Someone just created The Blair Witch of podcasting, and no one noticed

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Warning: This article contains spoilers for the podcast 'The Polybius Conspiracy', if you haven't yet heard the show, you might want to listen before reading the rest.

Someone might just have pulled the Blair Witch of podcasting, and no one’s noticed. In 1999 a viral campaign for the pioneering found-footage horror, The Blair Witch Project, briefly convinced millions of people that a team of young filmmakers had disappeared in occult circumstances in the forests of Maryland. The stunt was so successful it helped kickstart the found footage genre. The micro-budget film went on to gross almost 250 million dollars worldwide.

Radiotopia are the HBO of podcasting. The network has given birth to shows like 99% Invisible, the Heart, Love and Radio, and Johnathon Mitchell’s unparalleled drama anthology The Truth. It makes sense that this outfit, responsible for some of the most innovative and diverse (not to mention popular) programming online, would come up with something like this.

Full disclosure, I’ve met Radiotopia founder Roman Mars, and count several Radiotopia staffers among my friends. But I haven’t spoken to any of them about this theory. My guess is the truth is locked down to a few members of the production team. In any case, it’s much more fun to puzzle out as a listener.

The Polybius Conspiracy series centres around Bobby Feldstein, a man who claims to have been abducted in October 1981 from his home in a suburb of Portland Oregon. Discovered the next day near the Tillamook State Forest, 60 miles from home, Bobby told a wild and implausible tale of mysterious figures paralysing him before transporting him to a hidden location. There he managed to escape only after being freed by another boy, a long term captive. This event is somehow connected to an unusual video game Bobby had played in the weeks before his disappearance. A legendary arcade cabinet known as Polybius, said to have briefly appeared in Portland arcades in 1981.

The myth of a mysterious mind controlling arcade cabinet is a well known one within the videogame world. The story seems to have originated in the Pacific Northwestern arcade community in the early 1980s. Recently, Polybius has had a resurgence in popularity. It’s been the topic of popular articles, documentaries, a graphic novel, and even a virtual reality interpretation by legendary game developer Jeff Minter. The story taps into all-too-real mind control experiments carried out on American citizens by three letter agencies throughout the latter half of the 20th century. It arose in the context of an American conservative renaissance, with Christian and family groups railing against Dungeons & Dragons, videogame arcades and a litany of ‘satanic’ cultural influences. Variations of the story include everything from extra-terrestrials to the notorious MKUltra chemical control programme. Those unfortunate enough to have played the Polybius game cabinet are said to have suffered nausea, nightmares, madness and even death.

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In Episode One of The Polybius Conspiracy, Bobby Feldstein recounts how he discovered an unusual cabinet at an arcade called Coin Kingdom, run by a dubious man named Willy King. The game contained in this unmarked cabinet featured strange abstract graphics and an usual control scheme. Bobby spent weeks perfecting his skills, till one day he reached a high level where he was assailed by invisible enemies. After playing he felt nauseous, barely making it home before passing out. He awoke a few hours later with a powerful thirst, and walked downstairs to get some water. Here he was somehow paralysed by three mysterious non-human figures, who entered his home and abducted him.

The programme makers don’t play along with Bobby’s story, at least not at first. Via real videogame historian Catherine “Cat” Despira, they introduce dark inferences about the underbelly of 80s arcade culture. Perhaps Bobby’s story is a con, perhaps it’s a screen memory for a more mundane yet horrific story of abduction and abuse.

Bobby recounts how he woke up paralysed in the dark, in a tunnel somewhere in a forest far from his home. Barely able to see, hearing a thrashing sound, he was released from the ‘vines’ holding him down by another captive. This boy fled with him but ultimately disappeared. Bobby managed to make it through the wilderness to a road, and finally a petrol station where he called his parents. Bobby claims his story was dismissed by both parents and police. We’re informed the owner of the arcade, Willy King, died in a car accident nearby a mere month after Bobby’s experience.

