The podcast Love + Radio thrives on cultivating a kind of emotional tightrope, where the listener wavers from curiosity to contempt to empathy. The episodes “Jack and Ellen” and “The Living Room” have stark differences, particularly in terms of sound design, but their aesthetic and production values have a coherency that is exemplary of Love + Radio’s style. Sound is used to distinguish between ‘Ellen’, the subject, and ‘Jack’ her paedo-baiting alter ego. ‘Jack’ is created by pitch-shifting the voice of ‘Ellen’ down, instantly giving the story intrigue and also alluding to the clandestine nature of their work. “Jack and Ellen” is caught somewhere between a radio documentary and a swirling sample-based composition as the skilled musicality of the piece communicates a specific editorial perspective, that is perhaps a glimpse of how the producers were affected during its creation. “The Living Room”, on the other hand, is sparse and neat. Silence is used as strategically as sound. Love + Radio’s use of sound continues to distinguish it from most other podcasts, where music can feel slapped on, repetitive and unintentional.
The process of making a Love + Radio episode starts with an initial interview, then uses a first rough cut as a means of illuminating gaps and further questions in the story. Interview subjects/storytellers are re-interviewed two or three more times. Love + Radio is a mostly non-narrated format, but the interviewer is almost always included, however briefly. With “Jack and Ellen” the story becomes focused on the murky moral boundaries of extortion and paedophilia; it is a difficult piece because, depending on your personal morality, Ellen may seem like a pretty disreputable character. In “The Living Room”, Diane is more likeable off the top, but her voyeurism puts her in a questionable position. And it’s this tension that makes both “Jack and Ellen” and “The Living Room” a cut above other radio documentaries. There is no didactic purpose. But there is a genuine attempt to try to convey a facet of the human experience.
We as listeners are more likely to be empathetic towards someone of the same social and racial background. Can empathy then, be a dangerous force? Can we ever truly understand someone else’s embodied experience in the world? These are all valuable questions. Through “Jack and Ellen” and “The Living Room” in particular, Love + Radio crafts a tone that leaves the listener continually questioning the role of story in relating to other people, a force that continues to distinguish the show in the now over-abundance of confessional first-person driven podcasts.