Topic: Nonfiction Stories
Network: Audacy
Podcast Year: 2024

Hey, Johnny, do you like ghost stories? Because if you don’t, you will absolutely not like this podcast. Because it is wall-to-wall poltergeists, paranormal entities and the general weirdness of the unexplained. Each episode is told in the first-person by the human who experienced whatever event the episode revolves around. The host, Jack Wagner (no, not that Jack Wagner), seemingly asks questions off mic to keep the narrative going and occasionally breaks in to help clarify and guide the subject.

The funny part is, I’m a skeptic. To believe these people and their stories of haunted houses, other worldly experiences and visions is not something that is easy to swallow. Especially after watching all those absolutely absurd ghost hunter shows with the bros and the gadgets and the constant “whoa”-ing. It certainly didn’t do any favors for the cause. The cause of the spectral plane, I guess? But Wagner does understand that there are people like me out there. And claims that he too still harbors some skepticism. And with each episode he opens with a disclaimer of sorts. Where he essentially explains that when he first heard the subject’s story, he questioned it too. But through interviewing the subject and asking lots of probing questions, he concluded that the person wasn’t a wack-a-doodle and wasn’t looking to do anything other than tell their story. He often follows that with their bona fides — generally painting them as a professional or good person who would have no reason to talk for several episodes about the fairies in their backyard. Or the dead kid in their friend’s house. Or the incredible UFO encounter they had on the road one night. No, these people are all sane and trustworthy.

I’m not certain what Wagner’s background is, but I seem to recall him saying he was a jokey YouTuber type bro. Or Vine or whatever platform aspiring filmmakers and comedians used to put content out there. How he moved into the journalistic paranormal podcast space is beyond me. But I assume he figured out he was good at talking to people, decent at telling a good story and saw a lane. His delivery is a little stilted and took me some getting used to, but now I definitely associate his voice with these spooky stories and a certain way of sounding sincere with his subjects. It’s almost this unpolished affect that makes the whole thing feel a bit more authentic. If he was slick or gimmicky, these first-person stories coming out of the mouths of the folks who experienced these phenomena — that he gently narrates and/or comes on mic to ask questions on occasion — would also come off as too gimmicky to be believed. It really does have this homemade quality that is both endearing and appropriate for the genre and the medium.

The most impressive thing about the pod is the amount of work that must go into it. To be able to have someone seamlessly narrate their own story on mic with nary a stumble must take one trillion takes. And some incredible editing. I feel like Wagner talked about how long he generally spends with each subject, and it’s a really long time. Think about the last time some dude at a party told you a story, and think about how disjointed it was. How it wandered and was filled with pauses as he tried to recall who said what and where he was, etc. And then imagine some person sitting in a room in front of a mic usually trying to recall really minute details about some dream or series of events that may have happened years prior. Wagner does a really good job behind the scenes guiding this process and usually giving us very cohesive stories that you can either chose to believe or not. But, true to his word, most of the people I’ve heard certainly come off as legit non-weirdos.

That all said, I’m still a skeptic. I have no doubt these folks believe the stories they’re telling. I have no doubt Wagner thinks they’re being truthful. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if I believe or I don’t. It matters if their tales keep me interested and entertained. Or make me think. Or, at the very least, make my commute less insufferable. Even if it’s tough for me to think that these people mostly have some sort of psychic trauma, because there is no such thing as ghosts. Otherwise at least some of these people — what with the proliferation of cameras in every pocket — would capture at least one on video for real.