TCC Podcast #168: How to Tell a Better Story with Glynn Washington | The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #168: How to Tell a Better Story with Glynn Washington

NPR Podcaster and story teller, Glynn Washington, was generous enough with his time to visit our studio and share his thoughts about podcasting, storytelling and the hustle required to make something great for the 168th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. We love this interview. Here’s a few of the things we talked about with Glynn:
•  how (and why) he built a career as a podcaster and radio producer
•  the reaction he got when he announced his intention to be a podcaster
•  what he did to help his podcasts gain traction—it took a lot of hustle
•  the very “untechnical” process he used to create his first podcast
•  how he came to understand the power of a good story
•  what makes a great story that you can’t help but stop and listen to
•  how to introduce an unbelievable story and get listeners to lean in
•  the question every storyteller needs to ask before sharing their story
•  the important reason Glynn never tells you what the story means
•  the magician’s trick he uses to get people to talk about the supernatural
•  the real impact of the stories/experiences shared on his podcasts
•  the impossibility of choosing the one story he was born to tell
•  the thing Glynn wishes more podcasters would do today
•  3+ things to do if you want to create your own great podcast
•  the power of a podcast to move markets and create best-selling products
•  what’s coming next year from Snap Judgment

If you want to improve your story-telling prowess, you’ll want to get this episode ASAP. Click the play button below to listen online or download this episode to your podcast app. Even better subscribe so you never miss an episode. Readers can scroll down for a full transcript.

 

The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Snap Judgment
Spooked Podcast
Heaven’s Gate Podcast
GarageBand
Mark Twain
Have You Heard George’s Podcast
Scott Sigler
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground

 

Full Transcript:

This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Club In Real Life, our live event in San Diego March 12th through 14th, 2020. Get your tickets now at thecopywriterclub.com/TCCIRL.

Kira:   What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Rob:   You’re invited to join the club for episode 168 as we chat with media personality and radio podcast producer, Glynn Washington, about what it takes to tell a great story, the power of podcasting to connect with an audience, what most podcasters including us should be doing differently, and what it means to be a fist-shaker, mountain hollerer, and foot stomper.

Kira:   So, Glynn, welcome.

Glynn:            Thank you for having me.

Kira:   All right. So, Glynn knows, because I’ve already e-mailed him and said, ‘I’m a super fan.’ So I have listened to every episode of Spooked, all three seasons of Spooked. So this is just a delight, to be able to talk to you about what happens behind the scenes and get to know more about you.

Rob:   And I want to add, I listened to all of the episodes of the Heaven’s Gate podcast, as well as several of the Spooked episodes. So-

Kira:   So we’re both super fans.

Rob:   We’re big fans of what you’ve done, Glynn.

Glynn:            Well, I’m so glad you dug it. And I appreciate you having me on the show today. And I hope, I’m sorry, we had a bit of a flood, here, so I’m in a weird setting. So I’m hoping the sounds works for you right now.

Rob:   Yeah, it’s working great. It sounds really good.

Kira:   All right, Glynn. So let’s start with your story. How did you end up as a storyteller, podcaster, executive producer, and host of Snap Judgment and my favorite podcast, Spooked?

Glynn:            Well, it was not by design. This is something that … an organic unfolding of a lot of different things. But, to make a long story shorter, I have been a public media head for a long time, and I started listening to various shows in the podcast format early on, like, in maybe 2006, ’07, ’08, when I was listening to podcasts before they became, what people think about them today. And I heard an ad for something called the Public Radio Talent Quest. It was Ira Glass and Terry Gross, and I believe a few other people that were saying if you have something called hostiness, you can do this, this public radio thing. And the truth of the matter was, I just wanted to preserve my right to complain. I love public radio, but I thought that a lot of different things that happened were, they weren’t necessarily getting at the communities that I knew anything about, properly.

And, for an example, I remember listening to someone, and they were talking to someone who was an African American person, lower social economic status, and they asked him a question. And when he answered the question, they translated what he said into public radio-speak. And, as if the listeners couldn’t understand the words coming out of this man’s mouth. And I thought it was outrageous. So, that was the reason why I entered the contest and sent in my little entry. You just have to send in a little, two-minute entry of some sort. I sent it in and forgot about it. And about three months later, I got a phone call, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant in Berkeley, I got a phone call saying I was one of 10 finalists nationwide. And I thought that I knew better, I thought that was my buddy, Mark, playing a joke. So, I hung up the phone. But it turns out they were serious, and that’s kind of how I got started in public radio.

Rob:   So, Glynn, tell me, what was the reaction, as you told your friends and your family, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this as a career.’ Because I think a lot of people look at this and say, ‘Yeah. If you’re a Tim Ferriss, or if you’re a Ira Glass, maybe you can make a living as a podcasters, but I can’t imagine, well, I do imagine, it’s probably a lot like telling your family, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a poet. And can you support me for life?’ So what was the reaction you got from everyone?

Glynn:            Initially, that’s exactly right. I had a good career. I’ve been a non-profit director. I was running a center at the University of Berkeley in the business school. And I thought I was doing my thing. And then when I decided to leave, I remember my father came up. And he was helping me on a Saturday move some stuff out of my office, to bring it back to the house, which is where I was going to be working for a while. And he was like, ‘Son, what are you doing? You’ve got yourself a nice office, here. This is … you’re taking … What are you doing? What are you doing?’ This was making kind of sense.

And, yeah, that just goes with the whole territory. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes a lot more sense now. But back then, people didn’t really know what a podcast was. I think serial, and This American Life team for popularizing it in the popular imagination, what this thing was. But, yeah, you were jumping off into the great unknown.

Kira:   So, what helped Snap Judgment take off so quickly and become so successful really fast? What were some of those factors that contributed to that?

Glynn:            Well, I don’t know that it really did become really successful really fast. I know that, I remember reading an article in some LA paper about Snap Judgment being an overnight success. And we laughed and laughed at that, because so much work, so much effort, so much time went into making the show. And the build was actually fairly slow. I can tell you some of what went into it, but when I finally was able to launch the show, I was so happy. We got a little bit of a grant, at the time, it was a big grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting were going to launch the show. But podcasting was sort of secondary, at least in their minds. So, our minds, it was always primary. But we wanted to be on public radio stations. And so, we called up the public radio distributors, NPR at the time. They said no. PRI, who was distributing This American Life, they said no. And American Public Media, they distributed, at the time, was Garrison Keillor, and they said no.

So, we got this show, but we don’t have any distribution. And so, we ended up, I remember calling all of them back, saying the other ones were interested, and I was going to have to make a quick decision, but I wanted to give them one more chance. And NPR was the first one to bite. And we got to be distributed by NPR, which was great for us, because it added a certain type of legitimacy to what we were doing. But it wasn’t like they were going to put us on station. Every single station in America makes their own decisions about their programming schedule. And NPR certainly wasn’t pushing Snap. It was something that we had to do ourselves.

And that meant that the podcast became extremely important, because what happened would be, we would kind of target an area, try to get the people to listen to the podcast, and they’d go … And they’d listen, and they’d, well, and then ask their local stations, ‘Why aren’t you covering this show? What aren’t you playing this show?’ We called and said, ‘Hey, would you play Snap Judgment?’ They’d say no. But when a group of listeners would call, that’s when things started to change and it was estimated that we’d be on like maybe 20 stations by the end of year one, and we ended up being on about 100.

And then, similar for year two, and we ended up being in about 200. And that’s when NPR actually started paying attention to us. And thank God, we were able to make our mistakes for that two year period without a whole lot of, sort of, oversight. It was, the show started on my kitchen table, and we had to make cuts in and out, and sometimes in my partner Mark’s spare room. And he lived next to the UPS. And we had to make cuts in and out of, look down the street both ways and see if there was a truck coming, and then make a recording and hope that if there was a truck sound it wasn’t too loud in the background of the recording. That’s literally how the first season was made.

So, I say all that to say that it was not … We weren’t in some big expansive studio somewhere. And I think it really worked to our benefit to be able to make our own mistakes, figure out for ourselves what the show sounded like, and then, later on, when we had gotten a little bit of traction, and we felt like we knew what we were doing, then we could, when they wanted us to change it, we could have a little bit more gumption to say, ‘No, we think we’re going to push back on you, now.’

Rob:   Yeah, I love hearing you talk about the hustle, and what it took to get started, because when you listen to the podcast today, it’s really well-produced and it flows. There are no truck sounds in the back, like you described. So, it’s fun to hear that not everybody starts at the top. And it takes a little bit of a climb.

