INTRO (ELENA): This desert planet is lonely and distant, but powerful in its mettle and its focus. Join Morgan Maxwell in the fight against the Coalition and against systemic oppression in our world, in this interview about Dispatch from the Desert Planet right here on Radio Drama Revival.
[theme music – smooth, jazzy horns playing a mellow, sultry tune that fades out gradually as Elena speaks]
ELENA: Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, we’re interviewing Morgan Maxwell, creator of Dispatch From the Desert Planet, which we featured last week.
Dispatch is an audio art piece that fights against the concept that art isn’t political at every corner. Maxwell questions the lies that we’re fed every day from government personnel, advertisers, mainstream news media, and history. In our interview, we dig deep into the need to be a critical fan and approaching art and language with nuance, and discuss various facets of the oppressive systems we live in right now and how they influenced the episodes Dispatch covers.
If you heard our showcase last week, you’ll know that the third episode of Dispatch from the Desert Planet covers facts about the US prison system. Today, we’d like to ask you to donate to Survived and Punished, a national prison abolition organization dedicated specifically to freeing and supporting criminalized and imprisoned survivors of domestic and sexual violence. This coalition raises awareness about the foundational links between gender violence and systems of punishment, and provides more ways to support survivors like letter writing. You can learn more and donate at survivedandpunished.org.
Please be aware that the following interview contains talk of racism, protests, and climate change.
[begin interview audio]
ELENA: Thank you for joining us on Radio Drama Revival. Morgan, we are super excited to talk to you about Dispatch.
MORGAN: Thank you for having me.
ELENA: Yeah, the RDR team loves Dispatch, loves what you’re doing in that work, and that you were able to get new voices to join you for your second season. So I think that means that this is the perfect time to talk about where Dispatch was and where it’s going.
MORGAN: Yeah, thank you. It’s been very exciting.
ELENA: So let’s, let’s talk a bit of background first — Morgan, what did your path into creating Dispatch in audio form look like? And what made audio the right medium for this work?
MORGAN: Um, so I’ve always been a big fan of podcasts in general. It’s, I think — I was just in a theater class – I was guest-teaching a theater class yesterday, with high school students. And we were talking about audio because in the pandemic, specifically, a lot of them have had to switch how they’re interpreting theatre, and some are doing a radio play. And we talked a little bit about how, when you have podcasts, when you have radio plays, it — having the absence of the visual engages the audience in a way that you don’t necessarily get with things like TV. We draw the parallel with novels and writing, which is kind of where my background is. And then there’s also the practical considerations, and that we were [laugh] at the height of pandemic, when Dispatch from the Desert Planet started, and it was something, you know, that could be done, at least. I mean, I’m not necessarily a person that works well independently. I like to be a collaborator. And there are a lot of really great people that have helped work with me on Dispatch from the Desert Planet and helped collaborate but it was something that could be done from different physical locations. So yeah, so it was a little bit practical and a little bit just a love of audio as a medium.
ELENA: So 89.x1 is a non-news independent radio broadcaster, right? Fighting to inform people under the coalition, your oppressive tyrannical government that surveilles its citizens with regularity that we definitely cannot identify with in any way. Why is it important for 89.x1 to be independent radio? And together with this? What’s the danger that’s implied by “certified reporters”?
MORGAN: Yeah, well, you know, it’s nothing to do — there’s no parallels really, with the world we’re living in! So there’s obviously, you know, the parallel between monopolies and how information is fed to us. And we’ve all lived through, and continue to live through, years and years of this idea of fake news and how that’s presented and what that means, and you know, access to information has been democratized in a way that’s really incredible. And it gives a lot of people voices that I would never have heard from, and they’re the exact people that I do need to hear from, but on the exact same [laugh] coin is, is this world full of information that’s like, in no way verified. And so often the things that are the most dishonest and the most, you know, incredibly “out there”, the things that are claiming veracity and the truthfulness full throated. And so this idea of the, like, the misleads and the false information, having this, you know, seal of certification, and the truth and like, the idea of real people trying to get real verified information out there and not having access to that was really important to me. And we see this parallels, and all kinds of bizarre things like certification of, you know, like of agave spirits and like what that means and what that means really the heritage of the producers. And, you know, what is truth? And what is realistic? Yeah, it gets very blurry in a very interesting way.
ELENA: I agree. One of the things that it made me think of was when — was when 45 purged a bunch of journalists from the White House press corps. I thought I thought about that when I was thinking about “certified reporters”, right? And this concept of like, who is able to disseminate information?
MORGAN: Yeah, and I think at the time, I was reading Bad News, I wish I knew the author’s name off the top of my head, but um, it is — it’s a book about journalism, post genocide in Rwanda. And, and kind of the intricacies of that and how they like — so often when we have really horrific events in history, there’s that void, right, that’s created that vacuum, where people take advantage of it. And so post genocide there, there was really this effort to, to use the genocide, and to really not honor those people’s story, the people who suffered in any way. And especially through media, with these really large memorials and things that had to do nothing really with collective healing. But with reminding people constantly, right? Of this horror, so that the people in power could continue to, you know, continue their subjugation with this, this really gruesome reminder in the background of like, Look what happens if we’re not the ones making the decision. Yeah, exactly. You know, light reading. Is ultimately what I’m saying. Casual and fine.
[mutually stressed-out laughter]
ELENA: Yeah. Read that right before bedtime. No, but really important parallel to be drawn here. And very good information. You said that book was called Bad News.
MORGAN: Yeah. And the author’s name is escaping me, which is so often the case.
ELENA: No, yeah, mood I never remember authors’ names. Ever, so. So I would say that in the last few years, right. It’s become — it’s becoming a lot clearer to the general US public that journalists are, at least the journalists in general, right? Are stifled — either stifled from doing their jobs due to racist structures that actively prevent them, or they’re part of the system that’s keeping those structures in place, right.
MORGAN: Or often both.
ELENA: Yeah, or both! How can citizens who do not work in journalism? Like — not citizens? Why did I say citizens? It’s because of the show.
MORGAN: Is this a Dispatch thing?
ELENA: It’s a Dispatch thing. Yes. Okay. So now that we’re not on the desert planet right now.
