So I finally got around to checking out the “Welcome to Night Vale” podcast:
Welcome to Night Vale is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.
Turn on your radio and hide.
I read the transcripts from the first two episodes at this Tumblr fan site and I was won over by the delicious, delirious storytelling. Here’s the very first bit:
Hello listeners. To start things off I’ve been asked to read this brief notice: the city council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Summerset near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible you will see hooded figures in the dog park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the dog park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. …
That got me hooked. Writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have painted a surreal universe with aptly chosen odd-ball details, suggestive hints, gonzo riffs and deadpan understatement. It’s creepy and funny and quotable and very well done overall.
So then I listened to the podcast.
Ugh. No. This is not at all what I had been reading. The conceit of the show is that you’re listening to a community radio station serving the isolated and very strange desert town of Night Vale. Read transcripts of the show and that is exactly the voice you will encounter. It’s the idiosyncratic voice of a strangely serene, reassuringly incurious and matter-of-fact community radio host. But the podcast itself does not allow you to encounter that voice.
You won’t hear that voice in the podcast. What you’ll hear, instead, is a book on tape, read by the narrator of a book on tape using his very best books-on-tape narrator’s voice. That’s not the voice of a community radio host. It’s the voice of someone who has apparently never heard a community radio host. This voice has nothing to do with the premise of the show.
Reading transcripts of the show, I heard the voice of this small-town radio host and it drew me into the story. Listening to books-on-tape-narrator guy reading those same words took away that voice and pushed me out of the story.
The storytelling of Night Vale is really good, but the form needs to complement the content. It should be a radio play, not a book on tape. And it should be a radio play that sounds like a radio broadcast. Somebody like Roy Blount Jr. or Tom Bodett should be reading this stuff. Maybe Tim Russell. Heck, Glenn Beck would be pretty good. Or Don Imus. Joe Frank probably sounds too much like Joe Frank, but George Noory or Art Bell would be terrific. Maybe all they really need is someone who can do a good Jean Shepherd imitation.
But not books-on-tape-narrator guy.
It’s still quite fun, and I still recommend it, even despite BOTNG. But I don’t think I’ll be listening to more episodes of the podcast. I’ll keep reading the transcripts, though, and I’m really looking forward to the inevitable book. On paper, not audio.