“The Memory Palace” on PRX
A Favorite Episode of Nate DiMeo’s: Nee Weinberg
I recently asked my, um, my Facebook group, to suggest which episode I should post for this thing. I guessed that opinion would coalesce around a few of the crowd pleasing-est. I was wrong. The suggestions were all over the place (even citing a couple that I can’t really even listen to anymore). It was nice. People like what they like. So, here’s one I like. One of the toughest things about doing a biography piece like this one is that people’s lives, even interesting lives, aren’t stories just because they naturally have a beginning and an end and some exciting incidents in between. Ethan Weinberg lived a hell of a life but it still took me a hair shy of forever to find the story. Felt like an accomplishment when it was done. Then there are a couple of writing things I like in there. A couple of music things that I doubt anyone would ever notice, but I enjoy. Not too many things that make me cringe. So: here you go. This one’ll do. Sounds like The Memory Palace.
What it is.
When I posted my first episode of The Memory Palace, the description on iTunes read like this:
“From award winning public radio producer, Nate DiMeo, comes The Memory Palace. Short, surprising stories of the past, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hysterical, always super-great. For history buffs, fans of public radio shows like This American Life, RadioLab, and whatnot, and for all admirers of things that are super-great.”
Two years later, it says pretty much the same thing (except I noticed that Radiolab doesn’t have a gratuitous second capital, however, note: my last name does). Though the awards that make “award-winning” technically true are further in the past, the description is still essentially accurate. The Memory Palace is a pretty simple thing: short history stories put to music. They’ve gotten a little longer since then but most still float around the 6-minute range. They’re much more often heartbreaking than hysterical (though “bittersweet” is a decent blanket descriptor). But it’s still the same, small show.
Its audience has gotten pretty big, as podcasts go. Pieces from the series have aired on public radio shows like Here and Now, KUOW Presents, BackStory, (of the gratuitous second capital), REMIX (of the gratuitous four capitals), KCRW’s Unfictional, KUT’s O’ Dark 30, and others, largely thanks to PRX. In March it was a “guest podcast” on Slate.com. The folks at boingboing.net seem to post about nearly every new episode when it comes out (which may drive the most traffic and new subscribers of any of them). And it’s opened the door for other, weird things that I’ll get into in a bit.
Each episode seems to take forever. I will often become queasy when an ending isn’t working as well as I think it should. I will sometimes lose sleep trying to find a piece of music that fits the description “the sound of a life-time of drudgery with moments of false hope that builds to defiant—edging toward transcendent—resolve.” But when the pieces are done I usually feel kind of elated for a good 11 to 27 hours. And then a gnawing dread sets in as I start thinking about the next one.
It has earned me hundreds of dollars.
“How did he achieve such incredible success?” you ask.
A few years ago (no: several, now) I was working at Marketplace as an editor/producer and wanted out. Not that Marketplace wasn’t/isn’t great, it was/is, but I wanted to make something of my own. I was a good editor but I wanted to be a reporter. I was a good producer but wanted to produce my own show. So I left.
On my way out the door, I pitched a concept for a weekly,
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