20th October 2018
Interview with Aidan Wheller
(Interviewer’s note - some edits have been made to the answers written)
What made you decide to start a YouTube channel to review podcasts?
For a long, long time I searched for a YouTube channel that would be able to offer me short and concise reviews on podcast radio dramas and audiobooks. I'm talking literally months and hours! It never occurred to me that I could start one. Being a “YouTuber” was something that's seemed out of reach for me and maybe something for people that were younger and more tech minded.
At the same time, I wanted to share my views on the shows that I loved and connect with people that listened to them. It's kind of like wanting the 1990s record shop factor back. I miss that feeling of knowing that everybody in the same room wants the same things. Grotty old backroom Seltor Disc in Nottingham (where I was from) was the birthplace of many friendships and love affairs with new music, so I guess I want my YouTube channel to be a place in the spirit of that - maybe without the grotty back room feel!
Growing up as a dyslexic person, I knew from an early age that I was going to have to trust my spoken word communication to get myself listened to and understood. It's still my preferred way of communicating. I trust myself when I am speaking and it's always lead me to better places in life… so I guess the fact that people can see me as well as listening works for me much more than it may do for other people.
If I was left with no choice but to write my reviews, I honestly don't know if I would do them. Something happens with my brain between the thought and the pen or the keyboard forming the words and letters… I seem to lose the moment and can not find the flow or freedom to express myself the authenticity.
I have a dyslexic family member so I entirely understand your frustration. Do you think that your affinity for the spoken word is what attracts you to podcasts?
I think my connection with audio was already there before. Some of my happiest memories of my childhood outside of playing and family time are being alone laying on my back at around 5 or 6 years old and listening to some audio stories my Mum and Dad brought me. ‘The Emperor's New Clothes’ is one that stands out in my mind. I must’ve listened to that one a hundred times! I also had AA Milne’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ along with ‘Postman Pat’ and ‘Babar the Elephant’ stories.
I remember lying back and feeling like I was in the 100-acre forest with Pooh and Piglet. I was very worried about Eeyore's mental health, how I found Piglet to be a bit stressed out. But it was all cool because Pooh just went with the flow and I liked that. I remember feeling so impressed with Baba the Elephant for his courage and his tenacity and how inclusive and kind he was to people.
With Postman Pat, I loved how he was this dude that drove a car around the Yorkshire Dales… scarily similar to me now!
Growing up in the 80’s meant that I did not get properly diagnosed as being dyslexic until I was 14 years old, so I had a fair amount of time to deal with what I call my “Forrest Gump Complex.” During that time, teachers and other adults would remark on my ability to talk and hold my own in conversation whilst my written work looked like a 6-year-old had done it. Naturally, I distanced myself from the written word and played to my strengths!
Later on in my life, my ability to communicate and listen to people became my profession and I trained as a counsellor. All the years of trusting in spoken work over all other forms took me there.
I think as well my father had a great role to play in this. Because I could not read but loved stories, he read to me a lot. I have found happy memories of just laying on the floor or dreaming out of the window as my dad read to me ‘The Wishing Chair’ and ‘The Faraway Tree” by Enid Blyton. He was a great storyteller and would make up great fantasy stories for me and my siblings… all from his mind. It really encouraged me to embrace the power of imagination.
It's hard to give a direct answer to that question, Mike. Like many people with a learning difficulty, I have grown to love it as it actually makes me who I am. It's very hard for me to dissect it! For me, it's a chicken and egg thing…
What do you think that your favourite three podcasts have been so far?
That's a very hard question! There are so many! In no particular order:
1. ‘Darknet Diaries’ by Jack Rhysider is so, so good: everything from the immersive sound design, its real-life human angle, the political journalism... There’re plenty of episodes and they are all different. Jack has the ability to make you feel like you’re in his front room sitting next to him.
2. ‘Lonesome Pine’ by DJ Neace. Probably the best all-round audio drama I've ever listened to. From the soundtrack the concept to the voice acting and script. There’s so much love and care poured into this show. Again, it's like you can smell the town it's set in and picture the place. It has a haunting descent into drama and darkness and ends in a satisfying conclusion for the listener.
3. I’m trying to cover all my bases here… so we've had real-life, we've had drama. Now for my oldest, most listened to podcast. ‘Uhh yeah dude’ by Seth Romatelli and Jonathan Larroquette. Two friends started the podcast back in 2004! That's like pre-Ricky Gervais almost! They just talk about life and share stories. It’s social commentary mixed with their own twist. It’s comedy but with a very very dark sense of humour! There’s strong language and explicit banter but a whole lot of love.
God, I hated doing that! That's why I have a YouTube channel so I don't have to write my views on podcasting! Also, I feel so so bad that there are some that I have left out, but they are all honoured on my channel!
Thank you so much for that! Without naming names, have there been any particular podcasts that rank bottom of your personal pile?