Episode 2 introduces a man named Ruben, who’s partner Mark Symms had a storied history with prostitution and drug addiction centred around the Portland arcades. Mark recently disappeared after taking thousands of dollars from the couples shared accounts. Cat Despira provides context for the Polybius legend, linking arcades where the game is alleged to have existed to police raids in the 1980s. These raids centred around drugs, stolen goods and underage prostitution. In February 1981, a friend of Catherine’s, Tony Sayers, told her about an unnamed game at the ‘Good Times’ and ‘Games Plus’ arcades. A game that had supposedly driven a teenager insane.

Back in the present, we learn that Mark Symms disappeared, leaving his partner Ruben, family and job in drug rehabilitation. After his disappearance his sister (for reasons unexplained) sent Ruben a picture of Mark as a teenager in a ‘Knights of Entertainment” tournament at Coin Kingdom. Ruben claims to have stumbled across Bobby’s tour (which includes a visit to Coin Kingdom) online. Although Mark had never mentioned Polybius, Ruben decided to take Bobby’s tour When Ruben showed him the photo of Mark as a teenager in the arcade, Bobby instantly recognised the boy who’d saved him in the forrest. We then hear Bobby take the producers on a tour of through the old arcade, and into tunnels running under the building (now a laundrette). This leads into a discussion of another legend, of ‘Shanghai’ tunnels supposedly running beneath the streets of Portland, used to press gang young men into forced servitude on the seas. The presenters enter the tunnel beneath Coin Kingdom, which Bobby suggests could have been used to ferry the Polybius machine into the arcade. Oddly the programme spends several minutes discussing the likelihood that the tunnels running under Portland were probably never used to smuggle the unwary into a life on the seas. There really do seem to be networks of tunnels running beneath Portland, which once connected the opium dens, brothels and casinos of Chinatown. They were likely not commonly used for ‘Shanghaing’, but that doesn’t serve discredit Bobby’s story, only his knowledge of local history. The episode ends with a credulity stretching tale from Mark Simm’s partner Ruben. Ruben describes finding Mark standing on the window ledge of their apartment in sleep walking daze, a couple of weeks before his disappearance, staring into space repeating the line ‘They’re coming’.

The Polybius Conspiracy is a part of Radiotopia’s ‘Showcase’, a rotating channel of one off podcast series. The programme started life as a kickstarter to create a film documentary. The trailer for the original documentary features a variety of figures from the Portland gaming community, but makes no mention of Bobby Feldstein or child abductions. A google trawl returns no Bobby Feldstein walking tour in Portland, and no Polybius walking tour. In fact no Bobby Feldstein appears in a google search at all. There are only 8 Bobby / Robert / Robyn Feldsteins publically listed on Facebook and three on Twitter (none of whom have ever tweeted). Producers Todd Luoto and Jon Frechette claim to have heard about Bobby’s walking tours from a friend. A key claim made by Bobby in the show is that he gives his walking tours in part in the hope that he’ll find his mysterious saviour, the boy who rescued him from the forrest tunnel. If that’s the case he’s done a remarkably poor job promoting them. Unlike the other arcades mentioned in the series, variants of Willy King, and Coin Kingdom return no results on google, either in it’s former incarnation as an arcade or its supposed current one as a laundromat. Needless to say the same is true of Mark Symms / Simms. So we have a missing protagonist, a missing location, and a missing ‘missing person’. But google is not omnipotent, perhaps Bobby’s tour has never made enough of an impression to be mentioned on the web, or depicted in photographs on flickr.

Dylan Reiff, a Portland based comedian and game designer, is listed as a ‘character’ on the website, but a ‘field producer’ in the show notes. Dylan is a real person, here he is at a storytelling event in 2016 talking about his passion for gaming and an alternate reality experience he created that convinced one ordinary teenager he was the saviour of the world. Dylan was also one of the documentarians behind the original kickstarter.

Joe Streckert, described as a Portland tourguide, gives regular talks about the Polybius myth and was filmed performing in front of a live audience for the abortive documentary, at an event hosted by Dylan Reiff. Joe’s a writer and host of the weird history podcast, as well as the author of The Legend of Polybius book. None of this is a smoking gun, but it does speak to deeper links between the producers and their guests than are made explicit in the show.