MORGAN: I appreciate it, you adopting our lingo! [laugh]
ELENA: Yeah! [laugh] How can people who don’t work in journalism help keep important work from being censored and/or help check? Right, what’s — what’s happening?
MORGAN: Yeah, I wish I knew!
ELENA: That’s fair. [laugh]
MORGAN: I think, I think that’s part of — part of what’s been really scary. I mean, I want to say, in my lifetime, it’s been the last, you know, six years, but I think that’s the — just my adult life that I’ve started paying attention to things. But it’s, is it there’s so many problems that it seems like, you know, at least, the circles that I run in are very sure exists. They’re very easy to identify, we can see that there’s a problem. We can even imagine the solution.
But in terms of concrete action for people to take, the answers aren’t really there. So, you know, I always turn to books. I’ve been reading a lot of activist work, so just try to inspire, and that’s kind of what started this project really was like the idea of art activism.
But there’s, there’s the small things you can do like, quite literally support an independent media organization that you know is doing good work. I think there’s something to be said for fighting for the truth and fighting for truth of language and not letting the language around things change. Right?
We see, that has happened with antifa, where not having the last, the last syllable has led to a total redefinition by people of what that stood for, you know, so there’s something to saying like you mean, anti fascist? And there’s something to be said about continuing to insist that the things really do mean what they mean, or that things really are important.
And it’s, you know, we’re over indexed with information. So it’s nearly impossible. You know, you have to put on your battle gear every single day. And yeah. And so, you know, it gets overwhelming. It gets overwhelming for the people who really believe these things, and it gets overwhelming for the people who were not quite sure and have to hear that constantly. So yeah, it’s hard. But you know, support independent news!
ELENA: Yeah. Especially support independent news.
MORGAN: Especially real journalism. And, you know.
ELENA: You were talking about all these — all these activist books that you’re reading, and of course, the second episode, Horoscopes, is a coded reference to Pussy Riot’s guide to activism and their Manifesto. Right. So talk to me about Pussy Riot’s influence on Dispatch, and on your — and their influence on your own approach to art activism and anti oppression?
MORGAN:Yeah. So I think I had one concrete input — I want to say that it is not necessarily the best resource, like it’s not necessarily the best book when it comes to activism. There are other readings that I would suggest I would like, say to read about the Combahee River Collective and you know, to, like, revisit Angela Davis, but-
ELENA: Hell yeah, Angela Davis.
MORGAN: Yeah. But the thing that was concretely, really important about that book to me, and I think, came at the right time, is one, it does have advice that feels very concrete and very digestible, about how to deal with, you know, the just — I would call it the fascism that’s like slowly crawling around us, but just how to deal with a government that doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart.
But also, for me, what was really liberating and freeing was, was how it approached art. And not necessarily having all of the tools that you think you would need to create something, or the knowledge or, and so I believe it’s Natasha, the author, writes about how she proposed writing an essay with a friend or writing a thesis about, about feminist punk. And the — it was accepted, their project was accepted. And then they went and they couldn’t find any feminist punk music. So they started a feminist punk band. [laugh] At that time, neither of them knew how to be in a band or do anything of the sort. And they rigged some sort of like battery backpack that they would do these performances outside. And it was like leaking battery acid, and it was just like — they had none of the resources that you would need to do this, or knowledge. And, obviously, it’s, it’s endured. But the right is very much a thing. Yep. And so, that felt really freeing to me as someone who’s always wanted to try a project like this and really just didn’t have the skill set or the knowledge that so many people have. I thought, well, might as well try.
ELENA: Yeah, no, give it a shot. For those who are interested in this book. It’s Read and Riot: a Pussy Riot Guide to Activism by Nadia Tila konnikova.
Continuing on this line right of this. This influence in like creating art, art activism, feminist punk bands, which is dope. Love it.
We’ve heard the very inaccurate phrases, “art isn’t political” or “separate art from the artist” or politics or whatever, like a million times. So what do you think is a good way for her to go about dismantling or complicating these perceptions? Especially if it’s like something being said by, you know, someone in your community and you need to like-
ELENA: -not have that spread. There we go.
MORGAN: Yeah. Um, I don’t know. It’s just as exhausting!
ELENA: It is absolutely exhausting! It’s like, it’s just like, Oh, you mean you have to have this conversation again?
MORGAN: Yeah. Well, and you know, everyone’s — globally, everyone’s favorite art is, is generally created by the most oppressed people. And we want to pretend like that had nothing to do with it. Maybe you shouldn’t enjoy the art so much, and wonder what it is in you that really, like, really appreciate feeding off of what’s clearly something fueled by, you know, a million mini traumas. Um-
ELENA: Love to put on those blinders.
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah, I think that — I think when it is, or isn’t political, that one’s I don’t know if it’s the easier answer, but it is just like, historically, that’s never been true. It just never, never. Never. And, and, and it wasn’t like, if, you know — if art had never — if no art existed, and it was invented today, it would surely still be rooted in some sort of identity, right? Because that’s why people create, and identity is political.
As far as the, you know, separate the art from the artist. I think. I think it really depends on you know, who you’re saying that about? And why. And it’s hard because, like, nuance has been lost.
ELENA: Yeah. Nuance? In my internet??
MORGAN: [laugh] Yeah, exactly! But I think, you know, I don’t — I consider myself a pretty radical thinking person. And I still don’t really know anyone that’s telling people, like, they can’t enjoy things, because someone said something they didn’t like. For me personally, I quite literally can’t enjoy things, when I find out that they’ve been produced by someone, you know, who’s like, assaulted someone, or who has done something that doesn’t align with my values, because that’s not enjoyable for me anymore, right? And I think — but if it’s still enjoyable for a person, if you just really still need to listen to that song, or I think that, you know, practically speaking, there’s a lot of ways to consume stuff that don’t — don’t put money into the pocket person. Like I’m personally a big fan of DVDs.
ELENA: Huge fan. You can buy them — buy them used, y’all.
MORGAN: Right? Yeah, go to used bookstores. And then it just like, doesn’t matter at all that James Cameron was involved or, it doesn’t matter. Like no one knows that they’re being played on my little DVD player. No one’s getting royalties. You know, so get creative.
