On a Friday evening in Harlem, I met up with Mitra Kaboli, one of the Producers and Editors for the feminist podcast Audio Smut. On June 17, Audio Smut shot to number one on iTunes in the sexuality category, beating out famed talk personalities like Dan Savage. Big things are happening in the radio world for this team, primarily made up of young women. Kaboli's sly answers about the undoubtedly bright future of the podcast she nurtured from infancy are shrouded in secrecy--but she's boldly open about the values and mission of the cast moving forward, and her confidence in her own identity and creative power.
How does it feel to be the #1 sexuality podcast on iTunes, above Savage Love and Dr. Drew?
It's not an accident. Collaborations are important. [A version of an episode from season one was broadcast on] Snap Judgment, which is a nationally-syndicated NPR show, and I'm pretty sure that was a direct result of that. I think Snap Judgment and RadioLab shot up the charts after collaborations with This American Life.
How do you come up with the topics for your episodes?
Right now we have all these stories about people's physical bodies and the limitations of people's bodies. We want to have broader mass appeal, but we also don't want to alienate the audience we've had of rad, queer, feminist people that are like, this is why they like us: because we're real.
In an episode entitled "Coming of Age," you mention how as a kid watching people kiss on TV with your parents in the room is super uncomfortable. Honestly, I still feel that way. How did you get comfortable talking about sex on a podcast? Or did you ever?
There's an anonymity to the radio, but at the same time, I've admitted to so many things via radio that I would never admit face-to-face.
This episode is about growing up, becoming an adult, entering a stage of independence: shaving cream, tampons, driving, voting, doing your own dishes, doing your own taxes and sex. This episode will take you on a path of rituals, formal or otherwise.
Do you think the fact that Audio Smut is delivered from a mainly female, but in general much more diverse, perspective has something to do with the fact that it's more popular than those of Dan Savage and Dr. Drew, both white males?
If you think about public radio demographics, we can cater to that aesthetic, but we also skew young and we include a lot of diverse voices that you frankly don't hear. There are very few that actually do that. Tell Me More just got cancelled. It was hosted by someone who was black and it was like, NPR's diversification, but the show just got cancelled, and you know, it's still just like a regular formatted radio show. It's like this weird thing where stations are saying, you alienate our demographics, but we're also looking for diverse content--but at the same time, they aren't really willing to take risks to actually do that. They don't try hard enough.
With this in mind, where/how do you find your guests? It seems that either minorities are underrepresented, tokenism occurs, or there are accusations that quotas are being filled. Have you run into these issues on Audio Smut? How have you dealt with them?
We welcome those critiques. If someone really feels that way we definitely want to know. We're not perfect. But at the same time we try really hard, like when we put the episodes and the seasons together, we're like, what's missing, where are the problems? A lot of times we can see the glaring holes, we're like, well, this episode isn't very diverse. It's in our mandate that we be diverse and we try really hard to make sure that it is, and not in a token kind of way, just because there are different kinds of people with different kinds of experiences, and all of those can be relatable, especially when you're talking about love and sex and gender, it doesn't matter who you are, you have somehow experienced this.
You must tread lightly. We don't want to alienate anyone ever, especially the people we claim to represent. I don't know how many times some white man has been alienated by our podcast, but I really don't care. It's like, oh, well, you're not used to hearing women's voices on the radio? We also have plenty of men on the show, so it's not even a real issue to be honest. It's like, oh, well, you can't relate to my experiences? This has been my entire life.
Any topics you haven't covered yet that you would like to?
We have a new episode called "Movies in Your Head." It's a radio drama, it's based on a lot of research and interviews that we've done with people and it's kind of a deviation from our original podcast.
Audio Smut presents: a radio play.This episode was a documentary experiment, produced in collaboration with composer Shani Aviram. We set out asking questions about how perception is altered in early romantic relationships. How does your sense of reality fail you when you’re falling in love? After months of research and 17 interviews, we decided to write a single narrative encompassing the experiences and facts we unearthed.
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Images c/o: earrelevant.org, uniondocs.org, Ted Roeder