Back in 2015, Annie McEwen produced two podcasts for The Overcast.
These days, she’s working as a producer for Radiolab in Manhattan. Radiolab: it’s arguably the best podcast in North America.
Radiolab has won Peabody Awards, and the MacArthur Genius grant. The show has an archive of hundreds of episodes, and has toured sold out shows continent-wide. Million of people streams every episode of Radiolab, and it’s carried on more than 500 stations worldwide.
“None the Wiser” was hosted by Bryan Power, and dissected a different theme each episode. For example Episode 2: Awkwardness, explored what its interview subjects — a Brazilian wax client (live on the scene!), a cancer patient, a not-white guy from St. John’s, and meeting someone in a bar — had in common. “The Overcast Fiction Podcast” had a local author read and discuss a short story from another local author.
Podcasts feel more popular than ever. Why do you think this is the case?
I would love to answer this question with something poetic, like, because of their intimate nature, podcasts help us to understand each other, and in this maddeningly rushed and increasingly isolated world, people are craving that connection more than ever…
But really, I think it’s as simple as people like stories, and now they have iPhones, so they can carry these stories around with them as they do laundry, drive to work, and go grocery shopping. Rather unromantic, but I think true.
How Did You End Up Leaving Newfoundland For Radiolab in Brooklyn?
Graduating with an MA in Folklore, I had no clue what to do next. I knew I wanted to work hard doing something I felt was worthwhile, creative, and with a collaborative team, but I had no idea what that might look like.
So I was so damned lucky that Chris Brookes of Battery Radio in St. John’s took me under his wing, and mentored me in the art of radio. Enough good stuff cannot be said about that man. He is the most generous, most humble, most brilliant. I’m sure he hates that I wrote that but tough baloney.
Chris let me work with him on some amazing audio projects like [Here]say and Inside Outside Battery, and when I was existentially floundering around like an idiot, he more or less told me I was going to make radio. Which I eventually did.
Slowly at first, here and there, picking up odd jobs (even making a few podcast episodes for The Overcast). I made an NL-focused audio piece about heartbreak (Here I Am and Here be Danger), and I also attended an amazing 9-week radio workshop called Transom down in Woods Hole, MA (which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in making radio).
Then I began to regularly work for a theatre company called Fixt Point, based in Toronto, which meant I got to travel around the country in a jeep producing multimedia performances (one starring the dazzling Petrina Bromley, who is now a massive Broadway star).
Anyway, one day I was on my lunch break up in Cochrane, Ontario, eating an egg sandwich by the side of the road, and decided to check twitter. The manager of Radiolab had sent me a message asking if I wanted to come try out working for them. It really was as random and mysterious as that. I went down to NYC and the place nearly blew my head off, and now I’ve been working here for about 3 years.
How Would You Describe Radiolab to Someone?
Radiolab is a highly produced documentary podcast that is driven by a genuine curiosity about the world around us.
We explore a wide variety of topics including science, history, philosophy, human nature, technology, anything that’s interesting!
It’s a fascinating place to work, because you are always kicking around ideas, learning new things, and collaborating like maniacs with your colleagues.
We eat a lot of late-night pizza. (Which isn’t saying much because it’s New York, so everyone and their mother is eating late-night pizza.)
What’s Been a Favourite Recent Episode or 2 for You That You’ve Worked on? Any Reason Why?
The most recent episode I worked on was called Apologetical, an exploration of what it means to make amends in an increasingly secular world.
It mattered a lot to me because I really cared about the people in it. One woman in particular, Leilani Schweitzer, was amazing. Her son died because of mistakes that happened at two different hospitals. One hospital shut her out, the other opened up to her, explained everything, and apologized. Leilani now works for that second hospital, the place where her son died, as the person who does the apologizing. She let me interview her about this heartbreaking moment in her life and I am so grateful for that.
That’s the amazing thing about working in radio/podcasting — people are so, so generous with their time, their ideas, their lives. They tell you their stories and trust you with them as you edit the heck out of them, and add sound design and music and writing. I am constantly in awe of this generosity, and feel a huge burden to do justice to these people’s stories.
I’ve loved so many of the episodes I’ve worked on, but I think two of my favourites are From Tree to Shining Tree, where we learn about the incredible network that connects all the trees in the forest, and Oliver Sipple — a story about a gay man whose decision to save the life of the president ended up destroying his own.
Can You Suggest a Podcast You’ve Been Listening to This Month?
I confess I don’t listen to enough podcasts. I think my ears are so tired of radio at the end of the day that I’d rather read or listen to music.
BUT, there is incredible stuff coming out all the time. Nancy; S-Town; Love Me; Still Processing; The Daily; Heavyweight; 99% Invisible; Reply All; This American Life; Radio Diaries; On the Media, etc, etc, etc.
The podcast I’m kind of into right now is called, “Where Should We Begin?” It’s very simple, very minimally edited. You’re just listening in on a couple’s counselling session as they talk to their therapist, a very smart woman named Esther Perel. It sounds sort of boring, but it’s absolutely fascinating. It feels like you’re right there in the room with these people as they bravely struggle to decode each other and themselves. Rarely is radio this raw, intimate, or illuminating.
There’s also this great podcast that I’m kind of jazzed about called Everything is Alive where the host interviews inanimate objects like a tooth, an elevator, or a can of cola.