ELENA: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve started my DVD collection up again, now that I live with someone who has a DVD player. So it’s been — it’s been great. I love it. And and this, this comp — this is a very complicated topic, right. And I think that something that — when it comes to the nuance that has been lost, as you were saying, one of the things that I think people don’t understand is that when you love something, that’s fine. Love it, but you need to love it critically. Right? Like this, this concept of being able to love something and also, like, understand it critically has like, is like can’t exist both at the same time. Like, yeah, right. Yeah.
MORGAN: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think people kind of fear, fear taking that critical look at things because, because they know that it ultimately will probably lead to them loving it less. You know, we, as humans, we compartmentalize. That’s how we make it through the day. And so, that idea of having to really confront something, when you know, ultimately, yeah, it’s not going to be as enjoyable when you stop to think about it, I think, yeah, the fear of doing that is a lot for some people. You know, which is — I get it, but it’s, it’s hard.
ELENA: Yeah, no, this — these are all like, the conversations that Dispatch talks about are all and the news events and the current events and the philosophical topics, right, that you discuss are all very difficult for people. But they’re necessary. And I think that we, as a — especially white people, and white-passing people of color . . . in my communities have like gotten very complacent, right with the concept of like, being uncomfortable, is something that you need need to do in order to achieve change.
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah. And that that and that being comfortable, you know, isn’t an attack or is it an affront? You know, and I think it’s something that we say all the time — it’s just like, being a person of color isn’t comfortable, like every day! And you know, most days, it’s like, fine, I at least for — I’m very lucky. I’m just very fortunate and have a lot of privilege in my life. So that discomfort is minimal. And it’s something that you adapt to. And I think that, you know, asking that white people do the same thing, or at least be open to the possibility that some days maybe a little bit less comfortable. [laugh] It’s not a big ask!
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ELENA: So my favorite moment that I experienced while listening to — re-listening to Dispatch for this, for the show, was when I discovered that the coffee bureau ad is real. Right? It’s a sponsorship message for a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.
MORGAN: Yeah, thank you. It’s one of my favorite things.
ELENA: Absolutely fascinating. It was, it was great. Like I was listening to it, and you can slightly tell that it’s been slightly edited, right? You’re like, Oh, that’s interesting. But then you move on, right? Because it fits right in with what you’re doing. And then this time for this interview, I went through, and I clicked all the links. And I was like, wait, this sounds familiar. Yeah.
MORGAN: Yeah. It’s a wild ad.
ELENA: Wild, wild ad! I’m just gonna like, wow, the 40s really just went balls to the wall with the military propaganda. Yeah, not that we’ve stopped. takes the form of superhero movies.
ELENA: But how did you — how did you go about sourcing and selecting the right audio clips? Right? Because you have a real audio clip in almost every episode, I think.
MORGAN: Yeah, especially in, in the earlier episodes. I — one thing that I want to try to maintain through all the episodes, even the bonus episodes, and there’s like one element of something from the real world. And for me, the most fun way is with the — with the real audio clips. It’s also just technically the most challenging problem in that copyright is a little bit fickle. Knowing, yeah, knowing what is and what is usable, or — what is usable. And what context is — it makes it a little bit trickier. There are other things that I would love to use. But I’m just not quite sure it’s worth it.
So I’ve gone through a lot of old archives. That’s like, yeah, that’s a Eleanor Roosevelt speech. So I don’t think that that — when the speech was uploaded, I don’t think the coffee ad was of interest to anyone except for me. I think that is the most fascinating part. And there is a link and I would encourage listening to it because it is really bizarre how an announcer like, announces Eleanor Roosevelt’s wartime speech, but then they take a quick break to be sponsored by coffee. You know, in a really broad sense too, it’s just like the American coffee bureau. Yeah.
ELENA: So I bet there’s probably people that’re like, we have a Coffee Bureau? Which is totally fine, because I don’t think we don’t any — I think we don’t anymore.
MORGAN: Yeah. Well, I — we talked about the layers of colonial wartime speech, and then you know, coffee, where does that grow?
ELENA: Hmmm! Definitely not in the US. Maybe places like Puerto Rico.
MORGAN: Yeah, well, and places the US has stolen. Yeah, Hawaii?
ELENA: Yeah. Yeah, so yeah, I grew up like being taken to, like, we took field trips to like coffee plantations. I grew up in Puerto Rico. And we would take field trips, these places they would be like, look at these coffee plantations that we have because of the US. Really. Yeah. Yeah, the way that they work is because of the US.
MORGAN: And all of the resources, like, all come directly back to us. Right? Oh, yeah. So. So the fun thing about the — just, old ads in general, I use a lot from companies that have gone defunct and things that feel more — I think more public domain to me if they don’t exist anymore, their point of origin. But the cool thing about him is like almost just any ad I listened to from, I mean, basically, the 80s backwards is just like that genre. For what it’s — it’s just, yeah, they all they almost all can fit, especially in the you know, 40s, 50s, they’re all really, really war focused and really band together and feel terrifying in that way. But they’re some of my favorite things to listen to. Just going through all the archives is a blast.
ELENA: Yeah, no, I love I love podcasts that, especially fiction podcasts that include things like 40s and 50s. and older, like, vintage ads, right, in order to comment on some things. Have you listened to the podcast What’s the Frequency?
MORGAN: I have not?
ELENA: It’s a — it’s a very, it’s a surreal like, experimental mystery horror, right? And one of the things that they do in this podcast is they actually create fake war time ads.
MORGAN: Love it.
ELENA: Yeah. And they’re, they’re very intense. They get — they ramp up in intensity, right. And they’re, they’re specifically commenting on American militarism, and consumerism and capitalism and its effect on human beings. And they’re really, really intense. Really, really well done. And I love shows that do this right? That include real ones, that write their own in order to be a little bit more in-your-face with the satire. Yeah, it’s very, I think it’s really important to be able to source those real beginnings that you’re drawing from and be able to show people that like, I’m not just making this up from nothing.
MORGAN: Yeah. Yeah!
ELENA: This really happened! It will never-
MORGAN: And it still happens!
ELENA: I will never get the ad for the sloppy joes out of my head.
MORGAN: [laugh] Yeah, there’s a lot of just truly wild ones. The things we felt were appropriate. Yeah. Although I look at stuff now too. And I go, Wait, that’s cool.
ELENA: Cool, I guess. Yeah. Watching marketing and advertising these days. It’s just like, experience in how to be the most racist you can be, while not triggering white people who think that they’re woke.
