Hello, Wanderers. Today we’re going to talk about community radio stations. These radio stations are run by members of their local community, as the name suggests, generally have a limited broadcast range, and usually focus on normal, mundane topics specifically relevant to the community they serve – for example, news, weather forecasts, community events, and traffic.
And then there’s Night Vale Community Radio. Presenter Cecil Gershwin Palmer is listened to by thousands of people every fortnight as he brings us his round-up of the latest mysterious happenings in the desert town of Night Vale – the regular, everyday stuff like cancelled Wednesdays, angels, corporate takeovers and Street Cleaning Day, as well as the slightly less frequent occurrences such as summer reading schemes, glowing clouds that rain animal carcasses, perfect scientists, and mayoral elections.
Welcome to Night Vale is the podcast that allows us to tune into the goings-on of this isolated town – and, occasionally, its neighbour, Desert Bluffs (boo). Created by Joseph Fink and with new episodes released on the 1st and 15th of every month, it has rather taken the world by storm of late, blending the bizarre and the banal to great effect. The Librarians are to be feared, the school is installing a new computer, and a new mountain has just appeared out of nowhere (if you believe in mountains, that is). You never know quite what to expect when you tune in… but then, nobody does. Except perhaps the Sheriff’s Secret Police. They know quite a lot about most stuff.
Wanderers, I thought this was going to be a great idea for a review but I’m just now beginning to realise that there’s just no way to explain Welcome to Night Vale and do it justice. Episodes are under half an hour long and available for free at Commonplace Books, so really, the best way to find out if you’d like it is to give the pilot episode a listen. Fair warning: Cecil has a lovely, soothing sort of voice even when he’s describing unspeakable horrors, so you might drift off if you listen while tired. That’s OK. You won’t mind listening again when you wake up.
However, the Editor is likely to ban me from eating sweets in the office if I don’t give you at least some idea of what Welcome to Night Vale is like, so I’ll give you this much to preserve my sugar addiction: this is exactly what community radio would sound like if it was broadcasting from inside the Bermuda Triangle (if the Bermuda Triangle was in the desert) or a giant crop circle (in the desert). It’s weird, but in a strangely down-to-earth way that somehow makes everything more real. Our host, Cecil (played by Cecil Baldwin), is an impeccable and mostly-consistent guide to what’s going on in the town, though not without his own mysteries, and lets each and every listener feel like they’re listening to their best friend (especially when he gushes about boys – well, boy). Oh, yes – that’s another interesting thing about Night Vale; our protagonist is rather keen on a certain scientist named Carlos… in fact, in terms of representation and race issues, the show does pretty well, and when it feels like it’s not doing well enough, it fixes things and tries harder.
And, of course, since it’s us, we’re going to take a moment to mention the fandom. Fanartists, in particular, have a great time creating art based on this podcast because there’s a lot of freedom to imagine. Cecil himself, like many of the minor characters such as Old Woman Josie and John Peters (you know, the farmer?), is never really described in great detail, which has led to fan depictions ranging from a bookish-looking white man to an excitable, dreadlocked black man, and all the way into the strange realms of talking microphones, tentacles, and third eyes. Fanfiction writers are hardly keeping their distance, either, so once you’re in this fandom there’s no shortage of things to occupy yourself with despite the relatively brief episodes.
So, would I recommend Welcome to Night Vale? Of course I would. Moreover, the Sheriff’s Secret Police have been taking away residents who don’t tune in. I’m not saying the two things are linked, just that it never hurts to be on the safe side.
Eleanor Musgrove (Good night, Wanderers. Good night.)