[Citation Needed]: James Urbaniak and the Return of Radio Drama.

-“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

-That’s Shakespeare, Karen.

-I know, James.

-Of course you know, but can you appreciate it?

Getting On With James Urbaniak Ep. 11: Lockdown

I wasn’t raised on talk radio. The soundtrack to the Garvey Family minivan was a combination of kids arguing and Mark Knopfler singing about appliances.[1] I didn’t know who Terry Gross was until I was eighteen. My childhood was not punctuated by the whistling teeth of Garrison Keeler, but by the songs my mom skipped over as she read us Tolkien.[2] I’ve always enjoyed being read to, and have probably listened to more books on tape in the last year than I have read in the past three.

Realtalk: I’m not a big reader and I’m not on OKCupid anymore so I don’t have to pretend to be one. I listen to a lot of podcasts. This is probably evident from the citations in previous installments of [Citation Needed]. Maybe it’s my short attention span, or that podcasting allows for multi-tasking. Maybe I’m allergic to the gluten in paper. Whatever the reason, the rat’s nest of wiring, plumbing, and crippling anxieties that make up my brain just process audio information the easiest.

My brain aka “The Vault of Shame” (circa 2009)

Recently, I discovered a podcast called “Getting On With James Urbaniak”. It’s a really satisfying combination of storytelling and drama presented by a world class voice actor.[3] Each month James records a highly produced piece of radio drama. When I say “highly produced” I mean that he’s not firing off the cuff on a theme or topic like on a lot of podcasts, he performs a script written by one of several contributors. The product is a monologue that cuts pretty deep despite each episode being around 10 minutes in length.

The strength of this podcast lies in its unique execution. In every piece James Urbaniak plays himself. The stories are all fictitious but, because the actor is wearing no other persona but his own, the podcast turns almost introspective into the mind of the performer. While this is the very selling point of the podcast, it helps that it actually works. For example, in Episode 11 entitled “Lockdown” James Urbaniak is the captain of a space station during an emergency. While this sci-fi version of Urbaniak isn’t real per se, all of the neuroses, weaknesses, and proclivities of the real Ubraniak are preserved. It’s almost a kind of realistic self-fantasy. Like a pessimist so under the thumb of his own self-loathing that he is incapable of letting anything good happen to him even as he dreams. And that hits close to home.


Going one step further, the podcast masters — truly masters— its medium; radio drama risks falling flat because it lacks the eyeball massage that comes with visual aid. “Getting On With James Urbaniak” uses sound to create space and ambiance that make the experience so real, that the listener is in danger of forgetting that Urbaniak is just sitting at a microphone. It’s not just clever location-specific acoustics used to round out the presentation either. Urbaniak often uses ambient sounds as relevant plot points. For example, the sound of cars whizzing by and hazard lights clicking on and off are pervasive throughout Episode 10. They aren’t directly addressed until the end of the story, giving the listener time to figure things out on his own. By making ambient noises integral to the narrative, Urbaniak creates a concrete space between our eardrums and our imagination.  This is what makes the listening experience truly special and I cannot recommend it enough.

I think a lot of people take exception with podcasting. Like so much of internet media, it teeters dangerously between self-indulgence and the desire to create something. A lot of podcasts are just famous people interviewing other famous people and plugging famous things that they are famous for. Some of those interviews can actually be pretty interesting and luckily we can pick and choose which ones we listen to. If you don’t listen to podcasts, I highly suggest that you get into them. I’ve included a few that I like in the footnotes. You can find out about a lot of cool stuff just by listening to a handful. For instance, I learned about “Getting On With James Urbaniak” from an episode of “Harmontown”.

I can only hope that this is the spark that ignites a renaissance in radio drama. Podcasting has proved that, for better or worse, recording technology is now more accessible than ever. There are a ton of awesome storytelling, monologuey, and theatrical podcasts available for enjoyement. However, none of them are this good. I want more. I want more of this. Shut up. Take my money.

Here’s another link to “Getting On With James Urbaniak” and be sure to peruse the other podcasts on the Feral Audio Network.

Other podcasts for your consideration:

Harmontown, The Moth, Risk, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, The Smartest Man In The World, Stuff You Should KnowComedy Bang! Bang! and most of the other stuff on Earwolf

[1] Video presented in three dimensions of mediocrity.

[2] When I read my kids George RR Martin, they will not be spared a single lyric of “The Bear and The Maiden Fair”

[3] He’s the voice of Dr. Rusty Venture and is in a ton of other things. Look.

Post By Brian Garvey (10 Posts)

A self-aware cloud of gaseous complaints cooking up critical analysis hot 'n' fresh from his think kitchen.


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