MORGAN: Yeah. [laugh]
ELENA: So in Dispatch, I noticed that all the names of the broadcasters, including June, seem to be references to very influential writers of color, right? Some essayists, Sandra Cisneros, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and of course, June Jordan. Have I correctly identified the naming pattern here?
MORGAN: Yes, yes.
ELENA: Excellent. Okay. It’s not making it up in my brain then.
MORGAN: Yeah, and the cats are named after white poets. The cat is Keats.
ELENA: Oh my god! Good. I just forgot about — that’s very good.
Can you explain what was behind your naming process and why it was important?
MORGAN: Um, it’s probably my writerly bias. But I — poets, to me are just, you know, the rebels. They are. And if there’s any sort of rebel activists that I would name myself in the tradition of, it would absolutely be poets, and specifically marginalized poets. And I think, to me, there’s something very fun about a little rebel radio station that, you know, just wants to be artists. Just want to be, not fighting this fight necessarily, but it’s, you know. Yeah.
ELENA: That’s very good. I really like that. Yeah. No. poetry and music are — I think they go hand in hand in activist work. Yeah. That I think people don’t really realize the, like, the way that they still have that importance. Like it’s not just a thing that’s relegated to the past, right. A lot of people, you think about like protest songs, and people are like, Oh, well, Bob Marley, right? And it’s kind of like not that’s not the only person! Right, right, and they just think that it’s the thing from like the 60s. But in fact, it’s just kind of like, no, it’s still happening.
MORGAN: Mhmm. Yeah. Or like, you know, more subtle protest songs or things that I don’t think are subtle, right. But they, for some reason, I guess. It depends on who interprets it and why but you know, you think of, like, Harry Belafonte. And since childhood, I’ve been traumatized and in love with the banana boat song, but like, if you listen to it, you know, what is that? How is that, you know, and it’s, but it has this really beautiful fun play of really jovial danceable music, and it made its way into every home, every home in America.
ELENA: Yeah, I didn’t think that I would ever actually experience this myself with my community. But in Puerto Rico in 2019, we, you know, the people on the island protested against the extremely corrupt, horrible governor. The breaking point was the revelation of a secret — what was the — I forget the platform, but like a secret chat with like other members of government and some lobbyists who probably shouldn’t have been in this conversation? And like, like making really homophobic, misogynistic, threatening comments about people that they work with, and people who were critics of theirs. And one of the things that happened during these protests was the development of a protest song, called ‘Afilando Los Cuchillos’ by Bad Bunny, Residente, and Ile. And it was — became incredibly popular, like, the day that it came out, people were singing it already, like, at the protests. And I listened to it the first time, and I started crying, right. So like, I never thought that I would experience this particular thing. Like, it feels like a very particular thing to have this music. Right. And and poems and, and this,
MORGAN: Right, and music, it’s poetry.
ELENA: And music is poetry, right? Yeah, yeah. And to have those things as touchstones that you live through. It’s not just stuff that you got from your ancestors, right, through your history through your family, but like something that you live through, and just like, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. And so yeah.
MORGAN: Yeah, no, I mean, I think I have to — I think, I think we all have, you know, there’s jokes abound about feeling at this moment, like you’re actually living through history. But I think one of the realities of it, that I think was hard for me to imagine when I was younger is just like that it, you know, it doesn’t end. The day comes like there’s no — you never know, the moment is the moment, which I think I had been told and understood with other stuff like, oh, you’ll look back and think like, these were the best years.
But when it comes to just horrifying things that are happening in our world, it’s really hard to know when every moment feels like okay, well, this is the breaking point, right? When you’re supposed to do something when you’re supposed to do something big. When you’re supposed to do something more than just chat about it. [laugh]
ELENA: Yeah! You’re supposed to do something. Yeah. Take action!
ELENA: Right.And then that feeling like you have to do that, like, every day once you hit that point, right. And nobody else is doing it. You just kind of like, hello.
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah. Or, or the or people are and it doesn’t seem like enough, or, you know, something else happens. Like there’s so many little fibers woven into that, that, that I think our brains weren’t really primed to deal with when we thought about history as an abstraction and thought, Oh, why didn’t they do something? It’s like, well, I guess they did. They probably did every single day.
ELENA: Yeah, probably. Why didn’t they do something? I think they did! I think you just weren’t paying attention.
MORGAN: Yeah, it just didn’t work. Yeah.
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. So, just to continue talking a little bit here about literature, Dispatch is also heavily informed by afrofuturism. So I just want to know, what are some afrofuturist works that had an impact on dispatch or an impact just on you that you would recommend to our audience?
MORGAN: Yeah, afrofuturism is, is a little bit funny in the — in the same way satire is and that there’s not like an agreed upon definition. I guess the agreed upon definition is, you know, diasporic imaginings of the future. Right. So that’s basically any science fiction or speculative fiction that a Black person has written, written and wants to be afrofuturism.
But for me, a couple of years ago, probably 2017 now, I made a really conscious choice to only read books by women of color. And before that, I had been doing sort of like, unofficially that. I wasn’t reading books by white men for the most part, so I thought, I really only want to support female authors, right? I really only want to support people of color.
But the way that works on bookshelves meant I was just reading a lot of white women and a lot of, you know — not even a lot — a handful of Black men. And basically nothing else, you know. And so I made a decision to only read books by women of color, and I’ve since branched out a little bit, um, you know, I’ll just read what I want to read, but for the most part that really stays being mostly women of color.
And it changed my relationship to speculative fiction a lot. That was something I had always loved as a child. And as an adult, I just didn’t have the patience for it. I thought maybe it was like, it was something for children, you know. I didn’t have — and I wasn’t reading children’s books, when I was a child. I was reading very long anthologies. But I — the kind of worldbuilding elements of it, as an adult, I found totally unrelatable. It was just like, it was almost like reading textbooks, where you had to learn so much information and like, family dynasties and things that were just not things that I was interested in. So, that reading books by women of color really changed my relationship to science fiction, specifically.
My favorite author, who I think is criminally underrated, is Nalo Hopkinson.
ELENA: [delighted gasp] Love Nalo Hopkinson!
