“When you reach out to the other world through the veil,
you may be upset when you are ignored, when they simply fail to respond.
But that is not the problem, that is not the issue. No. Understand.
The difficulty always comes when they pay attention.”
– ‘Spooked’ host Glynn Washington, Season 1, Episode 10
Around the corner from the true crime and politics podcasts, down the road from whatever Joe Rogan is jabbering about this week, storyteller podcasts/radio programs have become increasingly popular. While ‘This American Life’ is the prototype for smaller segments and personal essays carried by a common theme, series like ‘The Moth’ and ‘Risk’ that are more focused on the craft of storytelling have been growing as well.
One of these storyteller-focused successes is ‘Snap Judgment’, which stands out as “storytelling with a beat” with superb soundscaping. Run out of WNYC studios, ‘Snap Judgment’ has been referred to as “NPR’s Great Black Hope” as it is focused on a wide lens of storytellers and listeners.
‘Snap Judgment’ is the creation of Glynn Washington, who has become the first African American host to become a major figure on public radio airwaves. Washington has shown that following established trends is not the way to sneak diversity into common consumption. Washington has emphasized that a show made of many perspectives and trying to reach multiple walks of life requires a staff that is just as diverse.
Glynn Washington has also created and hosts ‘Snap Judgment’s seasonal sister show, ‘Spooked’. ‘Spooked’ started as a series of seasonal episodes on ‘Snap Judgment’, but has been made its own thing since 2017. Now in its third season, ‘Spooked’ features individuals sharing their personal encounters with the things that go bump in the night. The show has always premiered just before fall, emphasizing a buildup to Halloween.
The show is clearly a work of love from Washington. Much like ‘Snap Judgment’, the beats of ‘Spooked’ are crafted to ensnare the listener into the experience.* Washington hosts each show, expertly wielding short introductions, sermons, and advice on grappling with the dark side:
“They say don’t mess with things you do not understand.
But: if we obeyed, we would never touch anything,
because we know so little. We are so profoundly ignorant.
We fail to recognize even our own ability to summon evil.”
Washington combines the more serious prose with a sense of humor. For example, at the end of each episode he tacks on the warning: “Never. Ever. Never ever ever never. Turn out…..the lights.”
Washington, particularly in the first season, sometimes adds his own tales to an episode’s mix. He is an excellent storyteller, and his background lends itself well to ‘Spooked’s atmosphere.
Washington has spoken at length about his upbringing, where in his childhood he was uprooted from his neighborhood in Detroit and moved out to rural, swampy Michigan. This was because his family had joined the Worldwide Church of God—a cult. The Worldwide Church of God were not super chill folks—they weren’t down with any modern medicine, called most other Christians ‘Satanic’ and were pretty keen on the apocalypse occurring in 1972. The Church bloomed through radio evangelism.
As a result, Washington has said, he became uniquely aware of the true power of storytelling.
*Also the opening theme has AMAZING rhythm if you need something to jog to.
Washington has continued his aim to feature a wide array of storytellers. In ‘Spooked’, there are terrors faced and scares endured from all over the country and the globe.
Tales from the rural south, the rural west, African-American communities, Hispanic neighborhoods, and immigrant families are all featured, each with their unique culture and perspectives on otherworldly experiences. International stories are also common. One storyteller from Indonesia describes evil animal entities. A woman from Thailand describes a dark presence in a shared apartment. An Irish storyteller’s Catholic family endures a dead, ornery aunt.
Even the supernatural entities and dark forces endured can vary widely. While a lot of stories are about ghosts (okay and a lot of them are selling books about ghosts too….), there are also premonitions, curses, eerie paintings, and more.
This podcast is not about convincing anyone that there are such things as ghosts, demons, evils squirrels (yes), etc. Many of the stories are not simply recounting creepy happenings. The stories are about things that matter. They are often truly about real, raw emotions. Regret, grief, guilt. The spooky elements are often window dressing or exasperation of pre-existing tragedies and struggles.
The true joy of this podcast is how it embraces the universality of scary stories. Those moments in life where, for no rational reason, your hair stands up on the back of your neck. It’s about how the power, and the fun, of spooky stories told well.
It’s genuinely surprising that ‘Spooked’ hasn’t really taken off. Its social media has comparatively few followers*, its reviews are few, and there’s been little media highlights of it since it launched in 2017. It could be because it is specifically a seasonal podcast rather than regularly updated. It could be the variation of scares per episode (sometimes the scary stuff admittedly falls flat). It could be a general disadvantage, as storytelling podcasts aren’t as popular and neither are horror podcasts (that aren’t ‘Lore’, apparently).
*Hopefully all three of your reading this know that Your Intrepid Host doesn’t mean to throw stones in glass houses.
If this sounds like your sort of thing, especially as Halloween approaches, check out these episodes:
• The Curse, Season 1, Episode 4
A full-episode story. In Guatemala, Nestor Gomez’s family erupts with internal conflict, and the children are caught in the middle. Slowly, the family starts to suffer little by little, until it becomes clear: they’ve been cursed. They must turn to a bruja for help, even if it means touching black magic.
• A Friend of the Forest, Season 1, Episode 7
A full-episode story from Ireland, a social worker is called in to help a little boy who keeps running off into the nearby forest to play with someone—or something—unknown.
• Unholy Water, Season 1 Episode 9
The first segment is Washington’s own tale, centered on when his family first settled in rural (WHITE) Michigan. The tuna fish casserole brought over by their neighbors and the trailer they’ve moved into are harrowing enough. But the community’s divining rod master ‘helps’ by bringing witchcraft into their very Christian backyard.
• Final Act, Season 1, Episode 13
Three segments, each about reaching closure or conclusions in very different ways. The second segment is masterfully told by a mortician who discovers real danger in the embalming room.
• Creepy Crawly, Season 2, Episode 4
Two segment episode. The second segment is brought from a woman whose favorite hobby is to make roadkill into taxidermy. If you get squicked out, particularly regarding animal bodies, skip this one. If you have the stomach for it, check it out—but not close to lunchtime.
• 37 Seconds, Season 2, Episode 5
A full-episode story of dread and hope. A pregnant mom is plagued with premonitions of dying while giving birth. Through her persistence and Jewish faith, she takes on her own mortality.
• Something in the Walls, Season 2, Episode 8
Two segment episode, both highly recommended. In the first, a man remodeling a known haunted house has a chilling encounter. In the second, a couple move into a house and keep finding strange, horrific artwork.
• Tales from the Smokehouse, Season 3, Episode 4
Two segment episode, both very recommended. Todd Narron brings you down to the eerie swampland of the American South to hear tales of two very different, very disturbing curses.
The ‘Spooked’ podcast can be found wherever you get your podcasts (Apple podcasts, Stitcher, etc). As a note, their latest season has half of their new content available but the other half only on Luminary premium.