Welcome to the second edition of our PRX Remix picks. This month, I’ve got three totally unique stories for you this month. They’ll take you from a roller rink in Wisconsin, to an improv comedy troupe in Tennessee, to a dangerous intersection in Massachusetts where a controversial road proposal pits local government against townsfolk.
This might be the first-ever podcast episode hosted by someone wearing roller skates. Yes, you read that right. The episode begins with the host, so-called “Mad Genius”, roller skating around a rink. From the sound of it, he’s only learning. It’s a fitting way to open a story about the sounds of a roller rink, guided by roller derby star Jeanne Du Snark, a blocker for the Vaudeville Vixens in Madison, Wisconsin.
The story comes into its own when Mad Genius remixes the sounds of the roller rink into a song reflecting Du Snark’s experience. This is the calling card of Where@bouts—exploring a sense of place through found sounds, then remixing those sounds into a song. Mad Genius describes the show as an “art popcast,” but whatever you call it, it’s incredibly unique and well-produced.
Through song, we learn about how the roller derby offered Du Snark a new kind of challenge and thrill after finishing her Division I soccer career, not to mention a louder, more devoted fanbase. We hear about her intense tryout process just to make the team, and about how she has narcolepsy and feels more awake, literally, while skating than doing anything else. All this is set to an incredibly catchy rhythm, anchored by the sounds of fans chanting and skates scraping the rink. Even Du Snark’s voice somehow feels melodic in the hands of Mad Genius. The remixed composition actually adds to the story. I’m curious to hear more from Mad Genius and Where@bouts in the future.
“Genius” is a term thrown around lightly whenever someone does anything intellectually impressive. Michael Kearney, however, is one of the few who actually fits the definition. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Kearney is the youngest person ever to graduate college, at just 10 years old. But neither Kearney’s genius nor his fame are the crux of this story. No, this is an entertaining and thoughtfully told account of an extraordinary person on a familiar journey—a journey to find community, to feel a sense of belonging, and to figure out what it means to be successful. Kearney isn’t an obvious fit to run his local improv comedy outfit. But it becomes clear as the story progresses, both Kearney and his fellow improvisers are better off because of it.
This episode comes from Nashville Public Radio’s Neighbors podcast, which started out as an independent show from producer Jakob Lewis. Lewis is also the creator of The Heard audio collective. Neighbors was recognized with an award for this episode from the Academy of Podcasters at this year’s Podcast Movement conference in Chicago.
Traffic engineering is not typically a topic that inspires much excitement. A proposal to replace a traditional intersection with a roundabout is not an obviously interesting story. Somehow, producer Martine Powers has defied all odds and turned a story about traffic engineering into this piece that takes a fascinating look at human psychology. She made a controversy about road design in a small town feel as high-stakes as a Jason Bourne chase scene—more high-stakes, actually, if you consider how terrible the new Jason Bourne movie is.
Roundabouts are in vogue these days with local governments and public works departments. There’s data showing they decrease crashes and crash severity, and they’re cheaper to maintain than traditional intersections. But townsfolk, like the ones at the center of this story, can be reticent to change a system that mostly works fine. The roundabout seems like total chaos, with no signs indicating when to stop and go.
Formerly of The Boston Globe, Martine Powers is now a metro reporter for The Washington Post. According to her bio, she has a self-described knack for “making boring stuff interesting.” I can’t help but agree.
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Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at email@example.com with questions and suggestions.