Podmasters is a bi-weekly column in which staff writer Laura Rosenfeld highlights the podcasts you need in your life. Every week, she tackles a new genre, recommending everything from well-known series to little-listened-to-gems that will make you laugh, cry and learn.
This week, Podmasters gives a sneak preview of the new sci-fi podcast The Message from Panoply and GE Podcast Theater.
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles' famous radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds hit the airwaves. The broadcast featured fake news bulletins about an alien invasion of New Jersey that convinced a tiny number of people that this event was actually happening, even if the panic was massively overblown by the media.
Still, the fact that we remember The War of the Worlds broadcast to this day demonstrates the power of a strong audio narrative to be so compelling that listeners can, even if just for a moment, find something real within science fiction.
The Message will once again blur this line between sci-fi and real life as an eight-episode podcast debuting October 4. Each installment of The Message follows main protagonist Nicky Tomalin as she attempts to decode a 70-year-old message from outer space in her new job at an encryption think tank called Cypher.
Though The Message is a fictional podcast, the story is told through Nicky's reports and interviews, giving it a more realistic feel. As a co-production between Slate's podcast network Panoply and GE Podcast Theater, The Message also incorporates real GE technology into the narrative that will help Nicky crack the case, such as ultrasound therapy.
"The concept of the story came about because we wanted to sort of bridge this storyline of sci-fi and sci-real," said Andy Goldberg, the global creative director at GE, to T-Lounge. "Coming up with a fictional narrative around the idea of listening, something that's inherent in a lot of our devices, especially in healthcare and ultrasound, felt natural because we could bridge that gap into what's happening."
Because The Message is brought to you by GE, you might think think this podcast sounds like one big ad for the company. Some might even think of The Message as a modern-day version of General Electric Theater, the GE-sponsored radio and television anthology series hosted by Ronald Reagan in the early 1950s and 1960s. However, Goldberg said the goal of The Message isn't to sell something, but rather to have listeners better understand what the GE brand is all about through a more entertaining medium.
"I'm not selling T-shirts or other consumer products. I'm selling an idea of a brand. I'm selling the concept of GE and what we bring to the world, in terms of science and technology and being a digital industrial company and what that means," Goldberg said. "In order to do that, you have the ability to do greater storytelling."
The Message will further extend into the real world in the form of extra online content with which users can engage, such as Cypher's website and Nicky's blog. Goldberg compared this to how Lost inspired fans to dive deeper into the show online, going beyond the weekly hour-long episodes.
After The Message debuts, Goldberg said they will take into account data such as how many people listened to the podcast, as well as online engagement, to measure its success and see if this could be the first of many podcast series from GE Podcast Theater.
"It opens the door for a new form of content development that we can do to connect with our core audience," Goldberg said.
We'll have to wait and see if The Message proves to be a new winning medium for GE.
The Message will be available in weekly installments on TheMessagePodcast.com and all major podcast platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Overcast and TuneIn starting October 4.