Glynn:            Oh, yeah. Even, we were hoping, even then, I would think we really want to focus on the sound, and I hope that it was produced as well as we could do it. I’ll say this, though. It was funny, I was laughing a little while ago. I got a question online that someone said, ‘What program do you use to produce Snap Judgment?’ And now, we use Logic and Pro Tools, which are professional sound audio equipment. But the truth of the matter is, we made the first season on the sound program that comes installed in everybody’s Mac. iMusic.

Rob:   The Garage Band?

Glynn:            Yeah.

Rob:   Oh, yeah. Okay.

Glynn:            And, we were doing national broadcast on just regular stuff that everyone has in their computer right now. And sometimes we still do, if we’re in a scramble or something like that, we want to make it sound as good as we can, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

Rob:   Yeah. One of the things I love about your podcasts, Glynn, is the focus on stories. Even the Heaven’s Gate, it’s all serialized, but it’s one really fascinating story. I was listening to several episodes of Spooked a couple months ago, when Kira told me about it. And had those moments where the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, because the story is so compelling. Will you tell us a little bit about your approach to stories? What makes a good story? And how do you know when you’ve got a story that you’ve got to tell?

Glynn:            I grew up, as this kind of came out in the Heaven’s Gate podcast, I grew up in a real story-bound community. I grew up in this crazy religious cult. And when I look back on it in retrospect, there’s so many ridiculous things, and just incredible things happened during that time period, growing up. But it was all driven by story. It was all driven by a shared story, by a belief that our founder could talk to God. And that he had a special truth that only the chosen people, that was us, could understand. And that Jesus was going to come any minute, and we had to be on our toes. Some people slept wearing their shoes so they could be ready to get up if Jesus came in the middle of the night.

And when I walked away from all that, in my late teens, because I was a true believer as a child, when I walked away from that, I thought, ‘What a waste. What a tragedy. What craziness that was. What a misspent youth.’ But, later on, I came to understand that I did get something from that insanity, and it was an appreciation of story, and how powerful story is, and how story can make you do amazing things.

When we first started Snap Judgment, I remember, I was listening to Crossfire, watching Crossfire on television, and you have two idiots, and they’re shouting at each other about some political thing and no one in the history of time has ever changed their mind by watching that show. Never, ever happened. But people change their minds all the time from narrative, from listening to, ‘This happened to me. Look. Hey, I don’t have anything to sell you, but this is my story.’ And I’ve just, the whole thing, it just occurred to me that the power of narrative is an amazing thing. And I wanted to take back that power for something positive. Because it had been used as a cudgel and weaponized against the community I grew up in. And I wanted to see if I could use it in a different way.

Kira:   So, as storytellers, for copywriters listening, it’s part of our job, and that’s what we use to persuade people to buy whatever products, services, how can we become better storytellers? Is there a process you go through, or certain steps you follow? Or is it just something organic in what you do?

Glynn:            I think there’s a lot of steps you can go through, and I think everyone … You want to make a story as authentic to who you are. And I think, one of the big things, that I know I go through, is simplify, simplify, simplify. You’ve heard that old yarn about, I forget who said it, but I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.

Rob:   You think maybe that was Mark Twain, maybe?

Glynn:            Somebody said that. But it’s really true that you want, that the editing process is a real process, and the iteration, and the iterative nature of this is really intense. Now, I do, when I get up on the top of a Snap Judgment show, I want it to sound like … This is just kind of tumbling out of my mouth right now, but the truth of the matter is, we’ve gone through iteration after iteration, edit after edit. These stories start on the page before they come out of my mouth. Or, and the same thing with the produced stories themselves. These hours, and a part of a 10-hour interview might be … A 10-hour interview might be part of a 10 minute story.

I think that people hope that effort by this army of production and producers is invisible, but for professionals, they have to know that this doesn’t just happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen easily. I love it when we tell us, we work with a person who’s had an experience. Most of the people on Snap Judgment, especially the regular production, they’re not storytellers, they’re people who have lived an amazing thing, and we’re trying to extract that story, and find a way to tell that story, and make them comfortable telling a story.

But oftentimes, they’ll say, ‘I can’t … ‘When they hear the final piece, it’s like, ‘Boy, I can’t believe I told the story like that. That’s great.’ And I think, ‘Well, you didn’t. We had to work that.’ But I love that it feels authentic to the person who’s listening back to themselves. I think that’s when we can say, ‘Oh, at least in that, we’ve succeeded.’

But how do you tell a better story? I think that it’s practice, and it’s practice, and it’s like making sure that that opening line grabs ahold of someone. What are you trying to do? What we’re trying to do, at least, look, our storytelling is, put you in someone else’s experience. Put you in someone else’s shoes, let’s wear someone else’s skin for a while. The whole idea is to, at the end, have a type of empathy created in the storytelling. And then, just personally, I think that a lot of the issues that we’re having right now stem from people not appreciating what it’s like to be someone else. And that empathy is just sorely lacking in our national dialogue. And so this show, at its core, is about empathy. What’s it like to be that other person?

And we can do it in a non-political way, because when someone just said, ‘Look. This is what happened to me. This is what happened to me. I’m not trying to sell you, this is just, this is my tale.’ And that, too, that ends up being the best sort of open line for our spin-off podcast, Spooked. Spooked started as kind of a … We wanted to take … It was a Halloween episode of Snap Judgment. And the idea was, let’s treat these Halloween stories that people have. Everyone’s got one of these things. These supernatural, I touched the darkness stories. Let’s treat it with the same respect that we treat all the rest of our stories, at least to do it for this one day. And the best Spooked story starts like, ‘Look. I don’t even want to tell you this. I don’t think he was going to believe me. But … ‘ And as soon as they say that, we can lean in a little bit.

You’ve got to have the storyteller be someone whom you trust. You can’t believe that they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I need that look. ‘I don’t believe this myself, but I’ve got to tell you what really happened to me.’ This is what happened to me, this is my story. I’m not … ‘And that beginning gives a type of authenticity to the storyteller. And that’s why, oftentimes, we really like people who maybe they don’t have the book to sell, or they’re not a paranormal investigator or something like that. They are a cook, or a builder, or whatever it is they do, and they stumbled upon something that changed them. Those are the best stories for us. And, again, what makes a good story, that hooked them in the beginning? This is making sure you’re laying down the gauntlet hard, early, so that people know two things. They’re hearing something from a speaker who they find compelling, and they’re hearing a lure to listen to what else they’ve got to say. That first setup. What is the story? Why am I listening to this story?

I think so many people would benefit from continually asking themselves in the edit process, why would someone listen? For us, then, too, we want some twists, we want some turns, so that at the end of the day, no one’s going to listen to Snap unless they’re entertained in some way. And that’s not to say that we don’t have points to make, that there is not a broader mission and all of that other kind of stuff, other pubic radio-ey stuff that you might hear. But we’ve got to entertain. And it’s got to flow, it’s got to go, it’s got to move, it’s got to take you places, it’s got to have scenes. And it’s got to have a surprise. ‘I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t expect that thing at the end.’

And finally, finally this. At least for our purposes, this is really, extremely important. When we’re telling a story on Snap Judgment, the typical pubic radio sort of pattern, is for there to be a story, a little explanation, a little story, a little explanation, a little story, explanation, and someone wraps it up in a public radio bow. This ending of a story, how you end the story is so important.

And it works like this. If I tell every person, every person listening right now, even, they are a meaning machine. By meaning, I mean you’re wondering, ‘What does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean?’ That’s the way our brains work. ‘What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean?’ The minute I tell you what a story means, your brain stops. ‘Okay, got it.’ What you never want to do, at least for our purposes at the end of a story, is tell someone what the story means. I don’t put that public radio bow on it, I don’t tell anyone what the story means. I end on an action. And on someone doing something, because then, now, your brain, the way the brain works, is just keep saying, ‘What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean?’ Now it’s your story.

Now you’re thinking about it. Now you have a vicarious experience with that, and your brain doesn’t just stop. Now it’s a story that you tell your mother, you tell your girlfriend, you tell your significant other. You tell your uncle. It becomes your story, because I don’t tell you what it means, and essentially, your brain can’t get it out, it can’t stop it like that. And it becomes a vicarious experience, and that’s what we want most of all, is the story to be lived vicariously.

Rob:   Yeah, I appreciate your approach to that, because as I think about the podcasts of yours that I’ve listened to, my approach to them is that they really make me think. So, for example, listening to the Heaven’s Gate podcast, it would have been very easy to approach that as, ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of weirdos who did a weird thing that resulted in this tragedy.’ But as you go through the story, you’re talking with some of the parents, and the pain, and the tragedy that they felt.

