When you think about runaway, viral media, most people don’t think about podcasts. Most of us think about viewers tuning into YouTube, cable TV, or other streaming services to get information and entertainment. However, a podcast titled “Serial” has been a runaway hit this year, smashing iTunes records and hitting five million downloads and streams faster than any other podcast in history. These numbers have earned Serial the #1 slot on the iTunes top charts, above long-standing hits such as This American Life and Radiolab.
If the voices and names on Serial sound familiar to you, then you’ve probably encountered these radio and podcast personalities on This American Life (TAL) from WBEZ Chicago. The host of Serial is Sarah Koenig, who is well known for TAL episodes like “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About,” “No Coincidence, No Story,” and “Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde.” She uses her investigative journalism prowess to host the entirety of Serial.
The first episode of Serial made its debut on TAL, allowing the producers to hook potential listeners, redirecting them to the separate Serial website and podcast listing. This season, Koenig is examining a real-life crime case involving a high school student who was murdered in 1999. The victim’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was arrested in 1999 and received a life sentence for her murder. However, Koenig points to several potential holes in the state’s case against Syed, begging the question: Could he actually be innocent?
The title of the Serial podcast is literal. The entire first season is dedicated to a single story delivered in a serialized fashion. Koenig will not stray away from the case for the duration of this 12-episode season. Listeners have created entire podcasts, subreddits, and websites dedicated to fan theories and information regarding the Adnan Syed case.
Recently, Sarah Koenig issued a call for donations to continue the Serial project, allowing the producers to explore another topic for the second season of the podcast. It seems that the donation drive was successful, because the donation page reads, “There will be a season two of Serial!” The quick turnaround of this announcement shows just how popular this podcast has become.
Host Sarah Koenig has been interviewed on several media outlets, due to the viral nature of her documentary-style podcast. One of the most notable interviews took place on The Colbert Report, which will finish airing on Comedy Central on December 18 – the same date that the last episode of Serial Season One comes out. Steve Colbert refers to Koenig as the “world’s first superstar podcaster.”
After listeners catch up with the Season One episodes of Serial, they can find new dimensions of material by checking out the podcast’s official blog, which is packed full of supplemental documents. For example, you can learn about the use of cell tower evidence, view event timelines according to witness statements, and pour over evidence maps. The blogposts often include lengthy meditations on topics that didn’t make it into the podcast, such as weather reports on days relevant to the murder timeframe and potential evidence that might have been missed by Syed’s defense attorney. The online presence of attorney Rabia Chaudry plays an extremely important role for fans of the podcast, since she was the one who initially brought Syed’s case to Koenig’s attention. Chaudry regularly posts relevant case materials and questions.
One of the most compelling questions about Serial’s Season One finale is, “What will happen to Adnan Syed?” It’s difficult to imagine that the lives of the people involved in this case will go unchanged, after the unexpected popularity of the Serial podcast.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000UEDFLM,B0000TG9WY,B00274SIVU,B000IONLFY]