MORGAN: Yeah, I think that her name should always be set along like Octavia Butler and Walter Mosley and Samuel R. Delaney. But it’s not as often. And part of me wonders if that’s because she is still here with us. And we don’t — we tend not to give black women credit until they are not there to receive it.
But yeah, so anything Nalo Hopkinson has written, I think, should be at the top of someone’s to read list. And it’s — it has such a wide variety. Yeah, she’s been writing for such a long time. Or at least it feels like it. There’s a — you can see like a real ebb and flow and changes in her work. And she, um, she, I think does a really brilliant job writing about disability and writing about some of the more intricate parts of racism and colorism and you know, privilege within racism, but they’re all just woven into these really beautiful books, and some are, you know, historical. They all have a little bit of a speculative fiction tint. Some are like — really operate in the world of science fiction, and some operate more in the world of historical fiction, but there’s always like a hint of magic there or a hint of something in the future. And I think they’re brilliant. Yeah, yeah,
ELENA: Yeah, no, you’re right. And I for some reason, you haven’t read N. K. Jemison, audience, The Fifth Season, please do so.
MORGAN: Yeah. I have — Jemison has only recently kind of entered my world. And one of my favorite things is the description of food. I love I love love love speculative fiction as it talks about food.
ELENA: Yes! Big same!
MORGAN: That’s the world building that I want. The mechanics of some sort of machine is not really speaking to me the way that meals are. And on the same line of thinking I just read a two part YA series by Tehlor Kay Mejia.
ELENA: [delighted gasp] Yes, yeah.
MORGAN: With beautiful descriptions of food. I — the titles, I’m not going to get right. I think it’s like, We Burn. I don’t — I can’t do it. There’s two — there’s one with shadows and one with fire.
ELENA: Here. [pause while trying to remember the title] Oh my gosh.
MORGAN: Sorry. I know. After all that, I did the the stress again.
ELENA: Yeah. [pause] Last name is Mejia, right?
MORGAN: Yeah. Um, hold on.
ELENA: Yeah. Oh, we . . . We Set the Dark on Fire.
MORGAN: We Set the Dark on Fire. And then there’s a second book in that series. Yeah. And it’s just-
ELENA: We Unleash the Merciless Storm.
MORGAN: Thank you. Yes.
ELENA: The titles are long. That’s why they’re hard to remember, y’all.
MORGAN: So, not afrofuturism but just beautifully written.
ELENA: Yeah, gorgeous. We’re talking about food and science fiction. Like, genuinely, I fully agree with you. Like, sure you’ve got this giant machine that’s very complicated that can do weird things with alternate realities in your life to explain alternate reality theory. Okay, okay. But what are the scientists eating?
MORGAN: Absolutely. What is everyone eating? And you know, I — before you said that, it’s like it was a little bit hard to track me down on the internet. [laugh] Before my internet persona that existed was, was all in the food space, and it was stories around food. But it’s because I think food is something that is really a brilliant tool to talk about everything, because everyone eats, right? And questions of equity come up immediately when you start talking about food, and especially in a worldbuilding sense. Those are great questions to ask, you know, who eats what? And how? Because that ultimately comes back to the questions of resources, which is –
ELENA: Yeah, why do they eat what they eat?
MORGAN: Right, exactly. Like you get history.
ELENA: Is it just something that they eat because it’s traditional? Okay, but why do they eat it? Like?
ELENA: Do they have access to nothing else? Right, like, right, like, what’s the historical religious significance of this work? I think that you make a very good point there about-
MORGAN: Yeah, your answer questions about culture and about equity and about everything in one fell swept — sweep and, and it’s, you know, interesting to me, I live for descriptions of food.
ELENA: [dramatic whisper] Tell me about the food. Make me hungry after reading your book.
[normal volume] So since we’re talking about food, what are you cooking lately to keep yourself nourished as we watch the vaccine counter tick?
MORGAN: Yeah, I — so I think I kind of had a little bit of an opposite relationship with cooking through the pandemic than most people. I love cooking. And I always have, or at least in my adult life, I have. It’s — I was like, I was a kid with a single mom who grew up on frozen food for the most part. So reclaiming cooking at home was something really big for me. And, and yeah, I used to have, not even a food blog, a food Instagram. And I do a lot of cooking. And I would always take the slow road there, right. Like I had a sourdough starter, I’d make pasta from scratch. And in the pandemic, I haven’t wanted to cook anything.
MORGAN: I’ve been trapped in this little space. Like the last thing — food has always been really creative for me. And I feel like the wells of creativity for just anything have been really — I’ve been really low on that, I feel. I’m also like, very, very fortunate. I was a substitute teacher before the pandemic. So I’m very lucky to be in a relationship that you know, can continue to pay our rent, which is good, because, yeah, so I’m not not just counting how lucky I am to be able to still make it through day to day or even, you know, feels wrong to complain about. I have plenty of access to food. But as far as excitement and creativity, the last thing I want is to be making anything.
ELENA: Making more food. Yeah, no, I have several of my friends who — and myself included, right — who all love to cook have all been like, what if I just ordered takeout again?
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah.
ELENA: And that’s fine.I guess I’m just gonna make pasta and put canned sauce on it. Nailed it.
MORGAN: We had pasta last night. Yeah, I think [laugh] I have, I’m sure I’ve made some really fun and tasty things that I enjoyed lately, but not a single one is coming to mind. So that’s where I’m at.
ELENA: I hope that — man, I hope that the vaccines once they get distributed, you are able to recreate that energy.
MORGAN: Yeah, me too. Thank you.
ELENA: Yeah, like really important in terms of like, being able to cook.
MORGAN: Yeah, no, normally I find cooking to be like a real meditation. It’s, yeah, it’s time that I really enjoy. But there’s been so much comtemplative time lately.
ELENA: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of time to meditate.
MORGAN: Yeah, exactly.
ELENA: So you’re originally from Tucson?
ELENA: Did Tucson influence the world building of the remote desert planet or any other part of this podcast?
MORGAN: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. It certainly did in my head. The — because Dispatch from the Desert Planet — it’s just really evolved on the fly and because a lot of it has been framed, just as a radio broadcast, there hasn’t had to be a lot of concrete sensory world building. At least not that is happening in the podcast. Plenty has happened in my head.