The nail in the coffin of The Polybius Conspiracy, for me, is this paragraph, from a 2015 article on Eurogamer about the proposed documentary film.

The film didn’t start as a documentary. Originally Luoto and Frechette were hoping to make a fictional sci-fi film touching on similar themes. It was only upon doing the research for that project that the filmmakers realised it would be both more interesting – and more cost effective – to follow this already existing myth. “We realised that truth in a lot of ways is stranger than fiction,” Luoto says. “Once we started reading more and talking to people we realised ‘this is fascinating. We shouldn’t wait for people to give us millions of dollars to do this. We should just do what we can.'”

Did the producers found another way to tell their story, one that didn’t require millions of dollars? Notably Radiotopia’s site is careful not to call the show a documentary, but rather “the complex story of two men united by a decades-old urban legend”. So is this a masterfully crafted docudrama, mixing real interviews with scripted fiction? Or is the Polybius Conspiracy a sincere and chilling investigation into a real abduction: One with life long consequences, that helped create a myth that persists to this day? The story of a mysterious arcade cabinet, that drove innocent Portland kids to a lifetime of addiction, and perhaps ultimately death? Tune in to find out.

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The Bee-Loud Cabaret on RTE Lyric


Download: The Bee Loud Glade – EP1 – Gerry Murphy

To subscribe to this series and lots more from Roger Gregg, check out the brand new Crazy Dog Audio Podcast

The Bee Loud Glade Cabaret is a series of twelve bite-size programmes bringing some of the best of the contemporary Irish spoken word scene to radio. Each episode will showcase one beautifully produced spoken word performance, and one ‘backstage’ interview, featuring emerging & established Irish poets. The series represents an exciting new approach to poetry on radio in Ireland, mixing studio performance, music and soundscapes, to recreate the excitement of the live poetry scene. It will bring poetry as a living spoken form to a new audience, and promote the work of a new generation of emerging and contemporary Irish artists. The Bee Loud Glade will take the word off the page and reimagine it using original music and soundscapes. Created for RTE Lyric FM. Funded by the Broadcast Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee.

The ART of Television – All new comedy drama, coming soon!

Download: ART Trailer

Dead Medium Productions Presents ‘The A.R.T of Television’!

It’s winter 1968, the long hangover after the Summer of Love. A.R.T is Ireland’s finest, and indeed only television station. But the nations flagship soap ‘Home Farm’ is failing as viewers frog march towards the satanic protestant seduction of the BBC. American ad man Claude Chabert is hired to turn the show around. With help from TV chaplain father Terry O’Mahony and feminist firebrand Maureen Masterson can Claude raise the ratings? Or will he fall prey to the machinations of sinister Controller of television Carvel Kiddler? Find out in The A.R.T of Television, a totally made up and completely fictional, not true at all, not even a little bit historical comedy about censorship, stupidity and Irish television. Coming to Phoenix FM and Soundcloud soon!

Dead Medium Productions history

Dead Medium Productions, founded in 2009, is an independent producer of drama and documentary. We have released numerous radio and podcast series. We have produced programmes for Newstalk, RTE Lyric FM, Radiomade, Dublin City FM, and Near FM. Our previous series include ‘Choices’ a surreal comedy about mental health, ‘Any Other Dublin’ a satirical look at the death of the Celtic Tiger, dark cold war drama ‘The Wall in the Mind’, and ‘Mad Scientists of Music’, an award winning documentary about experimental Irish music.

Writer / Director

Gareth Stack is a writer who develops work for radio, theatre and screen. Gareth Stack is a writer, director and pioneering Irish podcaster. In 2005, while senior producer at Trinity FM, he co-created the first Irish internet TV show ‘Technolotics’. Since then he has developed numerous radio documentaries, dramas and podcasts for channels like Newstalk, RTE Lyric FM as well as local and regional radio. Including the award winning series ‘Mad Scientists of Music’, which explored the Irish experimental audio scene. He has worked as arts correspondent for programmes like Culture File & the Dave Fanning show, developed programmes for digital channels like Radiomade, and served as communications officer for the Association of Independent Radio Producers Ireland (AIRPI). Gareth currently teaches courses in Podcasting & ‘Storytelling Through Sound’. Recently he has begun creating work for stage. His last play ‘Mic Drop’, received great reviews at the Scene & Heard festival.

