- - Thursday, January 10, 2019

Media entrepreneur Patrick Courrielche remembers visiting the talk radio booths at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington with one nagging concern: He didn’t know how to stand out in the conservative crowd.

That worry eventually led to his founding of “Red Pilled America.” The iHeartRadio podcast, created with his wife, Adryana Cortez, doesn’t mimic your average red-state show.

The podcast peddles stories, not monologues, akin to what listeners hear on NPR or the Wondery podcast network. Except the stories at the core of “Red Pilled America” are unabashedly right of center.

A recent episode about Facebook’s mercurial standards began as an uplifting tale of U.S. veteran Brian Kolfage, who became a husband, father and entrepreneur after losing both legs and his right hand in service to his country in Iraq. Facebook last year shut down his page of right-wing news items during a sweep of more than 500 accounts that the social network accused of being fake. Mr. Kolfage has since raised more than $19 million to fund President Trump’s border wall. The GoFundMe campaign has a $1 billion goal.

Other recent topics include media bias, global warming and the #MeToo movement.

So far, Mr. Courrielche said, he hasn’t had to dig deep to find subjects.

“It’s what it must have been like in the early days of Fox News,” he said, adding that many topics are either ignored by the mainstream press or covered in a slanted fashion.

Take, for example, an episode about sanctuary cities.

“I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve found who have lost loves ones at the hands of illegal immigrants,” said Mr. Courrielche, who noted a 300 percent uptick in listeners of his podcast in recent weeks. “There are so many stories. … Which one do I tell?”

“Red Pilled America” began in November and at the moment isn’t a threat to giant conservative podcasts such as “The Ben Shapiro Show” and “Mark Levin Audio Rewind.” NPR and liberal-leaning shows dominate the iTunes podcast rankings.

Many of those high-ranking shows embrace storytelling, Mr. Courrielche said.

“It’s a big format for the entertainment world. TV studios are looking at these podcasts as proving grounds for intellectual property,” he said.

Showtime aired a version of “This American Life” for two seasons in 2007 and 2008. The wildly popular “Serial,” an investigative journalism show that explores one crime over a single season, will soon become a limited series for HBO. More podcast-themed shows are in development.

Mathew Passy of ThePodcastConsultant.com says the medium lends itself to the storytelling format, with fictionalized tales leading the way.

“It’s a throwback to the early radio serial dramas of old,” said Mr. Passy, adding that the downside is the amount of production needed to pull the format together.

Narrative podcasts demand solid editing, narration, the occasional voice actor and music to “enhance the storytelling,” he said.

Mr. Courrielche said his show already has changed a few hearts and minds. He pointed to the Facebook-themed episode tied to Mr. Kolfage’s plight. His business took a massive hit when Facebook yanked his company’s page after he reportedly spent $300,000 on Facebook advertising.

“We made the argument that Facebook is similar to a company town. … They buy up all the land,” he said.

That persuaded some conservative listeners to reconsider their hands-off approach to corporations as large, and albeit private, as the social media giant.

“That’s why the left is so good at winning the culture wars. It has so many platforms to tell stories. We’re not even on the playing field,” he said of fellow conservatives.

Mr. Passy wondered how much a single podcast could shape a given narrative.

“A lot of people who listen to left- and right-leaning podcasts probably already subscribe to a point of view. [The show] reinforces what they already tend to think about or listen to,” he said. “I don’t think they do a lot to change opinions. They can be educational, enlightening and/or reinforce belief structures.”

Scott Immergut, CEO of the right-leaning Ricochet Audio Network, said most of the storytelling podcasts hail from the left, but he hopes his network will help change that this year.

“It’s an organic way to get out of the, ‘let’s talk about immigration, let’s talk about [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M.] Kavanaugh’ mode … and delve into topics in a deeper way,” Mr. Immergut said. “We should not be ceding that to [the left]. We should be doing our own … and maybe we’ll attract some people from the left as well.”

Mr. Immergut said he doesn’t think storytelling podcasts should always align with ideological borders.

“I wish that narrative podcasts didn’t have to be a right, left thing,” he said, noting that a Slate podcast that leans left recently served up a “brutal takedown” of former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Immergut also hopes podcasting continues to branch out from talk radio, where a small number of dominant personalities rule the landscape.

“I want podcasting to be hundreds of voices driving the conversation,” he said.

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