And you have interviews with the members, and you can feel what they were experiencing as part of the cult that they were in. And I think that there was even an episode where the leader of the cult starts to have second thoughts as she’s going through some health crises, and we learn how the members kind of buoy her up in her own beliefs, and bring her to that. So I really appreciate that approach, because the way you tell stories, yeah, I don’t know if it necessarily changes me, but it certainly makes me think about the ideas that you’re sharing, and maybe helps me change the way I think, then, about other things.

Glynn:            And that’s just it. At the end of the day, we just want you to … Here is a different perspective. Here is a life that lived in a different way. Does it have any resonance or impact for you own world? Can you see things differently? I had a hetero-normative upbringing. But when a kid tells me a story about his two moms fighting in the front seat of a car, and wondering where they’re going, I know what it’s like to be in the backseat of a car when there is a tension between my, the two parents that I love. I know what that’s like. And I can relate, because of that, to this other person’s experience, and I can feel, and experiencing through his eyes, because I have a little bit of a touchstone to relate to. And that’s really what’s important to us.

Kira:   All right. I’d love to talk more about Spooked. So you mentioned Spooked kind of came out of Halloween and grew from there. How has it transformed? Did you know that you were going to launch these multiple seasons? And why is this show really important to you?

Glynn:            Well, the show is, it’s one of those things where the idea, here, is, look. Can you have two completely disparate ideas in your head at the same time? Number one, here is a rational person. And I present, and the person presented rationally. And this rational person is telling you a story of that rational person’s supernatural experience. Now, maybe you believe in the supernatural, maybe you don’t. But you don’t believe this person’s lying. So, this person telling you what happened to them, and it’s incredible, and I’m going to blend these, I have to have both of these ideas in my head at the same time.

And it makes us question our own map of reality. Is the map that we’ve built all there is? Are there other ways of seeing the world and our place in it that are different? And you know, I want to say Spooked, the stories are generally, we’re not doing gory, people running through the place with an ax murderer stuff. The stories are really about people and their own monsters. What are you afraid of? What lies beyond that dark path? And the biggest question, of course, is the mystery of who we are in the first place. What lies over yonder shore? That idea, can you … What happens when we’re gone? Is there a shadow of us left here? All these questions, these are the big questions. And it’s weird, sometimes, I think, that we, our society uses ghost stories as a way to talk about these things, but I think it’s cool in a lot of ways, too.

I’m an amateur magician, and I can make a coin disappear. I can make a few different tricks happen around people. And it’s amazing to me how often just a little bit of a simple slight of hand makes people talk about the supernatural, and the bigger questions of their lives. ‘Where is my … I spoke to my grandmother in a dream. I wonder if I was really speaking to her. I wonder if turning left instead of right and missing that car accident was a sign.’ That, all those things emerge sometimes from doing, pulling a coin out from behind someone’s ear. And I think there’s just something interesting about that. And we love to play with it on Spooked.

Kira:   Yeah, I’ve used these stories to talk with my seven year old, and even my four year old, although sometimes it’s too much for him. But my seven year old loves the show, too. So we’ve used it to talk about what happens after we die, and to talk about a lot of uncomfortable topics that we may not have talked about otherwise, but because we’re both hearing the same stories, we’re able to explore different places that we wouldn’t normally explore.

Glynn:            I’m so thrilled that … Nothing I love better than a little Snapper.

Kira:   No, my daughter thought it was really cool that I’m talking to you today. So is the show also a warning? I feel like I started listening because the stories are compelling, it’s so well produced, I love hearing about supernatural anything. But then, as I listened to more, it starts to feel like from you, it’s a warning to people to not mess around with the supernatural. And as someone who can become obsessive with supernatural, it’s helped me learn that I need to stay away. This is some serious stuff, just back up a little bit. Is that something that has just happened organically? Or was that intentional by you to really kind of warn people about this type of stuff?

Glynn:            I’m sure there’s a little bit of intentionality in it, a little bit of my own background coming through. I was always warned as a child myself, these are not forces to play with. These are not forces to toy with. And I also saw first-hand what happened to people who obsessed over these issues and never had a good outcome. The answers you got were often never the answers you sought. And I wonder, and I don’t know. And I think I say this a lot, too. This is a journey that we’re taking together. I don’t have any answers on this thing. I really, I truly do not. I think, because of the way that I came up, I got to experience first-hand some people’s struggles and explorations of these matters.

And like I said, I grew up besides, in a world where demons were real. Witches were real. Healings were real. Speaking in either the tongue of the devil or of the angelic choir, that was real. And I say all that, because believe it or not, you don’t have to believe any of that stuff to know that that had real impact on real communities and real lives. People would make their life choices based upon what happened from, what they thought a witch told them, or what they thought … Choosing to go to have lifesaving surgery or stay home, and have a preacher come over and do a healing on someone. These are real, real people make real life and death decisions based upon their understanding of supernatural forces. And as such, believe it or not, you have to take it seriously.

Rob:   Glynn, is there an episode, or a story, or maybe it’s even a couple of episodes where, after you finished it, you put it up to be consumed, where you thought, ‘This is the story that I was meant to tell. This is why I do the thing that I do.’?

Glynn:            Every story I tell. It’s always the story I’m working on at the time. On this note, I told a story early on about a well witching that I thought got at a lot of the issues that we’re talking about now. And it was one of those stories that I always did want to tell. Our stories, I’m happy I got to tell. Last night, and this is just as rare, I don’t know what they were doing at my son’s school, but he asked me if I have ever told a story about colorism. And I was like, ‘What’s colorism?’ He’s like, ‘Well, you know. In that, in America, we have a white supremacy strain, but that strain also applies to the black community itself in that certain members of the African American community would discriminate against those darker as opposed to those who are lighter. And did you ever tell any stories about that?’

And I’d be like, ‘Well, I did tell a story about that.’ And it’s a story I had never told him. And it’s a story about me growing up in Detroit and wandering into a store, and seeing something called skin lightening cream. Because I was so jealous of my light-skinned cousin, who was always pretty boy Verge. He was always, he was the favored child, ‘Oh, he’s so good looking, oh, he’s so this, he’s so that.’ That, I was jealous of his complexion, that I … And I saw this thing, skin lightening cream, I took it. As a little kid.

I went home and tried to put this crazy acid on my face so that I would be more appealing. And when I think about that story, I think about how crazy it is that it’s not just white folks that believe the lie of white superiority in America, it’s infected the black community as well. And how do you … And so that an eight year old boy would sneak into a bathroom to try and put acid on his face to lighten his skin color. I think that’s a story that I think that America needs to hear about itself. And I think that there’s just so … There’s a lot. I feel like, in a lot of ways, that my own childhood was a bit of a lucid dream. And I’m still mining all that stuff that happened, the good and the bad, for stories. And it sounds stupid, but the truth of the matter is, it’s what’s your favorite story, it’s the story I’m working on right now.

Kira:   Yeah, and I love that looking back at your childhood like a lucid dream, because you share those stories from your childhood, and on the farm, and with your family in your podcast episodes at the beginning, and I always love hearing those stories from you before you lead into the stories by the other people sharing ghost stories. So I feel like we get to see those pieces of this lucid dream, too.

Glynn:            These stories, I feel fortunate. I think that coming out of that, sometimes some really hard times, really crazy times, really difficult times. I guess I process the world in narrative. And I get a lot out of, personally, of turning some of this stuff into story.

Rob:   Yes. I’d love to keep going on just talking about stories and the richness of the stories that you tell. But I also want to talk, maybe, a little bit about the craft of podcasting as well. And as somebody who’s been doing it for so long, and doing it at such a high level, I’m sure that you consume a lot of podcasts. What things should we be doing as podcasters a little differently in order to connect with our audiences better? Are there mistakes that you see across the wide range of podcasts that you listen to or are exposed to, and think, ‘Oh, we should be doing less of that.’ or, ‘We should be doing more of something else.’?

Glynn:            I think we should be doing a lot more experimentation. I don’t know that … We have a different business model than a lot of things. I wish, at Snap Judgment, the first show had been me and Mark sitting around, talking about sports. That would be great. It’d be a lot easier to make that podcast. But, I think that what I would like to see, is more people taking very seriously the intensity of what we’re doing, here. It is such an amazing thing, this whole advent of podcast nation. Someone puts their earbuds in or their headphones on, you get to go into a different world at that point. And taking that opportunity seriously from an acoustic narrative standpoint, from a personal standpoint, this is a … This type of storytelling is, it’s so intimate, this connection, this forum, this format itself is so intimate. And I would like to see more experimentation with that intimacy.