Starring legendary radio actor / producer Roger Gregg!

Roger Gregg is an award winning playwright, composer, audio-producer and actor. Over the past 25 years he has written for Crazy Dog Theatre, Dublin Youth Theatre, TEAM, The American National Audio Theatre Festival, Graffiti Theatre, The Razor Edge, Oberon Theatre and The Gaiety School of Acting. His plays have also been produced by New York University, the University of Missouri, the Theaterpedagogisches Zentrum in Nuremberg, Germany. His Crazy Dog productions have won many international awards including; 3 American Mark Time Science Fiction Awards, 2 Ogle Fantasy Awards and 2 AUDIOFILE Golden Earphone Awards. In 2006 in a special feature reviewing his work, BBC Radio 4 hailed him as ‘one of a handful of truly great radio dramatists’.

Cast

Roger Gregg as Claude Chabert.
Sebastian Connellan = Carvel Kiddler
Seamus Stackpoole = Brendan O’Riordan / Miley O’Cumman
Gareth Stack = Eamon Chabert, Felix (in Sales), A.R.T News Anchor
Tara Cush = Shiela O’Riordan / Maraoid O’Common, Selkie
Niall Bruton = Alan O’Riordan / Ciaran O’Dowd
Thommas Kane Byrne = Fr Terry O’Mahony, Fiacra, Irate Reader
Pamela Flanagan = Maureen Masterson / Lug
Roisin Rankin = Laura O’Mahony, Banshee, BBC Presenter
Aislinn O’Byrne = Saoirse Chabert, Bridget Minerva, Irate Reader

With sound design / recording by Hearsay award winning producer Brendan Rehill (An Klondike, the Wedding Tree).

Thanks, hope you tune in!

BAI CREDIT

Migrant Fictions

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Download: Migrant Fictions (54 Megs)

Migrant Fictions is an ambitious new drama project, bringing together the talents of a diverse group of immigrant writers to capture their experience as émigrés to Ireland. German-Polish writer / director Dominik Turkowski developed five short drama scripts through workshops with writers from the immigrant community. Their stories capture the varied experiences of newcomers to Ireland. This project provided the opportunity for immigrants to articulate their experiences in their own words, through five short radio dramas. These dramas were devised collectively by the migrants themselves, and connect in profound and mysterious ways that reflect with humour and humanity what it means to be a migrant in Ireland today.

We’d like to thank world famous film and videogame composer Craig Stuart Garfinkle who kindly donated his compositions to the project.

The Writers

The plays were written by a talented and diverse group of Migrant Writers. The writers were Dalia Smelstoriūtė, Özgecan Kesici, Dominik Turkowski, Tina Brescanu, and Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan.

Producer and sound designer was Gareth Stack.

Check out the shows complete Credits.

The Plays

Experience 5 ten-minute dramas on travel, isolation and the tension between tradition and modern lifestyles. 5 stories sharing perspectives on  love and family, of acceptance and prejudice, of frustration with the bureaucracy and profound questions between home and adoptive culture.

In profound and mysterious ways they reflect with humour and humanity what it means to be a migrant in Ireland today.

Girl On A Plane

Elif, a German born Kazakh girl, is travelling home to meet her father. Elif is studying biochemistry in Ireland, but has dreams of becoming an actress. Dreams her traditionalist father thinks are beneath his daughter. Will she go her own way ?

Howling Walls

Robert has inherited a valuable collection of paintings – the work of his well-known >artist mother Margaret Owalska, a Polish migrant to Ireland. At an auction shortly after his mother’s death, Robert is interrupted by a man who is claiming ownership of his mother’s work.

Talk at Me 

Aysegul, a Turkish migrant working in Dublin, meets her boyfriend for coffee. Really Aseygul wants to address her VISA worries, but she has to deal with the reality that her boyfriend is more interested in expressing his own opinions than listening to her problems. Asysegul has been rejected by the bureaucracy of the employment permit programme. Will she have to return to the unstable political situation in Turkey ?

