In March, Radiotopia launched Podquest, an open call for new podcast ideas, aiming to grow and diversify the network, nurture fresh talent, and reach new audiences. 1,537 people from 53 countries submitted ideas about every topic under the sun.
Radiotopia executive producer Julie Shapiro led a committee of 11 PRX staff and Radiotopia producers in reviewing the entries. 99 Radiotopia donors also reviewed the top 50 entries. Ultimately, the field was narrowed to 10 impressive semifinalists, and later four finalists in June. For the past five months, the finalists have been working on pilot episodes, which were judged by our esteemed committee.
Today, the journey, which started seven months ago, is complete as Radiotopia announces the winner of Podquest: Ear Hustle. Ear Hustle is a unique partnership between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Nigel Poor, a collaborator and artist living on the outside. The show unveils the hidden stories of life inside prison, told and produced from the perspective of those who live it. Ear Hustle dives into true, compelling first-person narratives that are difficult, honest, funny, poignant and real, while revealing a more nuanced view of the people serving time in American prisons.
The show is produced in San Quentin’s media lab, where work is done for video and audio projects at the prison, and includes computers, microphones, keyboard for sound design and scoring, Pro Tools licenses, headsets, and more. There are about 12 men who work there, filming various events that happen in the prison and producing radio stories about life inside that air on Crosscurrents on KALW 91.7. Ear Hustle evolved from the work done on Crosscurrent in conjunction with the San Quentin Prison Report, which is a multi-media project started by Troy Williams, a man formerly incarcerated at San Quentin.
Ear Hustle aims to tell stories about life inside prison, including the good and the bad. The stories will look at the daily experience of life behind bars, and also dig deep into the reasons people commit crimes and end up in prison. Episode topics will range from pets, fashion and cooking in prison, to stories about restorative justice programs, correctional officers, and profiles of people who work for victim’s rights organizations. Earlonne Woods is a co-creator, co-host and co-producer of Ear Hustle. Earlonne is 45 years old, from LA, and is serving a 31-years-to-life sentence for attempted second degree robbery. Before starting his current sentence he was a struggling parolee but dreamt of going to film school.
Antwan Williams is the co-creator and sound designer for Ear Hustle, and also creates original hand-drawn artwork for each episode. He’s 28 years old, also from LA, and serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery with a gun enhancement. Antwan has always been creative and dreamt of having a life in the arts: he’s a dancer, musician, artist, and designs his clothes by altering the official prison blues.
Nigel Poor is the co-creator, c-ohost, and co-producer for Ear Hustle. She is also an artist and professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. In 2011, Nigel got involved with the prison as a volunteer teacher for the Prison University Project. The project runs a college preparatory program and an Associate of Arts degree program at San Quentin, and in 2015 it received a National Humanit ies Medal from President Obama. Ear Hustle plans to donate a percentage of all of their proceeds to the Prison University Project.
“We are beyond excited to be Podquest winners. My hope is that Ear Hustle can help show that people inside and outside the prison system can work together as colleagues,” said Nigel Poor. “We want to lead by example, and demonstrate that people with different backgrounds and experiences can actually come together and produce important work. Ear Hustle is not just a creative project. It is actually teaching men viable skills and showing the world the effect of rehabilitation, and that change is possible. I hope our project shows the potential for a different story about people who are incarcerated.”
Radiotopia will pick up the first 10-episode season of Ear Hustle, debuting later in 2017. Ear Hustle will use the proceeds from their prize to create their show, and to significantly upgrade the equipment at the San Quentin media lab.
“I was beyond impressed with the range of creative ideas submitted to Podquest from so many talented entrants,” said Julie Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia. “Narrowing down to just four finalists was nearly impossible, and then deciding one winner amongst them even harder. The heart and passion that Ear Hustle brought to their pilot episodes, combined with the unique and important stories they aim to share, ultimately moved us to choose them as the Podquest winner. What they accomplished under difficult circumstances is really quite amazing—working inside a prison with no internet, limited working hours, and limited team communication. We’re excited to help bring Ear Hustle into the world, and for listeners to hear stories and perspectives they’ve never heard before.”
Radiotopia, from PRX, is a curated network of extraordinary, talent-driven shows. Radiotopia empowers independent producers to do their best work, grow audience and increase revenue. At its core, Radiotopia cultivates community — for both listeners and makers alike.
Radiotopia is a partnership between PRX and Roman Mars, creator of 99% Invisible, supported by the Knight Foundation, and led by Executive Producer Julie Shapiro. In 2015, the network was named one of Fast Company’s World’s 10 Most Innovative Companies Backed by Kickstarter. Since launch, the network has quickly grown to over 13 million downloads per month.
Podquest is one of a series of initiatives funded by a $1 million grant received in May 2015 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Podquest is additionally supported by Hindenburg Systems, the media talent network AIRmedia.org, and Blue Microphones.