Podcasts are just like any other art form, in the way that two people can agree on most things but one of them likes jazz and the other likes pop
Sure, I have listened to some podcasts and thought ‘Oh dear’ in the same way that some dubstep or prog rock makes me want to reach for the skip button.
I listened to one podcast that was about the history of gangster rap. I'm not a huge fan of the genre but I know a fair bit about it - enough to hold a conversation on it. The thing that made me really angry was that this guy had said at the start “this is not about glamorizing violence” and then proceeded to do so. His whole vibe was making Tupac and Biggie into heroes for living the “thug life way”; his content was so thin that I could ’ve done a better show just with the little I know and wiki google search. So yeah that one pissed me off.
I'd rather listen to someone with a bad mic who has a good idea and give them some support and hope they improve.
What do you think is at the core of a good podcast?
Honesty. I think like most things that are open to observation and public comment, the things that span the test of time have - at the core - honesty. If it’s creative, honest or reflective honesty, people will find the truth in your message if its true to you.
It’s why the Beatles had to stop singing ‘She loves you’ and do ‘I am the walrus’ because their lives and minds had evolved and that's what makes their music last. Their back catalogue is a true reflection of their lives and we can relate to that.
Look at John Lennon's main messages: ‘Love me do,’ ‘Imagine,’ ‘Help’ and so on and so on it's all human things!
In terms of things that I personally look for… I need something that makes me uncomfortable and challenges my mind and engages my emotional self. I find hard to be offended or shocked. I have been lucky/unlucky enough to witness great tragedy and loss in my life both personally and professionally so it takes a fair degree of impact to break through my boundaries.
Having said that, the most moving and lasting podcasts have the same familiar themes: love, kindness, forgiveness… so even this I like dark themes and drama. Sometimes a good old love story or fairytale will leave me wanting more.
I guess - like music - there are different genres of podcast to suit one's mood.
Do you listen to podcasts at a particular time and place or is it just when you have time?
At the moment, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I am travelling. I travel for anywhere from 5 to 20 hours a week. During that time I have the use of my ears so that's what I use them for, so that's the bulk of my listening time. I will listen where and when I can, though.
One of my favourite things to do is when I have a season finale of something like ‘The Big Loop’ podcast is to lock myself away in the kitchen and turn up the volume. With sounds and the smells, it's a sensory delight!
Being honest, I have poor sleep hygiene - always have and maybe always will. Partly because I have suffered with insomnia since puberty, I listen to something every night while going to sleep. Sometimes I listen for 10 minutes; sometimes I will listen for hours and hours.
I tend to listen to a different kind of thing when I am in bed. I go for histories and, documentaries…nothing with lots of music or dramatic sounds: normally 2 voices max.
Recently I listened to a great audiobook called ‘One Minute to Midnight’ about Cuban Missile Crisis.
Also, a few audiobooks about the sinking of the Titanic. I am aware of how odd it is to find it sleep-inducing to listen to moments of great threat and disaster, but it works for me!
When I was in my early twenties, I travelled to India for a while and took an old-school MP3 player with me. It was such a great time in my life seeing new things and different culture. Again, a sensory overload with smells language and a billion scooters beeping their horns! I can picture some of the poorest people I will ever meet in my mind and I can picture the most amazing sunsets. I also listened to the entire series of ‘Harry Potter’ books there, so in a strange way, Hogwarts reminds me of India!
Why do you think that podcasting is experiencing a boom in listeners at the moment?
There’s a number of things at play here:
1. Accessibility - when I first started listening to podcasts 15 years ago, it was hard work to get them and listen. It took time and dedication. Now there's an overwhelming abundance of podcasts out there at your fingertips.
2. People have time to listen and not read (not all people). More and more people commute for work maybe half an hour a day - that’s 2.5 hours a week. You can listen to a good book in 10 hours. We don't live on 1990s anymore when seeking out your wants and needs was an activity. We live in 2018 where your wants and needs are picked and directed directly to you.
3. The same reason we don't have letters and correspondence anymore: nobody is out of touch, so I think we look for more opportunities to escape. The news is always breaking. The politics are always lies and things are more expensive than they used to be so, of course, when given the choice we want to go directly to where we feel at home...where things stay the same! And that sometimes can be a podcast
4. For some reason, I'm referencing the Beatles a lot here, but when you look at the Beatles John Lennon said “there would be no Beatles without Elvis” and the same is true with podcasts. ‘This American Life’, ‘Serial’ and ‘Nightvale’ have spawned the modern day podcast equivalent of ‘the Beatles follows Elvis’. So the boom is only going to get bigger and louder!
You’re obviously a fan of music. What else are your passions in life?
My wife and my daughter. They mean everything to me, along with my big family. They take up most of my social time and I love that.
Personally, I find human beings to be an endless mystery. Who we are? Are we who we say we are? Why we are where we are and what we are capable of?