Eat In or Take Out 

Egle, an elderly Lithuanian woman travelling in Ireland for work, heads to a restaurant to meet Jonas. Jonas is in Ireland working eighty hour weeks to save up money for his wife and child back home. Together they talk about life and while a new friendship unfolds, Egle is also facing the sudden ending of a long lasting romance.

I Belong – Tina Brescanu

A young Swedish girl Pernilla, falls for Carrick, a charming Irish musician on a hot night in a Swedish town. Following him back to Ireland, Pernilla must deal with the realities of working in Ireland, crank callers, and a rude elderly lady she cares for, Peig. Gradually Pernilla and Peig develop a mutual respect and become fast friends. At the same time, pressured by Carrick to join him living in isolated Connemara, Pernilla is pushed to take a tough decision..

BAI CREDIT

Talking Podcasts on the Dave Fanning Show

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I appeared on the Dave Fanning show this morning, talking about podcasting. I was fierce wrecked from insomnia, but hopefully relatively coherent.

Listen here

Check out the cliffnotes…

What is a podcast?

Any radio or TV series that can be subscribed to and downloaded online.

Almost all are free. Usually updated weekly.
Cover every topic – from sports and films, to the most obscure odd stuff – e.g.: Creature Geek – a podcast for people who like special effects monsters.
Include radio programmes from all around the world, and internet only programmes – some of which are incredibly high quality.
Listen whenever you want. Pause, skip back and forward. Keep it forever, or delete it after you listen.

What do you need to get one

Easiest way is directly through your phone, stream or download from a podcast app.
On android the best one is ‘Pocket Casts’ (also available for iphone).
iPhone comes with it’s own programme, another good one is Overcast.

How to listen…

Search for the podcast name. Hit subscribe.
Now each new episode will be available to listen. Can either download or stream over your home wifi or 4G (if you’ve got a good data plan).

There are podcasts available for literally every interest.

Types of Podcasts

1) Narrative Journalism (storytelling about the real world)

This American Life

Revisionist History – from Malcolm Gladwell

99% Invisible – from Radiotopia

Reply All – a show about the internet

2) Comedy

WTF – with Marc Maron

Chappo Trap House

3) True Crime

Stranglers

Sword and Scale

4) Science & History

Radiolab

Hardcore History

The Secret History of Hollywood

History on Fire

5) Politics

War College – from Reuters News

Trumpcast

6) Irish Podcasts

Dave Fanning Show podcast – clips of the show
RTE Lyric – Culture File
RTE One – Doc on one
Newstalk Documentaries
Headstuff network – Alison Spittle Show

How to find new podcasts you might like

Podcast networks are like TV channels that offer lots of podcasts of a certain style
You can find them in your podcast app or on the web
E.g.: Headstuff (local), Smodcast (Kevin Smith’s shows), Radiotopia (high quality narrative journalism)

How to make your own

Not too difficult!
Lots of guides online
Record on your phone or computer and pay about 20 euro a month to put online with a podcast host like Libsyn

The Wedding Tree

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Download: The Wedding Tree
Subscribe: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud.

The Wedding Tree is an audacious new radio drama, set in the aftermath of an accident at an Irish nuclear power plant. In the wake of the disaster, fire officer Cian Mitchell is confined to hospital. Tormented by his injuries, Cian finds unlikely comfort in the company of Philips, an elderly English patient. Philips, a retired air force officer, delivers a series of interconnected tales drawing on everything from the golden age of Hollywood to Ireland’s historic mistreatment of women. The play explores mortality, storytelling, and the interconnectedness of all things. This is a tensely paced, meditative piece of radio theatre that plays with the medium, moving from drama to storytelling and back again.

This was my first time working with the incredibly talented, award winning sound designer Brendan Rehill. Brendan’s work captures the power and presence of natural sound to build rich, captivating audio worlds. For this drama he constructed an aural voyage that takes us from the heart of a nuclear reactor to the gizzards of a dying man.

