Although I’m loath to admit it as a podcaster myself, there is an undeniable truth behind the punchline that suggests everyone in America has a podcast. Ever since “Serial” took the country by storm in the bygone era of 2014, podcasts have propagated like wildflowers, leaving us with both a rich and diverse ecosystem of content, as well as an online graveyard of projects that were ultimately abandoned.
While podcasting can be a grueling venture, there are also plenty of dedicated folks in Memphis and beyond who have mastered the medium and shown that podcasting is much more than a passing fad. Below are five of our favorite Memphis-based podcasts that have cracked the code on producing shows that are informative, entertaining, and wholly original.
Originally a radio program centered solely on sports, The Kickback has since morphed into a popular podcast on the OAM Network that focuses on everything from pop culture to politics to, yes, sports. “After I left the radio station, I wanted to expand the scope of the show to include conversations about all that’s going on in the world. I wanted to talk about pop culture and current events and all that, but from a perspective that I didn’t hear on local radio,” says host Jamal Boddie. In addition to Boddie’s own thoughtful and often comical commentary, The Kickback also frequently includes guests ranging from Boddie’s friends and family to notable figures in the community such as Cynthia Daniels and Derrick Byars. He makes it clear that elevating the underrepresented Black voices is of particular importance to him, especially in a predominantly Black city like Memphis.
While the podcast is unafraid to tackle almost any subject, Boddie says that his favorite episodes are those which focus on issues related to racial justice. “The episodes where we have conversations about the racial injustices and the tensions that arise from some of the ‘officer-involved shootings’ are special to me. The emotions, the perspectives, the raw feelings of my guests and callers make for some really interesting and insightful shows,” says Boddie.
As a veteran podcaster, Boddie also has some advice for others who are looking to begin a show of their own. “The two most important things: Finding your lane and consistency. If you post episodes on Mondays, always post on Monday. That goes a long way in building your fan base. When it comes to finding your lane, pick your topic and make your show unique.” With The Kickback, he has done exactly that.
“We are intrigued by origins of sound and how artistic/musical thought throughout history shapes the music we hear today,” explains Sonosphere co-host Amy Schaftlein.
Since 2016, Sonosphere has been taking listeners on a weird and wild journey through sound unlike any other podcast I’ve ever heard. While based in Memphis, Schaftlein and co-host Christopher Williams take a global perspective in the artists and music they cover, profiling everyone from South Asian-American vocalist and sitarist Ami Dang to Egyptian composer and artist Nadah El Shazly to renowned thereminist Carolina Eyck. “We realized when we started that we were chronicling Euro-centric music history and wanted to make sure we captured the influence of music from all continents and across cultures,” says Williams.
Despite their wide-angled focus, both Schaftlein and Williams point to locally-focused episodes as being amongst their favorites. “I really liked the Story of Royal Studios because it acted like an auditory tour of the studio and included interviews with Boo Mitchell and Don Bryant. It was a great look at a Memphis institution that may be lesser known to many… I also really enjoyed the interview we did with IMAKEMADBEATS and the Unapologetic crew – really inspiring group.” Williams agrees, telling me “Unapologetic is one from the episode ‘A Conversation at Dirty Socks Studios’ that I will also say is up there for me as well. The ‘Afrofuturism: Building Communities’ episode was a panel of creative minds locally that is another one of my favorites.”
In addition to the podcast, the duo behind Sonosphere has also expanded into live programming, most notably their concert series Sound Observations. In a partnership with Crosstown Arts, we started our Sound Observation Series. It’s a four-part concert series that showcased one artist or collective four times per year. We did it for two years with Crosstown Arts. The series has an emphasis on artists and musicians that would not have come to Memphis otherwise,” they explain. This fall, Sonosphere will also be expanding into radio with their show on the soon-to-be-launched station WYXR 91.7FM station at Crosstown Concourse. “This opportunity will allow us to expand the structure of the podcast – allowing for stand alone playlists and showcasing the music from our interviews,” says Williams.