One of my favorite shows I’ve heard recently is called’ Have You Heard George’s Podcast?’ by the a guy, George the Poet out of London. And I love how he plays with this, how he plays with that intimacy in his show. I can’t get enough of it right now. And I want, I just think that we’re just in the first inning of how people are using this format. And I think we should start really trying to swing for the fences and trying to hit some home runs with different narrative styles, and not just try to have a rehash of some of the things that have already been done. I think the originality born out of people’s own personal experience is going to be what drives podcasting.

Kira:   Do you have any other specific examples of how we can experiment or what else you’ve seen to really push that intimacy level? Other ways we can think about it?

Glynn:            Well, I think that, just some, a lot of people want to be Ira Glass. A lot of people want to be, they want to sound like other people. And I think that there’s something about just the way that people respond to authenticity that is really compelling. I think that what people want to do, I think it’s great to start by emulating whom you admire. I think it’s a really useful tool for finding out who you are. It’s a tool for exactly that, finding out who you are. And I think one of the best ways to do this, people say, ‘What should I do as a podcaster? How should I make this?’ And I think the best way to do it is to understand that this is a discipline. And a discipline you’re going to commit to whatever production schedule you commit to, you’re going to hit it come hell or high water. You’re going to hit that production schedule.

And what it does is make you understand that there is no perfect. That you can’t wait for the perfect show. You’re not going to ever create the perfect show. You’re going to get finished even though you’re not done. And having the discipline to put those shows out, to do what you’ve done, do the best you can, but know that this has got to … ‘I’ve got to hit send on this.’ That’s the biggest … If I can say nothing else to someone who’s starting out in podcasting, I would say get that schedule down and hit that schedule come hell or high water. Listen to everything.

And obviously, this, I think is … As some aspects of this, you’re seeing, the people are making … This is an art. This is an art that’s just got a brand new pallet. And just like any other art, you draw from other disciplines, especially how do you incorporate music, and sound, and timing, and poetry? And visual art, how do you translate that into sound waves? How do you … The, I think some of the more powerful podcasts that are coming out right now are people who can actually act. And you see that craft displayed through this medium. I just think it’s wonderful to see people bringing their experience, their background, their art, their energy, their joy, and saying, ‘I can do that. I can take this and put it into podcast. Bring it.’ That’s what I said, bring all that to this thing. Because we need it. And the next big wave is going to come from people who are taking chances and bringing other mediums to podcasting.

Kira:   Yeah, if it wasn’t for Rob, we would never hit our weekly schedule. So thank you, Rob. I would never be able to do it. So, a lot of copywriters in our community have started podcasts more as a marketing engine to help them get clients. But for copywriters or business owners who really are just passionate about the craft of podcasting, and want that to be their business, their career, their focus, and ultimately, provide some type of pay, so they can continue to do it. It seems so daunting, but clearly it’s possible. So what advice would you give to those people?

Glynn:            Let me tell you a story. Back in the day, back, this is 10 years ago. When I first discovered something called podcasting. I was listening to a guy who tells science fiction stories. It was Scott Sigler. And the science fiction community was one of the first communities to actually embrace podcasting, probably because we’re into tech a little bit more than maybe the other communities might be. But, Scott Sigler. And he was a super prolific short story writer. And he had his own podcast. And he would also, though, at a request, at the whiff of a request, he would go and share a story with someone else’s podcast, or be on their show, or talk about storytelling, or doing anything. And this is the guy who no one had ever really heard of, outside of the podcasting community, he was really prolific, but in an audio sense. And he would just be on anyone’s show. And because a lot of people are trying to fill content, they put him in a lot of different things. And he really garnered a lot of favors.

And then he decides he’s going to take one of his stories and go and try to make a self-published book out of that. And, okay, he’s going to do it. And I believe it was on a Sunday that he said, ‘Please buy it on this day. Please buy my book on this day. Please buy it on this day.’ And he got through enough shows, and people owed him some favors and stuff like that, and everyone said it on their various podcasts. ‘Buy it on this day.’ It was Sunday, Bloody Sunday they called it. And then, all of a sudden, this book that no one had ever heard of in New York or whatever, was like the number one Amazon and New York Times seller. All of a sudden out of nowhere. And the power of the podcast, I don’t think people even understood it at the time. He just went from a non, a person who didn’t have a deal anywhere, anything like that, to having a number one book on these various charts.

And he did it by going to other people’s podcasts, by giving them something that they want. Like they needed a guest, he was going to give them guests. They needed a story, he gave them a story. What I would suggest is a lot of the … Whatever genre you’re into, whatever things that you do, I’ll bet that the person who is putting out the number one podcast in that genre is scrambling. Can you make something for them? Can you give them a gift so that they don’t have to do some?

If someone gives me a story that I know is super well-produced in a Snap  Judgment style that might not be exactly what I would do, but it’s an amazing, compelling piece of work that’s got a twist, that they know what I like to some extent, from listening to the show, but they’ve taken their own twist on it and said, ‘Here. Here’s a story, what do you think? Will you put that on Snap Judgment and let your audience listen to it?’ Hell, yeah. Especially right … I, like everybody else, I want to go home for the holidays. If someone just saved me, gave me a 20-minute gift of a story that works for our show, I couldn’t wait to put it on. I couldn’t … I would run top speed to stick it on the show.

And I think that that’s … The podcast community is such that even now, there’s no … You can still talk to just about everybody. Everyone is still pretty much accessible within this community. And people want to help each other. And if you give someone the compliment of saying, ‘I really like your show, and I made something that you might like. What do you think about playing it?’ Even if they don’t play it, you still have gone through the process of making that piece. And that’s a benefit in and of itself.

And just if you want, try, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This space, we have … One thing this space needs, needs all the time, it’s more content. And so doing that over and over again, that’s how … I’ll say this, for myself, when we were first starting off the show, I told a story about Superman, it was a villain story. And Ira Glass heard it. He had a hole to fill, put it on This American Life. That was huge for us. And that changed the trajectory of how people viewed the show. And we would do the exact same thing.

Rob:   Yeah, so there’s a career goal for us, Kira, come up with a story good enough to be on one of-

Kira:   This is my goal-

Rob:   That’s right.

Kira:   … for 2020.

Rob:   That’s right. So, Glynn, I have a final question for you. Your bio describes you as a fist-shaker, a mountain-hollerer, and a foot stomper. I love that description. I wonder what you mean by that, and maybe advice for those of us who’d like to do a little bit more fist-shaking, foot stomping, and hollering at mountains.

Glynn:            What do I mean by that? I’m having some fun when I say that, but I came from the activist background. I came from a … My previous jobs were trying to make sure that we could build a homeless shelter, a battered women’s facility, take care of our kids, get more money for the schools. That’s really kind of where that whole social justice thing is where I … I know it’s become a bad term as of late, but I was a community organizer. And I have a legal background as well, and so I think a lot of the energy that’s necessary for community organizing is certainly a hope visible in the types of stories that we tell on Snap Judgment.

Kira:   My last question, I know you said you don’t have a favorite story. But if we’re thinking about ghost stories on Spooked, is there one that terrified you more than any of the rest?

Glynn:            I forget what we called this story. This is great for me. There was a story we did, and it was about a mural. A woman changed, she walked into this bar, this, she had this-

Rob:   That’s the one that my hair stood up on my … That was freaky.

Glynn:            Right, right? This was a bar, and the mural itself started to sort of, mirroring the people that are there, and just, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ This and that. And then when she tries to come back to find the bar, ‘Well, that bar’s been closed for 20 years.’ Whatever it is like that. I loved the story, I loved it. And then, what was great was, people … This, the bar, I believe, the story was told about a bar in Wisconsin.

People found the bar. And found the mural and was sending us pictures of them in front of this mural, which I just loved. I loved it when, because, we do fact-check the stories to some extent. We want the place to be there, we want the person to not be a crazy person, we want … what we can’t … obviously, I’m not going to necessarily see the supernatural thing, but I want to know that the person is telling a story that is true to their own situation. And I loved that people found that mural and essentially, verified, to some extent, the story that the woman had told us.

Kira:   Yeah, that was a good example of a story that seemed so hard to believe, yet the storyteller had such a credible voice. She’s so believable as she told that story. Like, ‘How could this not be true?’ It’s definitely one of my favorites, too. So, Glynn, where can our listeners find you? Where should they connect with you? What are some of the spots they should go to online?

