trying to uncover just what exactly TANIS might be. It’s a mixture of The Annihilation Trilogy and House of Leaves, but in so that it doesn’t measure up to both the novels. While Alex’s investigations are a little more straight-forward, Nic seems like a blundering idiot who lets people walk all over him and stumbles into his discoveries almost as if the cast are waiting for him to catch up with them. He’s nice to the point of painful, refusing to interrupt people or get to the exact point of the question he needs to ask, even on a time crunch. At once hilarious moment, he gets drugged and nearly has a threesome, but luckily is saved. When he’s asked about it he just says, “I knew the effects of ecstasy due to my college years, so I knew how to handle it.” Then when someone says, “Are you drugged?” He says in his normal voice, “Yes.” I mean, the guy almost got date raped and it sounds like he stepped out of a coffee shop. It was so…lackluster of suspense it made me laugh out loud. The other hilarious moment was when he’s faced with the enigmatic head of some TANIS related research who says Nic can ask him anything he wants. When Nic proceeds with his questions, the man says some variation of ‘I can’t tell you that’ or ‘how did you know about that’ to everything. Nic meets this question-dodging with…I don’t even know, kindness? Acceptance? He doesn’t pursue any points. He doesn’t push any points. Which, leads us to learning nothing in regards to the overall story. I wanted to shake Nic’s Canadian-ness until maple leaves started falling out of him.
It’s my prerogative as an American to make fun of Canada. They berate us and we do it right back and since I’m in a state that shares the border, I think it counts that I can do it all in good faith. But damn. Damn. Nic Silver can’t solve a mystery to save his soul. And that’s my biggest problem with TANIS as well as The Black Tapes. They jerk their listener’s chain too much.
That being said, how the hell did I make it through the whole season? I’ll tell you. The subject matter is like crack. A possible cult? A journey where your name must be ripped away from you? A cabin that is bigger on the inside than it is on the out? The story itself—the concepts, the myths, the land—are so fascinating to me that I couldn’t shut it off. And while I rolled my eyes and wanted to punch Nic in the face sometimes, he is exploring something that cannot easily be explained, not by anyone. And that, the pure mystery of it, is something that is still rare in our world. At least, it’s enough to make me want to listen more.
So, that being said, I have an incredible podcast line-up ahead of me: Season 2 of Black Tapes and TANIS, Alice Isn’t Dead (thanks Tumblr), Lore (thanks co-worker), and Introducing the Message (thanks internet).
I can’t ever get sick of story, and now I have them for my eyes and my ears.