Podcasting as a medium has arguably so far had three pretty major breakthroughs into the mainstream conscience. The first, rather obviously, is Apple’s invention of the iPod (and iTunes) from which the neologism first derived as a portmanteau of ‘iPod‘ and ‘broadcast‘. Secondly, whether you like him or hate him, The Ricky Gervais Show broke all sorts of download records and shifted the platform to one that could just be three dudes (usually) sitting around talking absolute rubbish, resulting in hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of ‘bedroom’ podcasts imbued with the mentality of “If they can do it, why can’t I”?
Lastly and most recently, the first season of the true crime podcast Serial took the story of an American serving time in prison for murder after being convicted on contestable evidence and turned it into a global phenomenon, reaching millions upon millions of people worldwide. As great as it was, it also helped usher in a shift in the perception of what a podcast could be. It didn’t have to be a group of blokes sat in front of a microphone at a desk. It could be a device to tell a compelling and engrossing narrative over a period of time.
Cue Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale’s The Black Tapes. The ‘mockumentary’ series finished at the end of its third season last year after host Alex Reagan’s investigations into the paranormal-sceptic Dr Richard Strand’s library of debunked cases reached its natural conclusion. The show, created by Paul Bae and Terry Miles, pushed the limits of storytelling in this audio-only platform.
Unlike, say, a BBC Radio 4 drama, a podcast like this is something you carry around in your pocket with you You walk through poorly lit winter streets as someone in your ear teases a cursed sound that could be played at any moment; an apocalyptic tone that could open a gate to Hell maybe. And it’s surprisingly terrifying. The intensity and how real it feels is testament to Bae and Miles’ vision.
There are other podcasts from Miles to check out too that entwine with the world of The Black Tapes to a certain extent. Rabbit less so than Tanis, which is in line for a TV adaptation with Sam Raimi’s name linked to it. But this spooky, complex, multi-layered story will always be worth listening through to. If you’re doing lots of driving over Christmas this year, forget Chris Rea, get onto the three seasons of The Black Tapes instead.