Glynn:            Well, you can find the world of Snap Judgment at snapjudgment.org. We also have the Spooked podcast for the spooky stories, Heaven’s Gate, just you can type those, all that stuff into Google, and you’ll see our stuff. Snap Judgment the show comes out once a week. It’s on public radio stations around the country, and on podcast, of course, and, and next year, 2020, we’re going to be launching a raft of new programming, it’s going to blow your mind. I can’t wait for people to hear it, we’re really excited here at Snap.

Rob:   Well, now, I’m excited to hear it. Can’t wait to hear all of the new stuff, because the older stuff is just so compelling and so much fun to listen to. So, yeah. Thank you so much.

Kira:   Thank you, Glynn. It’s been an honor and such a treat to have you here. We appreciate it.

Glynn:            Thank you all, I appreciate it.

Rob:   You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available at iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing at iTunes and by leaving your review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.

This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Club In Real Life, our live event in San Diego March 12th through 14th, 2020. Get your tickets now at thecopywriterclub.com/TCCIRL.

Kira:   What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Rob:   You’re invited to join the club for episode 168 as we chat with media personality and radio podcast producer, Glynn Washington, about what it takes to tell a great story, the power of podcasting to connect with an audience, what most podcasters including us should be doing differently, and what it means to be a fist-shaker, mountain hollerer, and foot stomper.

Kira:   So, Glynn, welcome.

Glynn:            Thank you for having me.

Kira:   All right. So, Glynn knows, because I’ve already e-mailed him and said, ‘I’m a super fan.’ So I have listened to every episode of Spooked, all three seasons of Spooked. So this is just a delight, to be able to talk to you about what happens behind the scenes and get to know more about you.

Rob:   And I want to add, I listened to all of the episodes of the Heaven’s Gate podcast, as well as several of the Spooked episodes. So-

Kira:   So we’re both super fans.

Rob:   We’re big fans of what you’ve done, Glynn.

Glynn:            Well, I’m so glad you dug it. And I appreciate you having me on the show today. And I hope, I’m sorry, we had a bit of a flood, here, so I’m in a weird setting. So I’m hoping the sounds works for you right now.

Rob:   Yeah, it’s working great. It sounds really good.

Kira:   All right, Glynn. So let’s start with your story. How did you end up as a storyteller, podcaster, executive producer, and host of Snap Judgment and my favorite podcast, Spooked?

Glynn:            Well, it was not by design. This is something that … an organic unfolding of a lot of different things. But, to make a long story shorter, I have been a public media head for a long time, and I started listening to various shows in the podcast format early on, like, in maybe 2006, ’07, ’08, when I was listening to podcasts before they became, what people think about them today. And I heard an ad for something called the Public Radio Talent Quest. It was Ira Glass and Terry Gross, and I believe a few other people that were saying if you have something called hostiness, you can do this, this public radio thing. And the truth of the matter was, I just wanted to preserve my right to complain. I love public radio, but I thought that a lot of different things that happened were, they weren’t necessarily getting at the communities that I knew anything about, properly.

And, for an example, I remember listening to someone, and they were talking to someone who was an African American person, lower social economic status, and they asked him a question. And when he answered the question, they translated what he said into public radio-speak. And, as if the listeners couldn’t understand the words coming out of this man’s mouth. And I thought it was outrageous. So, that was the reason why I entered the contest and sent in my little entry. You just have to send in a little, two-minute entry of some sort. I sent it in and forgot about it. And about three months later, I got a phone call, I was eating at a Chinese restaurant in Berkeley, I got a phone call saying I was one of 10 finalists nationwide. And I thought that I knew better, I thought that was my buddy, Mark, playing a joke. So, I hung up the phone. But it turns out they were serious, and that’s kind of how I got started in public radio.

Rob:   So, Glynn, tell me, what was the reaction, as you told your friends and your family, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this as a career.’ Because I think a lot of people look at this and say, ‘Yeah. If you’re a Tim Ferriss, or if you’re a Ira Glass, maybe you can make a living as a podcasters, but I can’t imagine, well, I do imagine, it’s probably a lot like telling your family, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a poet. And can you support me for life?’ So what was the reaction you got from everyone?

Glynn:            Initially, that’s exactly right. I had a good career. I’ve been a non-profit director. I was running a center at the University of Berkeley in the business school. And I thought I was doing my thing. And then when I decided to leave, I remember my father came up. And he was helping me on a Saturday move some stuff out of my office, to bring it back to the house, which is where I was going to be working for a while. And he was like, ‘Son, what are you doing? You’ve got yourself a nice office, here. This is … you’re taking … What are you doing? What are you doing?’ This was making kind of sense.

And, yeah, that just goes with the whole territory. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. It makes a lot more sense now. But back then, people didn’t really know what a podcast was. I think serial, and This American Life team for popularizing it in the popular imagination, what this thing was. But, yeah, you were jumping off into the great unknown.

Kira:   So, what helped Snap Judgment take off so quickly and become so successful really fast? What were some of those factors that contributed to that?

Glynn:            Well, I don’t know that it really did become really successful really fast. I know that, I remember reading an article in some LA paper about Snap Judgment being an overnight success. And we laughed and laughed at that, because so much work, so much effort, so much time went into making the show. And the build was actually fairly slow. I can tell you some of what went into it, but when I finally was able to launch the show, I was so happy. We got a little bit of a grant, at the time, it was a big grant from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting were going to launch the show. But podcasting was sort of secondary, at least in their minds. So, our minds, it was always primary. But we wanted to be on public radio stations. And so, we called up the public radio distributors, NPR at the time. They said no. PRI, who was distributing This American Life, they said no. And American Public Media, they distributed, at the time, was Garrison Keillor, and they said no.

So, we got this show, but we don’t have any distribution. And so, we ended up, I remember calling all of them back, saying the other ones were interested, and I was going to have to make a quick decision, but I wanted to give them one more chance. And NPR was the first one to bite. And we got to be distributed by NPR, which was great for us, because it added a certain type of legitimacy to what we were doing. But it wasn’t like they were going to put us on station. Every single station in America makes their own decisions about their programming schedule. And NPR certainly wasn’t pushing Snap. It was something that we had to do ourselves.

And that meant that the podcast became extremely important, because what happened would be, we would kind of target an area, try to get the people to listen to the podcast, and they’d go … And they’d listen, and they’d, well, and then ask their local stations, ‘Why aren’t you covering this show? What aren’t you playing this show?’ We called and said, ‘Hey, would you play Snap Judgment?’ They’d say no. But when a group of listeners would call, that’s when things started to change and it was estimated that we’d be on like maybe 20 stations by the end of year one, and we ended up being on about 100.

And then, similar for year two, and we ended up being in about 200. And that’s when NPR actually started paying attention to us. And thank God, we were able to make our mistakes for that two year period without a whole lot of, sort of, oversight. It was, the show started on my kitchen table, and we had to make cuts in and out, and sometimes in my partner Mark’s spare room. And he lived next to the UPS. And we had to make cuts in and out of, look down the street both ways and see if there was a truck coming, and then make a recording and hope that if there was a truck sound it wasn’t too loud in the background of the recording. That’s literally how the first season was made.

So, I say all that to say that it was not … We weren’t in some big expansive studio somewhere. And I think it really worked to our benefit to be able to make our own mistakes, figure out for ourselves what the show sounded like, and then, later on, when we had gotten a little bit of traction, and we felt like we knew what we were doing, then we could, when they wanted us to change it, we could have a little bit more gumption to say, ‘No, we think we’re going to push back on you, now.’

Rob:   Yeah, I love hearing you talk about the hustle, and what it took to get started, because when you listen to the podcast today, it’s really well-produced and it flows. There are no truck sounds in the back, like you described. So, it’s fun to hear that not everybody starts at the top. And it takes a little bit of a climb.

Glynn:            Oh, yeah. Even, we were hoping, even then, I would think we really want to focus on the sound, and I hope that it was produced as well as we could do it. I’ll say this, though. It was funny, I was laughing a little while ago. I got a question online that someone said, ‘What program do you use to produce Snap Judgment?’ And now, we use Logic and Pro Tools, which are professional sound audio equipment. But the truth of the matter is, we made the first season on the sound program that comes installed in everybody’s Mac. iMusic.

Rob:   The Garage Band?

Glynn:            Yeah.

Rob:   Oh, yeah. Okay.

Glynn:            And, we were doing national broadcast on just regular stuff that everyone has in their computer right now. And sometimes we still do, if we’re in a scramble or something like that, we want to make it sound as good as we can, but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

Rob:   Yeah. One of the things I love about your podcasts, Glynn, is the focus on stories. Even the Heaven’s Gate, it’s all serialized, but it’s one really fascinating story. I was listening to several episodes of Spooked a couple months ago, when Kira told me about it. And had those moments where the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, because the story is so compelling. Will you tell us a little bit about your approach to stories? What makes a good story? And how do you know when you’ve got a story that you’ve got to tell?

