A walk to work with Jonathan Goldstein

Jonathan Goldstein, formerly of CBC Radio's WireTap, chats about his new podcast, how he feels about the future of audio production, and how you too can pitch a show that is way outside the box.

It's 8 a.m., and Jonathan Goldstein's palms are already getting sweaty. I've just brought up his looming deadline, the release of his new podcast, Heavyweight.

"Every time you listen to it again … you hear all the things that are wrong," he says.

The show — in short — has Jonathan acting as a "therapist with a time machine." So yeah, there's bound to be some storytelling quandaries to be wrestled with.

After wrapping Wiretap in 2015, Jonathan Goldstein is back with a new non-fiction podcast about second chances. (CBC)
We chat as Jonathan walks to work at Gimlet Media, his new storytelling stomping ground and home of Heavyweight. The walk has become an increasingly important part of his day. A time to move his body and air out his brain after hours behind a desk shaping this wild, weird, and disorienting concept. A concept which is so totally Goldstein.

All you CBC Radio lovers know what I'm talking about; for 11 years Jonathan was at the helm of the strange and wonderful radio program WireTap. It was a show that mixed reality and a mysterious world of semi-fiction and was also completely different from anything CBC had on the dial.

But last year the show came to a close and ever since many of us have been waiting with baited breath, wondering ... what's this guy got up his sleeve next?!

Read along — or listen — as Jonathan and I chat about his new podcast, how he feels about the future of audio production, and how you too can pitch a show that is way outside the box.

Julia: So what's going on at work right now? You're in the last throes of getting this new program to the internets!

Jonathan: Even you saying that … the "last throes" is making my hands get really sweaty … because it doesn't feel that way. But yes, yes it will be launching shortly.

Julia: How's that feeling? How far along do you hope to be in these coming days?

Jonathan: I think it's just going to be week by week. Because every time you listen to it you always hear all the things that are wrong. So you keep on trying, and it's never exactly right. And then maybe you don't hear it till months later, and then you'll think of everything that you should've done. But at a certain point you just have to release it and hope for the best.

Julia: So, what is this show all about?

Jonathan: I mean in a lot of ways [it's about what has] always interested me ... regret and close relationships we have with our family and friends. I would think that the big difference between this and WireTap is that WireTap kind of ... now I can let the cat out of the bag and say that WireTap kind of walked this line between fiction and nonfiction.

Julia: Oh really (laughs)?

Jonathan: Yeah — falsehood was bandied about or imaginary stuff ... or whatever you want to call it. And with this documentary it takes place in the real world and and it's not a product of invention. So in some ways it's surprising. I like being surprised — that's exciting. I don't know how things are going to end, and I'm not able to be as control freaky ... and tailor things in the same way. I mean it's fun to surprise yourself but it can also be frustrating, because you know, you can't orchestrate and dictate.

Julia: I want to talk about pitching … since the shows you make are always a bit atypical. Did Gimlet approach you or did you pitch them?

Jonathan: I mean it was sort of just talking to Alex Bloomberg. [He's a] friend of mine and someone that I used to work with at This American Life.

We would talk vaguely with no real plan. What was nice was that he encouraged me to just do some pilots, and I didn't have a concept per se. I just kind of pursued the things that interested me, and a common denominator began to emerge. The common thread among the stories was they all involved some deep dive into the past, and looking at the kind of dramatic [way] it has impacted present, my own present, and the present [of a] friend or a family member.

Recordings for Someone

In the interview Jonathan talks about this piece he made for This American Life — it exemplifies what drove him to storytelling in the first place.

Julia: I want to come back to this idea of pitching. How would you recommend selling yourself and selling your pitch?

Jonathan: Well I will say that it's ... it's stressful. You don't want to let people down. But I guess [I'm sort of like a] free agent. But radio is a relatively cheap art form. You can go out and just try to do it and figure it out as you go. But it's a very hard thing. In my situation I kind of learned over time that having some small question to answer and some kind of quest would be really helpful.

Julia: What's your dream for where this is all going? Can you imagine where we're heading in the next 10 years?

Jonathan: Yeah, I'm better at the negative imaginings, just because of the personal tendency I guess. I mean ... I am so not a visionary. I will quote an awful song by Billy Joel: It's Still Rock and Roll to Me.

I just quoted it. I actually just quoted it speaking the title.

It's like, radio or podcast or whatever comes next, it doesn't make a difference to me, you know? I'm realizing [even though] podcasts are somewhat of a different medium, [they're an] art form with its own rules and its own grammar and stuff. But I guess I tend to think of the things these devices for storytelling share ... I feel if you're doing the thing that you want to do, you'll figure out that medium. I don't know … I'm no magic 8 ball.

Julia: Are you feeling happy in this new venture. If feels like there's enough space and excitement there to keep you going for a while?

Jonathan: Yeah there is. I mean as much as I get excited, it's just nice to have a vote of confidence to have someone say, 'hey, try something new because because I think it's going be good.' That's kind of emboldening and nerve wracking, and to also to have the resources put behind those words is really — at a certain point in your in your career — is just sort of energizing.


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