It all started with an email with the subject line, “John B. McLemore lives in (expletive) Town Alabama.” For reporter Brian Reed, it was a gateway into the long and twisting saga that would become S-Town.
The seven-part podcast was downloaded 16 million times in just its first week. But before it became a massive success, Reed and his collaborators at This American Life and Serial had to figure out how to tell the story. With few models to look to, Reed says they looked to the world of fiction.
“We turned to novels,” Reed said in an interview with KNKX. “We’re creating types of shows and genres within podcasting that haven't existed before, and so were having to kind of train the audience as we go that you can trust us. This might sound like nothing you’ve heard before exactly, but trust us.”
Reed will be in Seattle on Sunday, onstage at Benaroya Hall, to talk about how S-Town got made.
It won’t be Reed’s first time in the Northwest. Nearly a decade ago, Reed was an intern (actually a Kroc Fellow) at what was then known as KPLU, now KNKX.
“That was my first year in radio, so it was the first time doing a lot of things,” said Reed of his formative months in Seattle.
He recalls with special vividness the last story he produced for the radio station about an octogenarian hitchhiker trying to make it from Seattle to San Francisco. His story aired the day the hitchhiker hit the road and, Reed would learn later, led directly to the man getting his first ride.