Glynn:            I grew up, as this kind of came out in the Heaven’s Gate podcast, I grew up in a real story-bound community. I grew up in this crazy religious cult. And when I look back on it in retrospect, there’s so many ridiculous things, and just incredible things happened during that time period, growing up. But it was all driven by story. It was all driven by a shared story, by a belief that our founder could talk to God. And that he had a special truth that only the chosen people, that was us, could understand. And that Jesus was going to come any minute, and we had to be on our toes. Some people slept wearing their shoes so they could be ready to get up if Jesus came in the middle of the night.

And when I walked away from all that, in my late teens, because I was a true believer as a child, when I walked away from that, I thought, ‘What a waste. What a tragedy. What craziness that was. What a misspent youth.’ But, later on, I came to understand that I did get something from that insanity, and it was an appreciation of story, and how powerful story is, and how story can make you do amazing things.

When we first started Snap Judgment, I remember, I was listening to Crossfire, watching Crossfire on television, and you have two idiots, and they’re shouting at each other about some political thing and no one in the history of time has ever changed their mind by watching that show. Never, ever happened. But people change their minds all the time from narrative, from listening to, ‘This happened to me. Look. Hey, I don’t have anything to sell you, but this is my story.’ And I’ve just, the whole thing, it just occurred to me that the power of narrative is an amazing thing. And I wanted to take back that power for something positive. Because it had been used as a cudgel and weaponized against the community I grew up in. And I wanted to see if I could use it in a different way.

Kira:   So, as storytellers, for copywriters listening, it’s part of our job, and that’s what we use to persuade people to buy whatever products, services, how can we become better storytellers? Is there a process you go through, or certain steps you follow? Or is it just something organic in what you do?

Glynn:            I think there’s a lot of steps you can go through, and I think everyone … You want to make a story as authentic to who you are. And I think, one of the big things, that I know I go through, is simplify, simplify, simplify. You’ve heard that old yarn about, I forget who said it, but I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have enough time.

Rob:   You think maybe that was Mark Twain, maybe?

Glynn:            Somebody said that. But it’s really true that you want, that the editing process is a real process, and the iteration, and the iterative nature of this is really intense. Now, I do, when I get up on the top of a Snap Judgment show, I want it to sound like … This is just kind of tumbling out of my mouth right now, but the truth of the matter is, we’ve gone through iteration after iteration, edit after edit. These stories start on the page before they come out of my mouth. Or, and the same thing with the produced stories themselves. These hours, and a part of a 10-hour interview might be … A 10-hour interview might be part of a 10 minute story.

I think that people hope that effort by this army of production and producers is invisible, but for professionals, they have to know that this doesn’t just happen by accident, and it doesn’t happen easily. I love it when we tell us, we work with a person who’s had an experience. Most of the people on Snap Judgment, especially the regular production, they’re not storytellers, they’re people who have lived an amazing thing, and we’re trying to extract that story, and find a way to tell that story, and make them comfortable telling a story.

But oftentimes, they’ll say, ‘I can’t … ‘When they hear the final piece, it’s like, ‘Boy, I can’t believe I told the story like that. That’s great.’ And I think, ‘Well, you didn’t. We had to work that.’ But I love that it feels authentic to the person who’s listening back to themselves. I think that’s when we can say, ‘Oh, at least in that, we’ve succeeded.’

But how do you tell a better story? I think that it’s practice, and it’s practice, and it’s like making sure that that opening line grabs ahold of someone. What are you trying to do? What we’re trying to do, at least, look, our storytelling is, put you in someone else’s experience. Put you in someone else’s shoes, let’s wear someone else’s skin for a while. The whole idea is to, at the end, have a type of empathy created in the storytelling. And then, just personally, I think that a lot of the issues that we’re having right now stem from people not appreciating what it’s like to be someone else. And that empathy is just sorely lacking in our national dialogue. And so this show, at its core, is about empathy. What’s it like to be that other person?

And we can do it in a non-political way, because when someone just said, ‘Look. This is what happened to me. This is what happened to me. I’m not trying to sell you, this is just, this is my tale.’ And that, too, that ends up being the best sort of open line for our spin-off podcast, Spooked. Spooked started as kind of a … We wanted to take … It was a Halloween episode of Snap Judgment. And the idea was, let’s treat these Halloween stories that people have. Everyone’s got one of these things. These supernatural, I touched the darkness stories. Let’s treat it with the same respect that we treat all the rest of our stories, at least to do it for this one day. And the best Spooked story starts like, ‘Look. I don’t even want to tell you this. I don’t think he was going to believe me. But … ‘ And as soon as they say that, we can lean in a little bit.

You’ve got to have the storyteller be someone whom you trust. You can’t believe that they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I need that look. ‘I don’t believe this myself, but I’ve got to tell you what really happened to me.’ This is what happened to me, this is my story. I’m not … ‘And that beginning gives a type of authenticity to the storyteller. And that’s why, oftentimes, we really like people who maybe they don’t have the book to sell, or they’re not a paranormal investigator or something like that. They are a cook, or a builder, or whatever it is they do, and they stumbled upon something that changed them. Those are the best stories for us. And, again, what makes a good story, that hooked them in the beginning? This is making sure you’re laying down the gauntlet hard, early, so that people know two things. They’re hearing something from a speaker who they find compelling, and they’re hearing a lure to listen to what else they’ve got to say. That first setup. What is the story? Why am I listening to this story?

I think so many people would benefit from continually asking themselves in the edit process, why would someone listen? For us, then, too, we want some twists, we want some turns, so that at the end of the day, no one’s going to listen to Snap unless they’re entertained in some way. And that’s not to say that we don’t have points to make, that there is not a broader mission and all of that other kind of stuff, other pubic radio-ey stuff that you might hear. But we’ve got to entertain. And it’s got to flow, it’s got to go, it’s got to move, it’s got to take you places, it’s got to have scenes. And it’s got to have a surprise. ‘I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t expect that thing at the end.’

And finally, finally this. At least for our purposes, this is really, extremely important. When we’re telling a story on Snap Judgment, the typical pubic radio sort of pattern, is for there to be a story, a little explanation, a little story, a little explanation, a little story, explanation, and someone wraps it up in a public radio bow. This ending of a story, how you end the story is so important.

And it works like this. If I tell every person, every person listening right now, even, they are a meaning machine. By meaning, I mean you’re wondering, ‘What does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? What does it mean?’ That’s the way our brains work. ‘What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean?’ The minute I tell you what a story means, your brain stops. ‘Okay, got it.’ What you never want to do, at least for our purposes at the end of a story, is tell someone what the story means. I don’t put that public radio bow on it, I don’t tell anyone what the story means. I end on an action. And on someone doing something, because then, now, your brain, the way the brain works, is just keep saying, ‘What’s it mean? What’s it mean? What’s it mean?’ Now it’s your story.

Now you’re thinking about it. Now you have a vicarious experience with that, and your brain doesn’t just stop. Now it’s a story that you tell your mother, you tell your girlfriend, you tell your significant other. You tell your uncle. It becomes your story, because I don’t tell you what it means, and essentially, your brain can’t get it out, it can’t stop it like that. And it becomes a vicarious experience, and that’s what we want most of all, is the story to be lived vicariously.

Rob:   Yeah, I appreciate your approach to that, because as I think about the podcasts of yours that I’ve listened to, my approach to them is that they really make me think. So, for example, listening to the Heaven’s Gate podcast, it would have been very easy to approach that as, ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of weirdos who did a weird thing that resulted in this tragedy.’ But as you go through the story, you’re talking with some of the parents, and the pain, and the tragedy that they felt.

And you have interviews with the members, and you can feel what they were experiencing as part of the cult that they were in. And I think that there was even an episode where the leader of the cult starts to have second thoughts as she’s going through some health crises, and we learn how the members kind of buoy her up in her own beliefs, and bring her to that. So I really appreciate that approach, because the way you tell stories, yeah, I don’t know if it necessarily changes me, but it certainly makes me think about the ideas that you’re sharing, and maybe helps me change the way I think, then, about other things.

