Whether you are new to podcasts or have a queue of shows ready to listen to, there are always popular shows that “you must listen to”, but somehow never have. Our Point Of Entry series aims to give you just that – a point of entry into the shows you’ve heard of, but never heard.
Formerly the internet’s favourite podcast about the internet, Reply All is at the start of a bit of a rebuild.
From its first episode in 2014 up until February 2021, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman chased leads into the very strangest and most unexpectedly fascinating corners of modern life. They called back cold callers and made friends with them. They tried to help a man track down a song he thought he heard at a party years ago. They unravelled tweets to their befuddled producer.
Then came their exposé on Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen. Just as Reply All tried to lay out exactly how Bon Appetit had been a toxic, unsafe environment to work in for people of colour, contributors and staff pointed out something not dissimilar was happening at Reply All. Vogt and producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni left under a cloud.
In June it returned from its short hiatus with the Londoner Emmanuel Dzotsi alongside Goldman, who’s contributed some of Reply All’s best stories over the last couple of years – see episode 167, ‘America’s Hottest Talkline’, about a weird recording promoting an intimate chatline which kept turning up on American government phonelines for years. It’s brilliant, and the future of Reply All looks bright.
Episode 114: Apocalypse Soon
It remains to be seen whether the Yes Yes No segment will return in Reply All 2.0, but even if it doesn’t there’s an enormous amount of fun lurking in the back catalogue. Each time, Vogt and Goldman explain a tweet to Gimlet Media co-founder Alex Blumberg, who is terminally confused by Twitter comedy.
They’re often extremely densely packed with stuff you need to have been living fairly intensely online to get, and never more so than a tweet which packaged several notable Twitter fights from 2019 into a new verse to ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’. Along the way, we learn about the beefs between people who wash their legs in the shower and those who don’t, the Aperol wars, and a grown man who blocked his wife on Twitter.
It’s hilarious, and also maddeningly catchy. Quite how Billy Joel restrains himself from singing, “Uber strike, Wiccan life, gamer blocked his elf wife,” in concert is a marvel.
Episode 158: The Case of the Missing Hit
This one has a case for being both the most Reply All episode of Reply All, as well as the very best Reply All episode of them all. The ingredients are all there: someone kind of remembers some fragment of culture, and needs help finding out what it actually was; Goldman and Vogt go way, way, way beyond what any sensible podcast would reasonably do in pursuit of a story.
It started when Californian filmmaker Tyler Gillett sang a song he remembered to his wife. It was kind of like Barenaked Ladies, a little bit like U2, something from the nineties. But after hours and hours down blind alleys on the internet, he can’t find it. Is he going mad? Has he somehow written his own earworm? Reply All tries to get to the bottom of it, going as far as to get Gillett to reconstruct the song with musicians in the studio.
With twist after twist and a great pay-off, it was an instant favourite. “We say in the story that the song and the desire to find it are contagious,” Vogt reflected last year. “I think that just turned out to be a little truer than we thought.”
Episode 166: Country of Liars
The QAnon phenomenon spurred a lot of podcasts. It’s an amazing story: a fringe gag on the 4Chan imageboard where someone pretended to be a member of the secret service turns into a community of credulous believers, which turns into a mini-industry of gurus and vibe artists interpreting gibberish a thousand ways, which turns into thousands of people storming the Capitol building and five dead.
Reply All’s QAnon story, though, might be the one which actually got under the skin of it. Cutting through all the noise and sensation which came after, Vogt goes right back to the very beginning of the QAnon story, to 2Chan, 4Chan and 8Chan. Frederick Brennan founded 8Chan as an ultra-free-speech alternative to 4Chan, but lost control of his site as its posters became more and more unhinged. Brennan, though, was able to see the nuts and bolts of the site, and has a good idea who the original Q was.
As fun as Reply All regularly is, this is a reminder that it also has some really, really solid journalism at its heart.