Inequality lights a fire in me. If it’s same-sex pay, or the repression of people for their gender, race or sexuality, I feel like our generation can’t rest on the work of the suffragettes and the civil rights movement. We have to keep banging doors and having awkward conversations. We have to keep challenging people who act or behave in a manner that makes another suffer in some way.
If in 200 years, we can go from slavery to a black president and from women not being able to vote to in the UK to two female prime ministers, imagine what we could achieve if we insisted that all people - not just large groups of people - are treated fairly…
Linking it back to podcasts and stories: a dear old friend of mine said to me once that “really when you’re dead and gone, all that's left of you is the stories people tell about you.”
So I guess that's what I wish we could change as a collective race of humans. The stories I grew up with all involved war, lies, repression, manipulation and greed.
I want my great-great-grandchildren’s history classes to be about acts of kindness and forgiveness. I want them to be proud of us and what we did. In the same way that we remember fallen soldiers for their great sacrifices to ‘protect freedom,’ could we not have the same mass movement to end hunger, allow education and invest in peace?
What a story that would be!
You’ve got a wide range of interests outside of podcast reviews. Have you ever thought of doing a podcast yourself?
I am currently making my own biographical podcast centred around days of my life, but tying them in with big moments in world history. It’s very exposing and kind of like a therapy for me to talk about my life… I don’t write anything down other than a few lines to prompt me. Then I just speak into a mic and edit away until I feel there is a good story happening.
I don’t want to give too much away but it’s set in the 80’s 90’s and 2000’s . It’s an audio drama but a real life one! It’s just me and my life so it’s going to be a big plunge for me when I let it out. “The podcast reviewer becomes the reviewed!” It’s going to be an 18+ show because of some very adult themes, but there also may be some messages of hope and learning.
What do you think you’ve learned from doing your podcast reviews that you didn’t know at the start?
A few things…
An obvious one is that I can do better in terms of the overall quality of output. So buying a new mic, using a better camera… and turning the engine off in the car!
But, to be honest, I like my reviews being a bit rough around the edges. I think that style reflects me honestly. You’re never going see a polished ‘pro’ review. There’s the odd one that I think ‘Wow!’ I did that one quite well! I do all of my reviews in one take, so I like that it captures a moment.
Interviews, however, I feel differently about. Because I have the luxury of editing them afterwards, I do want to deliver a more polished, professional sounding and looking end product. Also, because it involves other people!
When it's just reviews, I don't care if my hair’s a mess or there’s a tractor driving past the car! It’s about getting what's in my head out of it and into the world directly.
If I am going to be one hundred per cent honest, there are a few things that I have learned and that I regret since starting Aidan’s Audio Reviews.
When I first started filming reviews, I posted some fairly negative and in some cases offensive reviews: offensive in the terms of foul language and ranting. I have removed these videos now because it dawned on me how much of impact that could have on the people that make the shows. Also, I realised that I was not being true to my core beliefs: I was just using these reviews to express pent-up anger and stress that was much more about me than the show’s content.
I had a moment where a friend of mine watched one of those reviews and said, “Dude, not cool!”
I took them all down and vowed to only ever be constructive in my feedback and to focus on the things I like, not the things I don't. It rings true to me.
Like Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see.” On a very very small scale, that's my change. I still feel shitty about that; I’ve probably hurt some people's feelings and I regret that a lot. I am better for the realisation.
What are your future plans for your podcast reviews?
When I am at work full time (just been the summer holidays), I try to review at least 2 podcasts a week. I like to keep that frequency up. I have around 5 or 6 interviews booked for autumn 2018 and there are some great shows I am looking forward to connecting with.
In terms of the interviews, I have two more waiting and three more waiting to be signed off.
They are “Dream State”: a great look into modern folk tales, and how the darker side of life and human emotions can and will be celebrated!
“Athena”: a wonderful ‘coming of age’ meets Rapunzel meets sci-fi. It’s all about this strong-willed, determined young women - Athena - who takes risks to follow her dreams.
“Superstition” podcast: I’m so in love with this show and the main character - Jack St James. She’s one of the most loveable, rounded and engaging characters I’ve ever listened to. The show is only halfway through season 1 - there’s a whole lot more to come with this: missing person, unexplained happenings...
If people want to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
Well….. any way they want to! I sometimes get paranoid that people think I’m on drugs or a complete nutter when I do text communication! Like I said above, “my written work looks like a 6-year-old did it.”
I honestly don’t care. Once people meet me and speak to me in person, I know that’s not a worry.
So I will continue to do the video audio reviews. Short, snappy, rough around edges and the interview in audio: playing to my strengths.
I want to thank you Mike for your support and help in making this readable.
Not a problem. It’s been great talking with you.
Is there anything I can do for you? Any shows you’d like me to cast my eye over?
SAYER and I am in Eskew are really good. I’ve really enjoyed them. Those two, please! And Ostium. And Transmission from Colony One. And We Fix Space Junk.
Thanks a lot.