Shelton native brings millions of listeners to “S-Town”
Shelton native Brian Reed didn’t really listen to radio when he was younger.
So he never imagined his love for journalism would someday lead him to narrate a podcast that would thrust him into the national spotlight.
Now, Reed, senior producer and the voice of “S-Town,” is on the other side of an interview, with media outlets all over the nation seeking him out to talk about the seven-episode series, which broke records with 16 million downloads in its first week.
“That certainly gave us a platform to tell people about it,” Reed, who now lives in New York City, said of the free podcast, which has been featured for weeks on the top iTunes podcasts.
Reed, who was once an intern for “This American Life,” is now a producer on the weekly public radio broadcast, under which “S-Town” and another series, “Serial” were produced.
“This American Life” averages 2.5 million podcast downloads per episode, slightly more than the 2.2 million per week radio audience.
“Serial” was also a hit, making headlines with its popularity, yet it took eight weeks for its first season to reach the number of downloads “S-Town” saw in its first week. Its 26 episodes, which span across two seasons, have been downloaded 275 million times. Numbers to date for “S-Town” downloads have not yet been released.
According to Edison Research, approximately 57 million Americans listen to podcasts each month. As this audience continues to grow, so does the opportunity for advertisers. It has been estimated that a podcasting ad can cost about $25 per 1,000 downloads.
Edison Research’s surveys also appear to show that people react positively to products mentioned in podcasts or are more willing to consider products learned about in this media.
Reed’s career in radio and podcasts began after he graduated from Yale University in 2007 and was accepted for NPR’s Kroc Fellowship. He later did a six-month internship at “This American Life.”
“That was where I really learned to do narrative radio,” Reed said.
He noted that podcasts run the gamut from serious reporting to fun story-telling by non-journalists. “People do it on the side,” he said. “People do it for fun.”
Reed’s reporting, however, has been focused on in-depth, investigative topics. In 2012, he was part of a team at “This American Life” to win a Peabody Award for their telling of a story of massacres in Guatemala.
The three-year investigation that “S-Town” is based on began with an email from a man named John B. McLemore, of suspicious happenings in his hometown of Woodstock, Ala., which he described in the subject line using a four-letter word starting with the letter “s” — hence the name of the program.
“He wanted us to come investigate some of the terrible things going on there and one of them was a murder,” Reed said.
The email caught Reed’s attention and, after contacting McLemore, he decided to go out there to investigate, making about a dozen trips over three years.
The story takes a turn, though, in episode two with McLemore’s suicide.
Since all seven episodes of “S-Town” were released simultaneously in March, Reed has appeared in the New York Times, People magazine and numerous other publications.
He also has been courted by TV personalities, appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last week. Reed said he prefers to be the one asking the questions.
“I’m much more comfortable doing the interviewing than talking about myself,” he said.