The Wedding Tree was produced by Dead Medium for Newstalk. The programme was written and directed by Gareth Stack, and sound design was by Brendan Rehill.

The cast were: Mitchell – James O’Connor, Philips – William Brady, Surgeon / Mrs Mitchell / Nurse – Aislinn O’Byrne, Rory – Sebastian Connellan.

Theme music and incidental music by Roger Gregg.

‘The Wedding Tree’ was broadcast Saturday 12th August at 8am and 10PM  GMT on Newstalk 106 -108FM.

The programmes was made possible by a grant from the Sound & Vision fund. Funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee.

BAI CREDIT

Podcasting Workshop – August 13th

a4 podcast workshop

When: Sat 13th Aug,  10-5pm (with 1 hour for lunch)
Where: A4 Sounds, St Joseph’s Parade, Off Upper Dorset St, Dublin 1
Cost: 60 Euro
Book here

I’m running a one day podcast workshop this August in A4 Sounds. This two part workshop will cover everything you need to create, upload and promote your own podcast. We’ll provide an overview of the history of podcasts, and the current state of the podcast market. You will learn about different podcast hosting and distribution options, how to track downloads and what it takes to get a podcast into iTunes ‘New & Noteworthy’ category.

This workshop is suitable for anyone wishing to create a podcast or improve how their podcasts are created or distributed, and requires no special technical expertise.  Whether you already have a podcast you’d like to improve, or are just a keen fan with an idea, this is the workshop for you.

What will the workshop cover

Part one of the day will be an overview of podcasting, covering different ways podcasts are made and distributed, and moving onto all the major monetisation routes – from advertising to Patreon, paid downloads, app purchases and more.

We’ll look at various hosting options and podcast creation pipelines, from self hosting with WordPress or Libsyn, to all in one services like Zencast, Soundcloud, ACast and audioBoom.

Part two will cover the process of creating a podcast, using free and low cost tools. Participants will work together to record, edit and distribute a podcast. They will learn through hands on practice, how to submit to the most popular podcast directories and apps.

The facilitator will be available after the workshop to answer further questions and technical issues that might pop up with your first attempts at making a show.

Materials Required:

Participants to bring along:

  • Previously recorded programmes they wish to podcast
    OR ideas for a show they’d like to create
  • Laptops to follow along with the practical portion of the class

A4 will supply all other necessary equipment & materials.
Continue reading “Podcasting Workshop – August 13th”

The Wall in the Mind – 6 – Die Mauer Im Kopf

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DownloadThe Wall in the Mind – 6 – Die Mauer Im Kopf

Claire meets an old friend at the abandoned CIA listening post at Teufelsberg (Devils Mountain). As a storm begins, Claire learns the truth about what happened to Emil. Violence, death, and horrible secrets from the past finally exhumed, in the final episode of The Wall in the Mind.

The Wall in the Mind

The Wall in the Mind  is an original radio drama series, scheduled to broadcast on Newstalk 106-108fm, Saturdays at 7AM and 10PM GMT over the next three weeks.

The drama explores the consequences of the imprisonment of an Irish woman in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. The series combines a variety of innovative storytelling and sound production techniques to create a thrilling drama linked to real historic events. Listeners travel back and forth in time, as Irish woman Claire O’Hanlon tries to make sense of her experiences as a teenager in communist East Berlin and to solve the mystery of her vanished first love, Emil.

Writer / Director Gareth Stack travelled to Berlin to research the historic locations featured in the series. There he explored the ruins of the paramilitary police barracks, where on 7th and 8th October 1989 hundreds of East German protestors were held in one of the last desperate acts of a tyrannical regime. Thousands marched as the communist government faced revolution on the streets. Those unlucky enough to be arrested were tortured by the notorious ‘Volkspolizei-Bereitschaft’ paramilitary police. These events inspired a story that explores the marks history leaves on the lives of ordinary people.

 

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You can subscribe to these bonus episodes, and download or stream the podcast of ‘The Wall in the Mind’ at the following places – iTunesRSSSoundcloud.

Credits – ImagesCast & CrewDead Medium Productions.