Tonawanda News — Brooklyn’s Commonplace Books is an indie publishing start-up, with a couple of novels now distributed. By the looks of their website, they seem to be doing moderately well with sales. However, it is from a more unlikely source that the press has found the majority of its fame – their creepy, spine-tingling, fun-for-all-ages podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale.”
“Welcome to Night Vale” isn’t a book, but rather an online radio show, one that anyone can download for free on the bi-monthly basis it is released. While it is still owned and operated by a company as small as Commonplace Books — at last check, the company’s staff had grown to four employees — “Welcome to Night Vale” has sky-rocketed to No. 7 on Apple’s “Top Charts” for podcasts. This is a huge accomplishment, considering the likes of the show’s competition, including Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life,” WNYC’s hit show “Radiolab,” Joe Rogan’s immensely popular “The Joe Rogan Experience,” and many others.
“Night Vale’s” success is well deserved. The podcast is a fictitious radio program, meant to emulate local news radio channels. Each episode includes weather and traffic reports, local breaking news, editorial and opinion pieces, and more, all from the completely made-up town of Night Vale. Those who are familiar with Garrison Keillor and his imaginary town of Lake Wobegon, along with his radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” would feel right at home listening to “Welcome to Night Vale” — with one large twist.
The town of Night Vale isn’t your everyday town, like Lake Wobegon. Instead, it is haunted by bizarre and incredible events on a regular basis. From shrieking monsters falling from the sky, to hovering glow clouds demanding the city obey its will, from inexplicable disappearances and reappearances of town monuments, to bottomless pits that radio interns seem to always be falling into, “Welcome to Night Vale” turns a little imaginary town into a 24/7 haunted house, and the listener is in for the ride.
If you think about your local radio or television news, and blended it with Stephen King’s catalog, removing any of the more haunting parts that might scare little children — that would be a lot of editing, of course — you’ll have an idea of what “Night Vale” is trying to accomplish. In many ways, it is like a serial audio book, that gives us a look into a town listeners soon find themselves to be interested in, addicted to, and then almost a citizen of after a number of listens. While the show is put together like an average sitcom, where listeners can jump in at any point in the series and not feel lost, there’s plenty of overarching themes that connect for added fun for the long-time, dedicated listeners.
Each episode is written by two authors who co-founded Commonplace Books, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, giving the show the feel of a book, with plenty of exciting story lines in each episode. Narrator Cecil Baldwin’s chilled voice gives the show its perfect tone, adding his own creative takes on the pieces written up for him.
As the show continues and develops, the team has flourished along with it, coming up with more creative ideas for each new episode. In a recent story, Cecil, who goes by the same name while on-air, discovered some old cassette tapes he recorded as a boy and had forgotten about. On them, we hear the musings of a young man just starting to get his foot in the door of radio, having just landed an internship at the Night Vale radio studio.
Things in the town weren’t so creepy at this time, and so a whole new history of the town opens up for listeners. What happened to Night Vale and its radio station in the past to make it so bizarre? What happened to the childhood Cecil, after his internship, that made him just as creepy as the town itself?
With each new episode we grow more in love with the fictional town and its inhabitants, and want to learn more about its history, its future, and perhaps most enjoyable of all, its present.
“Welcome to Night Vale” isn’t a book in the traditional sense, but it was created by a team of authors looking to create a series with strong characters, plot, action and most of all, fun. They’ve far outdone themselves. To top it all off, the show is free to download. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.
• WHAT: "Welcome to Night Vale" podcast • PUBLISHED: Commonplace Books • GRADE: A