But yeah, I — my hometown has a very enduring influence on me that I think I didn’t really recognize. I, you know, I’m — I grew up there and really took for granted how special it was and how different I think most people feel that way about their hometown. But I, yeah, I, I don’t have a culture necessarily. [laugh] I was raised by the white side of my family that’s, you know, from Utah, and before that, from mostly, mostly Denmark. But that does that beautiful thing that white Americans do, where culture is just like gone, right. It just becomes this Americanness. We don’t really have family foods, and we don’t have, like — we’re not rooted in anything. And as a black kid growing up in Tucson, I didn’t know that I was searching for that necessarily.
But I think now, when there are cultural things that I relate to, they’re really rooted in the desert. They’re really rooted in Sonoran culture, because that’s the closest I had — it’s all borrowed from my friends. But, you know, that’s what I got. And yeah, I love it. I think about moving back all the time. And just by virtue of the fact that a lot of my friends were able to help and humor me through this project most . . . most of the people involved are from the desert. My — Athena and the other Morgan are both from Tucson. Athena still lives there. Angela is from Nogales, and then Tucson, and my friend, Leanne, is from Las Vegas, so it’s not, you know, we weren’t connected in that way. But she’s from her own desert. Yeah, so it just, as you know, it so happens.
ELENA: It just so happens. We share the desert here.
MORGAN: Exactly. Yeah. There’s only only a couple of people involved that aren’t — weren’t born and raised in the desert.
ELENA: Yeah. My parents met in Tucson.
MORGAN: Oh, yeah.
ELENA: Yeah! So I — when I found out you were from Tucson, I was like, Oh, yeah. It’s the bit of the desert that my parents brought back from finishing their PhDs.
MORGAN: Mmm, University of Arizona?
ELENA: Yep. Tucson.
MORGAN: Me too. Yeah, yeah.
ELENA: Yeah, they met in a library, which tells you all you really need to know about my parents.
MORGAN: [sigh] So sweet. That’s the dream.
ELENA: It is the dream, right?
MORGAN: I mean, I guess it depends on what section but generally, the dream.
ELENA: I don’t know what section I never asked. Probably the German section.
MORGAN: [laugh][ I don’t know about that.
ELENA: Well, my dad is a physicist, and he had to learn back in like, the time that he was studying when you were doing physics, you had to learn either German or Russian in order to read articles. So he learned German, and my mother is a music theory professor. And her dissertation was about a German composer.
MORGAN: Uh huh. And so, yeah,
ELENA: I think that’s, that’s why I’m like, Maybe this one?
MORGAN: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a meet cute if I ever heard one.
ELENA: Yeah. Send me some of that.
Um, so one of the — one of the things that I was thinking about lately, and also some — a couple of people on my team, was whether — whether any of your observations about or experiences with climate change, show up in Dispatch’s world building?
MORGAN: Yeah, I mean, I, and maybe it’s just my mindset. But for me, it’s basically impossible to imagine a future without thinking [laugh] about climate change, even a totally fictional future. But that is, you know, I think it’s, it’s impossible. And I would also be, like, a little bit irresponsible, right?
Because we have one Nightmare on our doorstep. And to pretend that that would be solved and not learned from in any kind of like — no matter how fantastical, the reality is, I think that that’s one element that really does need to be there.
And so yeah, again, I don’t, you know, sometimes I don’t know how much I exist in my own head and how much it actually comes across. But for me, I think if you, you know, talk about any questions of like humans in space, humans in the future, like, the resources, you know, are something –
Oh, sorry. I think there’s another really loud – [laugh] I tried to close everything up, but here we are.
But so, yeah, I think if you’re talking about any sort of even fantastically imagined future resources are a real question, right? And especially, it’s a question and the things that interest me like inequity. But you know, how, how do people have what they have? How are they distributed? I can’t, no matter how utopic I could imagine things, I can’t really picture a world where we’ve solved that problem, right? Where everyone has all the resources they need, and that it’s still equitable, I think.
I don’t want to be pessimistic about the future of humans. But even if we get everything figured out, I just can’t imagine that there’s not still then some other manufactured inequity, right? Like, we made up money.
ELENA: We made up money! Money is fake.
MORGAN: And we’re sticking to it right, just so that some people can have things and some people cannot!
ELENA: Borders also fake! We made them!
MORGAN: Yeah, and so we made all these things. And then we made borders, we made money. And we made it seem like character judgment, right? Like, made it seem like somehow a reflection of someone’s worth or self. So yeah, it does very much exist in the world. I mean, you know, part of why we’re on a desert planet, at the — and part of why no one’s really interested in what’s happening on the desert planet is because it’s just that, right? It’s like, there’s not resources to take. And in a dystopia where there’s a kind of horrible government and monopolies on things. You absolutely know that resources, material land resources are going to be the thing that you know, that help enable that and control that.
ELENA: I don’t know about you, but I would steal one of the chuckwallas.
MORGAN: [laugh] Yeah, I was terrified of lizards growing up [laugh]. And of course I grew up in a desert that I’ve moved to other places and learned that lizards don’t even exist most other places.
ELENA: Yeah, no.
MORGAN: My personal nightmare. But we’re okay. Now, I do prefer if they stay, you know, outside and away from me.
ELENA: Yeah, I, as I mentioned, I come from PR, we have many lizards in the tropics — many, many lizards, with several of them quite big. Some of them are giant iguanas that will lie across the road and not move. And you just sit there and go, Well, I guess I live here now.
ELENA: Oh, I guess one of the things that I also wanted to engage with here is this — this idea of like, it is honestly irresponsible to imagine a future where climate change hasn’t had some kind of impact, right. And I’ve actually had this conversation with the game masters of Fun City. And for anyone who doesn’t know it, that is a Shadow Run, actual play podcast. It’s delightful. And they — one of the things that Mike Rugnetta told me during this interview, which you will all be able to read eventually, is that a setting in the future feels incomplete if there isn’t — climate change has not impacted it in some way. And I think I think that just, you’re 100% right about that. Even if you’re — what you’re looking at is like a really distant future where the impact from climate change is seen in things more like the economics and population growth and like community values more than in the space that they’re in.
MORGAN: Yeah, totally.
ELENA: Climate changes are not just physical, right?