Catherine Sundt, a native Michigander and Spanish professor at Rhodes College, started the Memphis Famous podcast earlier this year as a way to “highlight some of the cool and interesting people that make our city special.” While none of the people she profiles are likely to end up in People magazine, they are all well-known within their communities and are very much the sort of folks that make you say “yeah, I’ve definitely seen them around before…”
So far, Sundt has interviewed ten Memphians of varying backgrounds, from comedians Mo Alexander and Hunter Sandlin to musician Josh McClane and author Charles Hughes. As a comedian and educator, Sundt expertly delivers interviews that are freewheeling and fun, but also informative and educational. Although “Memphis Famous” is on a brief hiatus, Sundt says she is already working on season 2.
In terms of advice, Sundt says “Listen to a lot of podcasts to try to decide what your message, tone, and voice will be, and connect with a great local producer (like Gil Worth of the OAM Network) to help you through the design, editing and distribution process.”
Speaking of “Memphis famous,” few Memphians have made more waves over the past few years than Tami Sawyer. A former mayoral candidate, current Shelby County Commissioner, and life-long activist, Sawyer recently added the title “podcaster” to her resume. “I’ve always been a storyteller and a talker,” she says. “My goal is to be one of the representatives of Black southern women in the world of politics and activism. I’m also using the podcast to show the diversity of thought amongst Black people by highlighting folks like my super leftist brother to my friend who is a US Citizen living in Africa witnessing all that’s going on from abroad.”
“I’ve always been a storyteller and a talker.”
As someone who wears several different hats during her daily life, I was curious which of Sawyer’s identities was most reflected in Black Steel Magnolia. “I definitely think BSM is a blend of all my identities. I’ve gotten pretty adept at being one person in all spaces. Commissioner Tami is activist Tami is Tami at work. That hasn’t always been true, but as I head into my 3rd year of being an elected official, I am much more comfortable with speaking and voting in ways that align with what I truly believe,” she tells me.
While Black Steel Magnolia is a newer podcast on the Memphis scene, Sawyer does have some helpful advice for those who want to start their own podcast. “I say just do it. I was holding all these planning sessions and finally one night I turned the mic on and just recorded and published. Also consistency is key. I struggle with getting a podcast up weekly, but I think my listeners have been pretty cool about that. You just have to tell your audience what to expect from you and try to meet that.”
While the Coronavirus has left very few silver linings in its wake, one of them is Tributaries, the great new podcast from the Pink Palace. Much like the Pink Palace Museum itself, Tributaries is dedicated to exploring the intersection of science and technology throughout various eras of Memphis’ history. “We started making Tributaries this past spring just as a way to get the museum outside of the physical walls and into people’s homes so that they could continue learning on their own terms,” explains Tributaries host Luke Ramsey, who also serves as the museum’s Manager of Public and Special Programs. “
Along with co-host Jes Gibson, Ramsey has already covered an array of fascinating topics ranging from the Yellow Fever epidemic to the evolution of transportation in Memphis over the past century. “We are particular interested in being able to take a particular point in history and use it as a lens to explore today’s society,” says Ramsey. In fact, the name of the podcast itself reflects the idea that all of the seemingly disparate moments in history all flow into one larger narrative, much like a thousand streams eventually feed into a large river. Although Tributaries has only recorded six episodes as of this writing, the team’s dedication to telling engaging stories in a historically accurate way already qualifies Tributaries as one of Memphis’ must-listen podcasts.
Is it uncouth, tactless, and slightly desperate to mention your own podcast in an article that you’ve written? Almost certainly! That being said, the Memphis Musicology podcast is something that I’m both proud of and which has introduced me to some of the most talented and innovative artists that our city has to offer.
While the podcast largely focuses on our city’s unparalleled musical legacy from the heyday of Stax, Sun, and Beale Street, we also try to highlight new music and up-and-coming artists on nearly episode. Whether you’re a fan of surprising stories from Memphis’ past or just in search of some news tunes to add to Spotify, I hope that Memphis Musicology can become a part of your regular podcast diet.
What locally-made podcasts should we be tuning into? Drop a line with a brief description in the comments!