Quirky Sci-Fi Podcast Demands to be Heard

By Catherine Segreto, Bishop Watterson High School

Opinion Writing

Cecil Baldwin, the voice of Welcome to Night Vale, performs at a live show in Chicago, Illinois.

Hidden in the vast expanse of the desert Southwest lies a small town where every conspiracy theory has come to life. The foreboding walls of the dog park discourage any and all dog owners from entering, a hoard of angels mysteriously lingers above Old Woman Josie’s house, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home mercilessly raids the refrigerator.

However strange they may sound, each of these peculiarities happens to be perfectly normal in the town of Night Vale. Dutifully reporting every new occurrence is Cecil Gershwin Palmer, the sole broadcaster at the local radio station. Despite the regular “disappearances” of his interns and the erratic behavior of his town’s governing body, Cecil manages to narrate with enthusiasm and accuracy, even venturing into the chaos for a good scoop. Now where exactly can one find such a dedicated broadcaster? Such an outlandish place? Look no further than the podcast Welcome to Night Vale.

The podcast, created by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink in 2012, has skyrocketed to success. Its accomplishments range from topping the US podcast chart to touring with a live show, including an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Thanks to social media, the fanbase only continues to grow; at one point, Welcome to Night Vale was downloaded around 150,000 times in the same week. Over its five-year course, Cranor and Fink have received countless offers to develop the podcast into books, comics, movies, TV shows, and video games, nearly all of which they have turned down. Though the deals grow increasingly more lucrative as the years pass by, the co-creators strive to be conscientious when it comes to preserving Night Vale’s original meaning.

Cranor and Fink introduced Welcome to Night Vale as a product of Commonplace Books, a publisher that aspires to “express the global arts community that has formed over the last few years on the Internet.” Fink himself had previously founded the company. He described modern creators as “the generation living in the best time in history to be an artist, to create the world that we want to live in,” and this ideology served as an integral part of developing Night Vale. Both Fink and Cranor had taken interest in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, a twentieth century horror author, and found the unused story ideas he left behind to be particularly alluring. After discussing a hypothetical town where conspiracy theories were true, the duo merged this concept with Lovecraft’s ideas, and the eccentric world of Night Vale was born. To stay in line with Lovecraft’s vision and preserve the essence of the show, Cranor and Fink turned down the offers in favor of a media they knew and trusted: writing. But all offers aside, is the podcast actually worth listening to?

While that ultimately depends on the listener’s taste, Welcome to Night Vale is undeniably a masterpiece. The casual narration of such bizarre events makes for quite the entertaining story. Humor seeps out of every sentence as Cecil unwittingly passes through his broadcast, somehow reading through report after report without comprehending the madness behind them. An underlying darkness also has a presence in the show, varying in prominence with each episode, but manages to blend seamlessly with the comedy. Through this captivating mixture of light and dark, the podcast can be viewed as a response to mass hysteria in the modern world. Although unfathomable things may be happening around even the smallest and most ordinary towns, it is possible for the townspeople to continue with their lives; beyond simply “coping,” they can find peace within themselves and truly thrive.

With a blend of frosting on top and several layers hidden beneath, Welcome to Night Vale is one treat that should not be passed up. Its clever jokes, subtle moodiness, and overall depth of meaning are too enticing to ignore. As a matter of fact, they have not been ignored in the least. After ascending through ranks of podcasts and establishing residency with the best of the best, Night Vale is clearly here to stay— and it will not be leaving any time soon.