S-Town podcast breaks records in its first week

The highly anticipated podcast series “S-Town” is about many things, a man, clocks, death, tattoos, mazes, love and loneliness. But it’s exactly not what it advertises itself to be: a murder mystery.  


Reporter Brian Reed leads listeners on his journey to meet a man named John B. McLemore, who reached out to “This American Life,” a show by National Public Radio, asking them to investigate a possible murder in his small Alabama town, which he calls “Shit Town,” the namesake of the show.


Reed does just this, but by the second hour of the show, the narrative changes entirely. It quickly evolves into an accidental biography, a snapshot of a man and his life in a modest community of 900, told through the eyes of an East Coast radio producer. It’s exhaustively emotional at times, carefully crafted and wholly earnest. It’s an absolute example of the beauty and capability of radio.


With McLemore as the common thread, it’s a series of stories introduced one by one that work together to paint a modest portrait of a man’s life, revealing his complexity and intense genius. Through this man’s story and the community he begrudgingly never left, it’s an honest and open exploration of the fragility of life and the beauty found within in a person’s idiosyncrasies. But it’s all simply a preface to a much greater story begging to be unpacked.


Reed is a gifted storyteller. He at times portrays McLemore as blissful and accepting but frustrated and restrained all at the same time. He’s a man in a community that mainstream media largely ignores, which is why his story is all the more important for the audience that “S-Town” appeals to, proving that the personal can be universal, and vice-versa.

Released last week, the series has already surpassed some of the record-breaking numbers of it’s predecessor “Serial,” on track to be the biggest blockbuster in the podcast world to date. It’s the first project of the newly formed podcast team Serial Productions, headed by the minds behind “Serial” and “This American Life.” Needless to say the momentum started early, “S-Town” boasted 1.8 million subscribers with its first week with 16 million downloads, according to data from Serial Productions, quickly working up the ranks as the fastest growing audience in podcast history.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

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