MORGAN: Yeah, I know they’re, I’m — you know, I’m not like a hard science fiction person that thinks you need to explain everything and in fact, you know, as I kind of mentioned like that, that’s what I turn away from in science fiction right? I don’t need to be over-explained by the minutiae, but I think to ignore climate change in a future — in an imagined future, where you could do whatever you wanted, right? To solve it or to not solve it. Yeah, it does. It feels irresponsible. And it also just feels you know, so hollow. I understand wanting escapism, I’m a twisted kind of person who’s escapism is like a darker dystopia or like, so we’re clear. But I understand not wanting to engage with that, but um, you know, then I think you would want to take the utopia values from it, like you would want to learn from it to make a, you know, a beautiful place. So yeah, I agree.
ELENA: There’s ways to deal with it that aren’t just depressing.
MORGAN: Right, exactly.
ELENA: What do you hope to achieve with the production of Dispatch? What kinds of things within our industry? Do you want to influence? This is specifically a time, like, this question is meant to open a space for you to talk about your dreams and speak them into the universe, if you are comfortable with doing so.
MORGAN: Thank you. What a platform! Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know that I have really dreams or aspirations. I’m, I just I love audio fiction. I love like, I love audio as a format for everything, right? It’s like my preferred medium for, you know, news, and it’s my preferred medium. I guess I wouldn’t say it’s my preferred medium for storytelling, because I’m a big reader too.
But yeah, it’s something that I engage with, you know, every single day, and I have so much respect for people who make audio fiction. There’s, I think, really, really under-respected talent, based on the amount of work and I think, you know, much like with the democratizing of all things that came from the internet, there’s this sort of projection that it doesn’t take the same amount of work, right? Because it’s more accessible to some people now, it makes it seem like, Oh, it’s easy. And it’s very much not!
Mine feels sneaky, because, like I said, it was kind of it was, like, created and thrown out there. So to me, it also always kind of feels like it operates a little bit outside of the world of audio fiction. There’s not the same, you know, production, and there’s not the same tools involved. And there’s definitely not the same knowledge base on my part.
But though, you know, people who exist in audio fiction have already proven themselves to be willing to spend a lot of time doing free labor. And fortunately, for people like me, that extends to free labor around sharing information about how to create things, right? And sharing resources and giving advice, you know, so, for me, it’s been a really fun learning experience.
I — during the pandemic, before this project started, there was an independent, independent podcast that was looking to hire someone, like, just part time, and I applied having — that I knew nothing about audio, like had created none, and was really clear about that in my application. And I got very, very kind rejection. But in my application, I put like, I’m not sure how to do this, but I’m sure I can figure it out. And [laugh] that was one of the catalysts to me starting this project was I was like, well, I said, I could figure it. And I believed it when I said it, so, I guess, if I’m willing to tell other people that, I might as well tell myself, and so it’s been a process of figuring it out. And not just for me, for so many incredible people in my life. We’re willing to be involved in this. And like, you know, the microphone I’m using was — now a friend, but at the time, a friend of a friend, like took the time in a pandemic, you know, when it’s not even safe to be around people, to like, set up a bunch of microphones for me to test out and just give them to me to start this project, and so many people have been really, really helpful and supportive.
And so for me, that’s done, like, mission accomplished. I was able to, you know, pay some people that I think are really cool. And yeah, I could, you know, always use a little extra money. And so that was, you know, something that I wanted to do from the beginning, make sure I was giving money to artists, but it was money that I didn’t necessarily have. So I thought, well, we got to make something. And yeah, I worked.
ELENA: I would also argue that, like, Dispatch is definitely within, like the realm of, you know, audio fiction. It’s not outside of it. Especially since, even if the work that you feel like you put into it wasn’t so much in the production side, right, or not as complicated as these other fiction creators, I think that you did put a lot of work into the script! Writing a satire that deals with these real very real events, and so much research that you obviously put into it.
MORGAN: I appreciate that.
ELENA: Yeah, I think that that’s like an important aspect that also doesn’t get talked about enough when it comes to fiction.
ELENA: Yeah, it’s kind of like [mocking] Fiction audio, just that thing where you just throw together a little story. It’s fine. Not Aren’t at all doesn’t involve multiple days of research and draft.
MORGAN: Yeah! I felt very fortunate at the beginning that I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. Because I really think that would have been a barrier. But once I had started, and it was like, well, I got through doing this now
ELENA: We’re here now! So your first season is mainly the voice of broadcaster June, plus some distorted voices. And later on a couple of others, I think.
MORGAN: Yep, yes.
ELENA: But the voices of the characters that you’ve created around the station have actors and they’re in the second season, right. So season two is already airing, but to give our audience who may have just been introduced to Dispatch today, an idea about its trajectory, what can people expect from the second and future (question mark) seasons?
MORGAN: Yeah, I mean, they can definitely expect that question mark. But from what exists already, there are just — it is a whole slew of beautiful people that were willing to indulge me in this project. Um, and so season two is a cast, we’ll say — I want to say that with a little bit of a question mark, but a cast of seven people. So yeah, seven different voices on season two. And we also have an episode with a — well, yeah, so there’s, I guess there’s a lot happening in season two. [laugh]
We got, we got theme music. My amazing friend Amber, who is part of the band Sun Blood Stories, set us up with some music. So that was such a cool feeling, a real podcast. And they’re a very cool band, operating out of Idaho and doing really rad community works. Amber, right now, is doing something called a free eats project where she’s just making food for people who need food.
So we got music and incredible cast of seven of my — mostly of my friends, coerced into doing, you know, an occasional friend of a friend. We also — I have another friend who is currently making an album. He has taken Neapolitan, like Italian operas and is redoing them as mariachi music. Yeah, he’s a classically trained opera singer.
ELENA: I’m sorry, I, I need it. Immediately!
MORGAN: Yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s the — there’s a — there’s an episode where he is sharing one of his songs. The album will be out this year and I’ll have you know, I’ll be shouting it from the mountaintops because I’ve heard some of the previous and it’s really incredible.
ELENA: I’m very excited about it. That sounds amazing.
MORGAN: [laugh]Yeah, I know really talented people.
ELENA: Yeah! You do! Wow, that’s quite a — your cast list is quite a list. I’m very impressed.