Glynn:            And that’s just it. At the end of the day, we just want you to … Here is a different perspective. Here is a life that lived in a different way. Does it have any resonance or impact for you own world? Can you see things differently? I had a hetero-normative upbringing. But when a kid tells me a story about his two moms fighting in the front seat of a car, and wondering where they’re going, I know what it’s like to be in the backseat of a car when there is a tension between my, the two parents that I love. I know what that’s like. And I can relate, because of that, to this other person’s experience, and I can feel, and experiencing through his eyes, because I have a little bit of a touchstone to relate to. And that’s really what’s important to us.

Kira:   All right. I’d love to talk more about Spooked. So you mentioned Spooked kind of came out of Halloween and grew from there. How has it transformed? Did you know that you were going to launch these multiple seasons? And why is this show really important to you?

Glynn:            Well, the show is, it’s one of those things where the idea, here, is, look. Can you have two completely disparate ideas in your head at the same time? Number one, here is a rational person. And I present, and the person presented rationally. And this rational person is telling you a story of that rational person’s supernatural experience. Now, maybe you believe in the supernatural, maybe you don’t. But you don’t believe this person’s lying. So, this person telling you what happened to them, and it’s incredible, and I’m going to blend these, I have to have both of these ideas in my head at the same time.

And it makes us question our own map of reality. Is the map that we’ve built all there is? Are there other ways of seeing the world and our place in it that are different? And you know, I want to say Spooked, the stories are generally, we’re not doing gory, people running through the place with an ax murderer stuff. The stories are really about people and their own monsters. What are you afraid of? What lies beyond that dark path? And the biggest question, of course, is the mystery of who we are in the first place. What lies over yonder shore? That idea, can you … What happens when we’re gone? Is there a shadow of us left here? All these questions, these are the big questions. And it’s weird, sometimes, I think, that we, our society uses ghost stories as a way to talk about these things, but I think it’s cool in a lot of ways, too.

I’m an amateur magician, and I can make a coin disappear. I can make a few different tricks happen around people. And it’s amazing to me how often just a little bit of a simple slight of hand makes people talk about the supernatural, and the bigger questions of their lives. ‘Where is my … I spoke to my grandmother in a dream. I wonder if I was really speaking to her. I wonder if turning left instead of right and missing that car accident was a sign.’ That, all those things emerge sometimes from doing, pulling a coin out from behind someone’s ear. And I think there’s just something interesting about that. And we love to play with it on Spooked.

Kira:   Yeah, I’ve used these stories to talk with my seven year old, and even my four year old, although sometimes it’s too much for him. But my seven year old loves the show, too. So we’ve used it to talk about what happens after we die, and to talk about a lot of uncomfortable topics that we may not have talked about otherwise, but because we’re both hearing the same stories, we’re able to explore different places that we wouldn’t normally explore.

Glynn:            I’m so thrilled that … Nothing I love better than a little Snapper.

Kira:   No, my daughter thought it was really cool that I’m talking to you today. So is the show also a warning? I feel like I started listening because the stories are compelling, it’s so well produced, I love hearing about supernatural anything. But then, as I listened to more, it starts to feel like from you, it’s a warning to people to not mess around with the supernatural. And as someone who can become obsessive with supernatural, it’s helped me learn that I need to stay away. This is some serious stuff, just back up a little bit. Is that something that has just happened organically? Or was that intentional by you to really kind of warn people about this type of stuff?

Glynn:            I’m sure there’s a little bit of intentionality in it, a little bit of my own background coming through. I was always warned as a child myself, these are not forces to play with. These are not forces to toy with. And I also saw first-hand what happened to people who obsessed over these issues and never had a good outcome. The answers you got were often never the answers you sought. And I wonder, and I don’t know. And I think I say this a lot, too. This is a journey that we’re taking together. I don’t have any answers on this thing. I really, I truly do not. I think, because of the way that I came up, I got to experience first-hand some people’s struggles and explorations of these matters.

And like I said, I grew up besides, in a world where demons were real. Witches were real. Healings were real. Speaking in either the tongue of the devil or of the angelic choir, that was real. And I say all that, because believe it or not, you don’t have to believe any of that stuff to know that that had real impact on real communities and real lives. People would make their life choices based upon what happened from, what they thought a witch told them, or what they thought … Choosing to go to have lifesaving surgery or stay home, and have a preacher come over and do a healing on someone. These are real, real people make real life and death decisions based upon their understanding of supernatural forces. And as such, believe it or not, you have to take it seriously.

Rob:   Glynn, is there an episode, or a story, or maybe it’s even a couple of episodes where, after you finished it, you put it up to be consumed, where you thought, ‘This is the story that I was meant to tell. This is why I do the thing that I do.’?

Glynn:            Every story I tell. It’s always the story I’m working on at the time. On this note, I told a story early on about a well witching that I thought got at a lot of the issues that we’re talking about now. And it was one of those stories that I always did want to tell. Our stories, I’m happy I got to tell. Last night, and this is just as rare, I don’t know what they were doing at my son’s school, but he asked me if I have ever told a story about colorism. And I was like, ‘What’s colorism?’ He’s like, ‘Well, you know. In that, in America, we have a white supremacy strain, but that strain also applies to the black community itself in that certain members of the African American community would discriminate against those darker as opposed to those who are lighter. And did you ever tell any stories about that?’

And I’d be like, ‘Well, I did tell a story about that.’ And it’s a story I had never told him. And it’s a story about me growing up in Detroit and wandering into a store, and seeing something called skin lightening cream. Because I was so jealous of my light-skinned cousin, who was always pretty boy Verge. He was always, he was the favored child, ‘Oh, he’s so good looking, oh, he’s so this, he’s so that.’ That, I was jealous of his complexion, that I … And I saw this thing, skin lightening cream, I took it. As a little kid.

I went home and tried to put this crazy acid on my face so that I would be more appealing. And when I think about that story, I think about how crazy it is that it’s not just white folks that believe the lie of white superiority in America, it’s infected the black community as well. And how do you … And so that an eight year old boy would sneak into a bathroom to try and put acid on his face to lighten his skin color. I think that’s a story that I think that America needs to hear about itself. And I think that there’s just so … There’s a lot. I feel like, in a lot of ways, that my own childhood was a bit of a lucid dream. And I’m still mining all that stuff that happened, the good and the bad, for stories. And it sounds stupid, but the truth of the matter is, it’s what’s your favorite story, it’s the story I’m working on right now.

Kira:   Yeah, and I love that looking back at your childhood like a lucid dream, because you share those stories from your childhood, and on the farm, and with your family in your podcast episodes at the beginning, and I always love hearing those stories from you before you lead into the stories by the other people sharing ghost stories. So I feel like we get to see those pieces of this lucid dream, too.

Glynn:            These stories, I feel fortunate. I think that coming out of that, sometimes some really hard times, really crazy times, really difficult times. I guess I process the world in narrative. And I get a lot out of, personally, of turning some of this stuff into story.

Rob:   Yes. I’d love to keep going on just talking about stories and the richness of the stories that you tell. But I also want to talk, maybe, a little bit about the craft of podcasting as well. And as somebody who’s been doing it for so long, and doing it at such a high level, I’m sure that you consume a lot of podcasts. What things should we be doing as podcasters a little differently in order to connect with our audiences better? Are there mistakes that you see across the wide range of podcasts that you listen to or are exposed to, and think, ‘Oh, we should be doing less of that.’ or, ‘We should be doing more of something else.’?

Glynn:            I think we should be doing a lot more experimentation. I don’t know that … We have a different business model than a lot of things. I wish, at Snap Judgment, the first show had been me and Mark sitting around, talking about sports. That would be great. It’d be a lot easier to make that podcast. But, I think that what I would like to see, is more people taking very seriously the intensity of what we’re doing, here. It is such an amazing thing, this whole advent of podcast nation. Someone puts their earbuds in or their headphones on, you get to go into a different world at that point. And taking that opportunity seriously from an acoustic narrative standpoint, from a personal standpoint, this is a … This type of storytelling is, it’s so intimate, this connection, this forum, this format itself is so intimate. And I would like to see more experimentation with that intimacy.

One of my favorite shows I’ve heard recently is called’ Have You Heard George’s Podcast?’ by the a guy, George the Poet out of London. And I love how he plays with this, how he plays with that intimacy in his show. I can’t get enough of it right now. And I want, I just think that we’re just in the first inning of how people are using this format. And I think we should start really trying to swing for the fences and trying to hit some home runs with different narrative styles, and not just try to have a rehash of some of the things that have already been done. I think the originality born out of people’s own personal experience is going to be what drives podcasting.

Kira:   Do you have any other specific examples of how we can experiment or what else you’ve seen to really push that intimacy level? Other ways we can think about it?

