North Carolina Podcast Poised To Hit National Stage

Oct 31, 2014

Criminal's episode art is by Julienne Alexander
Credit Julienne Alexander

Criminal is a new podcast that's gaining some buzz. In August, the Huffington Post called it the Best New Radio Show In America. A couple of months later, it was included in Buzzfeed's list of "12 Podcasts That Will Make You A Better Human."

Now the show is set to become a part of Radiotopia, a kind of indie label that features the very best of audio storytelling. (Radiotopia houses 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries and The Kitchen Sisters, for example.)

The podcast was started by three radio producers with roots at WUNC: Phoebe Judge, Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer all worked for The Story with Dick Gordon. Judge was a regular fill-in host.

When The Story ended last fall after eight years on the air, the threesome began plans for a new show - one that they would produce themselves, on their own dime, after hours, and distribute via podcast. Spohrer says that they were deliberate when they picked their genre:

"About six years ago I binged on Raymond Chandler, and reading so many of his novels in quick succession really did something to me. I had been reading a lot of esoteric literary fiction that had no plot, and these novels felt like medicine. I worked my way through the big names of that era—Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, Dashiell Hammett. My favorite is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. These novels are formal and mannered, and Phoebe has a pretty formal voice, and we were interested in bringing that elegant, somewhat old-fashioned mood to true stories," she told The Believer.

Phoebe Judge emerges from the "recording closet." Eric Mennel checks the equipment.
Credit Lauren Spohrer

Producing the program on their own is exciting and also incredibly hard work. It means that Judge often  records interviews in the soundproof  space of her car.

The three collaborate on scripts, and Judge will record her narration in a closet padded with towels. (A studio in a spare bedroom is on its way.)

The funds to pay for radio studios and reporters to  record guest's voices comes from their own pockets.

But it also means editorial independence, and freedom to follow stories of their own choosing. The most recent episode came out this week:

In 1977, a mild-mannered aeronautical engineer sideswiped a parked car in Compton, CA. He stopped his car to see the damage, and all of a sudden a man opened his car door, and jumped in the car. He said, "I'm about to save your life." What happened next would torture him for the rest of his life.

Radiotopia is running a Kickstarter to bring Criminal and two other podcasts into their network. If they can raise $400,000, they will do so, a move which will bring three female hosts to the network.

Judge says that she was incredibly pleased to receive the invitation to join Radiotopia. "It was wonderful news," she said. "We were honored. These are shows I have admired for a long time."

The Kickstarter ends Friday November 14.

Update: Saturday 11/1 Radiotopia did reach its goal, and Criminal will be added to the network.