MORGAN: Yeah. I’m really fortunate. It’s all — it’s — I have one broadcaster, L. Hughes, is played by Rhae-Dawn Royal, and they’re — they’re a friend of a friend. And I think they’re the only person involved that had done any kind of voice acting before. [laugh] Everyone else is someone that I coerced into it. Or someone that had been wanting to do voice acting forever and didn’t have an excuse when I asked, so it’s. Yeah, a fun ragtag team, just like at 89.x1.
ELENA: [laugh] It’s just like 89.x1. Yeah, we love it when fiction is really just a mirror of the real world.
MORGAN: Yeah. You talk often about how speculative fiction tries to really artfully draw these parallels between the real world and, you know, what’s being written. And this project is the opposite of that. It is a very blunt instrument. There’s no, it’s not skillfully navigating both things. It’s like, it’s drawing very direct, you know, thick, scratchy lines, going, look at this!
ELENA: It took a highlighter and just went, This!
MORGAN: Yeah, nuance is dead! And therefore we don’t engage with it.
ELENA: No, I had actually like, one of the things that I was thinking about when I was listening to Dispatch is, there is a thread, a Twitter thread by N. K. Jemison, where one of the things that she talks about is the reactions that she has gotten from some of her readers, where they’re like, Why are you so preachy in The Fifth Season? Right? And call it “preachy”. They’re like, why are you so obvious? Just kind of like, well, subtlety hasn’t worked yet.
MORGAN: Yeah, exactly.
ELENA: Essentially, she’s just like, I mean, there’s been a place for subtlety. And we tried it. And now like, I think that we need to be obvious. We need to hit you over the head with the two by four.
MORGAN: Yeah. No, truly, I think. Yeah. Culturally, we’re all kind of dying. So we tried that. We tried to whisper. It’s shouts now, right.
ELENA: Yeah, it’s shouts now, like we tried to whisper we tried the Nice, nice, artful metaphor, right?
MORGAN: We tried not talking about something as a way to solve it.
ELENA: Seems like it’s gonna work. So I really appreciated that about Dispatch, and the way that it made me think about like, no, yeah, we should be making art that like, shouts because, yeah. So it’s good.
Um, so that is the end of my question list. So at this point, is there anything about Dispatch that you want to talk about that we haven’t gotten to talk about yet?
MORGAN:I don’t think so. I feel like we talked about everything.
MORGAN: This is, you know, one of the first conversations I’ve had with a stranger in a year. Yesterday, yesterday, I was in a class — a virtual classroom. But that was the first conversation I had with a stranger in a year. And you know, they were like, 14.
ELENA: Right. Yeah, that’s, that helps.
MORGAN: Yeah, they didn’t really want to be there. So yeah, this is the first adult conversation I’ve had in a very long time with someone I was not already familiar with. I think it went okay.
ELENA: I think I think you nailed it. Okay, I definitely understand. I, unfortunately, throughout quarantine, have had many conversations with strangers. As a journalist, doing lots of interviews, some of them that I really desperately wanted to have, like on this show, and some of them which I was just kind of like, well, must I?
MORGAN: Yeah, yeah.
ELENA: So I guess I must. [laugh] Well, thank you so much for coming on Radio Drama Revival and chatting with me, Morgan, it was really, really delightful and very informative.
MORGAN: Thank you. I had a blast. I really appreciate it.
ELENA: If you liked what you heard, you can support Morgan Maxwell and Dispatch From the Desert Planet over at https://www.patreon.com/dispatchfromthedesertplanet.
Radio Drama Revival runs on stellar microlensing events and the new exoplanets they find. If you’d like to help keep us afloat and featuring new, diverse, unique fiction podcasts and their creators, you can support us on Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival.
And now we bring you our Moment of Wil.
WIL: Hello! This week, I want to recommend a show that I think is super, super, super overlooked. And that is Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. This is a Netflix original cartoon, so if you have Netflix, you can access it. It is a completed show — it ran for threeee . . . seasons? Three seasons, I think? And it kind of has the feel of modern action-adventure cartoons that focus on, like, community and rehabilitation and nonviolence, so things I’m thinking of are, She-Ra and Steven Universe. Nonviolence being arguable in all of those. [laugh] But it also kind of has the feel of classic, classic Adult Swim — y’know what? Like, classic Toonami. Like classic Toonami anime. It is about a girl named Kipo. She is in a post-apocalyptic world where there is a schism between humans and animals called metamutes. So they are meta-mutated, so they are colossal, or they can talk, or all of those things, or they have other abilities — it’s buckwild. And they have a really rich, robust culture. Kipo is looking for her dad — they live in basically a fallout vault, and they got separated for reasons, and there’s a lot of mystery, and the plot goes places I never would have expected, and the characters are amazing. There is some absolutely killer queer rep, Everybody has a beautiful arc, everybody is really three dimensional, and it’s just very sweet and very moving and very fun, and also the soundtrack? Uh, consistently slaps. It’s incredible. It’s a really fun time — it’s good for if you want kind of the vibe of Steven Universe, or something similar, but you’d like a little bit more intensity, and perhaps a little bit less of a meandering plot. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steven Universe, Kipo is just different! It achieves different things. And I think that it’s wonderful. And I highly recommend it — it is good for most ages, except maybe little littles? I don’t know — I don’t know how children really work. But, um, I trust you! So you should give it a watch! It is Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. It is on Netflix, and it rules!
ELENA: That means it’s time for the credits.
This episode was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support Native communities, you can donate to Nourish Our Nations Arizona, an organization that provides essential food items to Indigenous families from more than six tribal communities, including White Mountain, Navajo Nation, and Gila River. Their gofundme is https://www.gofundme.com/f/nourish-our-nations-arizona.
Our theme music is Reunion of the Spaceducks by the band KieLoKaz. You can find their music on Free Music Archive.
Our audio producer is Wil Williams.
Our marketing manager and line producer is Anne Baird.
Our researcher is Heather Cohen.
Our submissions editor is Rashika Rao.
Our associate marketing manager is Jillian Schraeger.
Our transcriptionist is Katie Youmans.
Our audio consultant is Eli Hamada McIlveen
Our associate producer is Sean Howard.
Our executive producers are Fred Greenhalgh and David Rheinstrom.
Our mascot is Tickertape, the goat.
I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. This has been Radio Drama Revival: all storytellers welcome.