Glynn:            Well, I think that, just some, a lot of people want to be Ira Glass. A lot of people want to be, they want to sound like other people. And I think that there’s something about just the way that people respond to authenticity that is really compelling. I think that what people want to do, I think it’s great to start by emulating whom you admire. I think it’s a really useful tool for finding out who you are. It’s a tool for exactly that, finding out who you are. And I think one of the best ways to do this, people say, ‘What should I do as a podcaster? How should I make this?’ And I think the best way to do it is to understand that this is a discipline. And a discipline you’re going to commit to whatever production schedule you commit to, you’re going to hit it come hell or high water. You’re going to hit that production schedule.

And what it does is make you understand that there is no perfect. That you can’t wait for the perfect show. You’re not going to ever create the perfect show. You’re going to get finished even though you’re not done. And having the discipline to put those shows out, to do what you’ve done, do the best you can, but know that this has got to … ‘I’ve got to hit send on this.’ That’s the biggest … If I can say nothing else to someone who’s starting out in podcasting, I would say get that schedule down and hit that schedule come hell or high water. Listen to everything.

And obviously, this, I think is … As some aspects of this, you’re seeing, the people are making … This is an art. This is an art that’s just got a brand new pallet. And just like any other art, you draw from other disciplines, especially how do you incorporate music, and sound, and timing, and poetry? And visual art, how do you translate that into sound waves? How do you … The, I think some of the more powerful podcasts that are coming out right now are people who can actually act. And you see that craft displayed through this medium. I just think it’s wonderful to see people bringing their experience, their background, their art, their energy, their joy, and saying, ‘I can do that. I can take this and put it into podcast. Bring it.’ That’s what I said, bring all that to this thing. Because we need it. And the next big wave is going to come from people who are taking chances and bringing other mediums to podcasting.

Kira:   Yeah, if it wasn’t for Rob, we would never hit our weekly schedule. So thank you, Rob. I would never be able to do it. So, a lot of copywriters in our community have started podcasts more as a marketing engine to help them get clients. But for copywriters or business owners who really are just passionate about the craft of podcasting, and want that to be their business, their career, their focus, and ultimately, provide some type of pay, so they can continue to do it. It seems so daunting, but clearly it’s possible. So what advice would you give to those people?

Glynn:            Let me tell you a story. Back in the day, back, this is 10 years ago. When I first discovered something called podcasting. I was listening to a guy who tells science fiction stories. It was Scott Sigler. And the science fiction community was one of the first communities to actually embrace podcasting, probably because we’re into tech a little bit more than maybe the other communities might be. But, Scott Sigler. And he was a super prolific short story writer. And he had his own podcast. And he would also, though, at a request, at the whiff of a request, he would go and share a story with someone else’s podcast, or be on their show, or talk about storytelling, or doing anything. And this is the guy who no one had ever really heard of, outside of the podcasting community, he was really prolific, but in an audio sense. And he would just be on anyone’s show. And because a lot of people are trying to fill content, they put him in a lot of different things. And he really garnered a lot of favors.

And then he decides he’s going to take one of his stories and go and try to make a self-published book out of that. And, okay, he’s going to do it. And I believe it was on a Sunday that he said, ‘Please buy it on this day. Please buy my book on this day. Please buy it on this day.’ And he got through enough shows, and people owed him some favors and stuff like that, and everyone said it on their various podcasts. ‘Buy it on this day.’ It was Sunday, Bloody Sunday they called it. And then, all of a sudden, this book that no one had ever heard of in New York or whatever, was like the number one Amazon and New York Times seller. All of a sudden out of nowhere. And the power of the podcast, I don’t think people even understood it at the time. He just went from a non, a person who didn’t have a deal anywhere, anything like that, to having a number one book on these various charts.

And he did it by going to other people’s podcasts, by giving them something that they want. Like they needed a guest, he was going to give them guests. They needed a story, he gave them a story. What I would suggest is a lot of the … Whatever genre you’re into, whatever things that you do, I’ll bet that the person who is putting out the number one podcast in that genre is scrambling. Can you make something for them? Can you give them a gift so that they don’t have to do some?

If someone gives me a story that I know is super well-produced in a Snap  Judgment style that might not be exactly what I would do, but it’s an amazing, compelling piece of work that’s got a twist, that they know what I like to some extent, from listening to the show, but they’ve taken their own twist on it and said, ‘Here. Here’s a story, what do you think? Will you put that on Snap Judgment and let your audience listen to it?’ Hell, yeah. Especially right … I, like everybody else, I want to go home for the holidays. If someone just saved me, gave me a 20-minute gift of a story that works for our show, I couldn’t wait to put it on. I couldn’t … I would run top speed to stick it on the show.

And I think that that’s … The podcast community is such that even now, there’s no … You can still talk to just about everybody. Everyone is still pretty much accessible within this community. And people want to help each other. And if you give someone the compliment of saying, ‘I really like your show, and I made something that you might like. What do you think about playing it?’ Even if they don’t play it, you still have gone through the process of making that piece. And that’s a benefit in and of itself.

And just if you want, try, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This space, we have … One thing this space needs, needs all the time, it’s more content. And so doing that over and over again, that’s how … I’ll say this, for myself, when we were first starting off the show, I told a story about Superman, it was a villain story. And Ira Glass heard it. He had a hole to fill, put it on This American Life. That was huge for us. And that changed the trajectory of how people viewed the show. And we would do the exact same thing.

Rob:   Yeah, so there’s a career goal for us, Kira, come up with a story good enough to be on one of-

Kira:   This is my goal-

Rob:   That’s right.

Kira:   … for 2020.

Rob:   That’s right. So, Glynn, I have a final question for you. Your bio describes you as a fist-shaker, a mountain-hollerer, and a foot stomper. I love that description. I wonder what you mean by that, and maybe advice for those of us who’d like to do a little bit more fist-shaking, foot stomping, and hollering at mountains.

Glynn:            What do I mean by that? I’m having some fun when I say that, but I came from the activist background. I came from a … My previous jobs were trying to make sure that we could build a homeless shelter, a battered women’s facility, take care of our kids, get more money for the schools. That’s really kind of where that whole social justice thing is where I … I know it’s become a bad term as of late, but I was a community organizer. And I have a legal background as well, and so I think a lot of the energy that’s necessary for community organizing is certainly a hope visible in the types of stories that we tell on Snap Judgment.

Kira:   My last question, I know you said you don’t have a favorite story. But if we’re thinking about ghost stories on Spooked, is there one that terrified you more than any of the rest?

Glynn:            I forget what we called this story. This is great for me. There was a story we did, and it was about a mural. A woman changed, she walked into this bar, this, she had this-

Rob:   That’s the one that my hair stood up on my … That was freaky.

Glynn:            Right, right? This was a bar, and the mural itself started to sort of, mirroring the people that are there, and just, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ This and that. And then when she tries to come back to find the bar, ‘Well, that bar’s been closed for 20 years.’ Whatever it is like that. I loved the story, I loved it. And then, what was great was, people … This, the bar, I believe, the story was told about a bar in Wisconsin.

People found the bar. And found the mural and was sending us pictures of them in front of this mural, which I just loved. I loved it when, because, we do fact-check the stories to some extent. We want the place to be there, we want the person to not be a crazy person, we want … what we can’t … obviously, I’m not going to necessarily see the supernatural thing, but I want to know that the person is telling a story that is true to their own situation. And I loved that people found that mural and essentially, verified, to some extent, the story that the woman had told us.

Kira:   Yeah, that was a good example of a story that seemed so hard to believe, yet the storyteller had such a credible voice. She’s so believable as she told that story. Like, ‘How could this not be true?’ It’s definitely one of my favorites, too. So, Glynn, where can our listeners find you? Where should they connect with you? What are some of the spots they should go to online?

Glynn:            Well, you can find the world of Snap Judgment at snapjudgment.org. We also have the Spooked podcast for the spooky stories, Heaven’s Gate, just you can type those, all that stuff into Google, and you’ll see our stuff. Snap Judgment the show comes out once a week. It’s on public radio stations around the country, and on podcast, of course, and, and next year, 2020, we’re going to be launching a raft of new programming, it’s going to blow your mind. I can’t wait for people to hear it, we’re really excited here at Snap.

Rob:   Well, now, I’m excited to hear it. Can’t wait to hear all of the new stuff, because the older stuff is just so compelling and so much fun to listen to. So, yeah. Thank you so much.

Kira:   Thank you, Glynn. It’s been an honor and such a treat to have you here. We appreciate it.

Glynn:            Thank you all, I appreciate it.

Rob:   You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available at iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing at iTunes and by leaving your review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.

 

 

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