TIME Media

How Radio History Hinted at the Conclusion of Serial

On The Wireless
Circa 1945, a family of four gathers in their living room to listen to their home radio set Harold M. Lambert—Getty Images

The radio serial has been around for nearly a century — and some things haven't changed

Warning: spoilers follow for the end of the first season of Serial

The true-crime podcast Serial, which published its season finale Thursday morning, may be a 2014 phenomenon — but, though the 12-episodes-one-story format may have been new for that style of podcast, it’s actually one of the oldest tricks in the radio book.

The idea of publishing a story a little bit at a time is often traced back to Charles Dickens, so when radio became the popular medium of choice in the early 20th century, the benefits of hooking an audience with the drip-drip of a story were already well known. By the 1930s, Procter & Gamble was the biggest radio advertiser in the country, by dint of its serial dramas, the original “soap operas.” The serial had become one of the most popular formats for radio. A 1939 calculation by the chair of radio writing at Columbia University estimated that there were 20,000,000 words spoken each day on U.S. radio — more than all the words spoken in the movies in a year, or on Broadway in ten — and that, at the time, writers of popular daily serials were some of the best paid staffers in the business, earning $1,000 a week.

As Elena Razlogova notes in her history of early radio, The Listener’s Voice, early serials shared something with Serial beyond merely being split up into multiple episodes. Just as Serial was taped as it aired, allowing for those familiar with the case to hear the show and volunteer new information, early radio serials relied on fan mail to help decide how the stories would move along.

Which means there’s something else Serial shares with its predecessors: the fact that, as the podcast’s listeners have discovered by now, the end of the story isn’t known in advance — which often means the conclusion of a radio serial isn’t necessarily an “ending” per se.

According to the Concise Encyclopedia of American Radio, traditional radio serials were popular but “frustrating” because they were “neverending.” Unlike literary serials of the Dickens variety — a format that TIME reported in 2012 was making a comeback on e-readers — radio serials that are written as they go along have tended, historically, not to have a predetermined arc. They just start and see where they go; when the season ends or the show gets canceled, denouement or not, that’s that.

Though Serial‘s season one ended with a guess from host Sarah Koenig that Adnan Syed was probably innocent, her year of research and weeks of podcasting yielded no certainty — a fact that Koenig readily admits in the episode. Syed’s case is still not settled and it seems possible that the world may never know exactly what happened on the fateful day in question, but the season is over so that’s it as far as listeners are concerned. And, given the show’s format, if we ever do find out what happened, it won’t be on Serial season two. So, in that, Serial and old-time serials have something in common with real life as well: unlike in the world of pre-scripted shows, a neat and tidy conclusion is a rarity.

Read more about the return of serial fiction, here in the TIME Vault: Stay Tuned for E-Serials

TIME Media

Adnan Syed’s Family Finds Comfort in ‘Serial’ Podcast

Serial
Serial

For starters, they think host Sarah Koenig is "doing a better job investigating than the police did"

If you’re not listening to Serial, the wildly successful podcast (the most popular in history, in fact), you’ve probably overheard co-workers or friends or people at brunch talking about it.

Hosted by veteran radio producer Sarah Koenig, Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. Each week, millions of devoted listeners tune in to hear new details, theories and clues that could shed light on one central question: Is Syed guilty?

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Syed’s mom and brother, Shamim and Yusuf, open up about how Serial has affected them — and how Adnan’s conviction, in general, drastically changed their lives. Here are some things we learned:

They think Sarah Koenig is doing a great job. “Sarah is so thorough and clean,” Yusuf says. “She’s doing a better job investigating than the police did.”

They listen to every episode. Yusuf says he listens “in my room, by myself, so all the information can sink in better. After the episode’s done, I think about it all day.” Shamim listens “after everybody goes to sleep.”

They’re constantly learning new information. “Everything Sarah’s saying is new to me,” Yusuf says. “All I knew growing up was that my brother was arrested for a murder, but we believed Jay was responsible [for Adnan’s wrongful conviction, he means, or maybe even for the murder itself]. So when I hear the podcast it’s all new information.”

Adnan’s mom is finding a tiny bit of comfort in the podcast. She says she listens over and over to the part at the beginning, when the phone operator says, “This is a Global-Tel link prepaid call from…” and then Adnan recites his full name. “So sweet,” Shamim says.

Jay is a Redditor. The social news site has become a hotbed for intense discussion and theories about the case — and moderators told the Syeds that Jay, the key witness who testified that Adnan murdered Hae, is on Reddit, though they did not reveal his username.

They say Serial has helped bring their family back together. After the conviction, Adnan and Yusuf’s older brother, Tanveer, totally vanished. “I haven’t told Sarah this,” Yusuf says, “but we feel Serial has brought us all back together. My older brother Tanveer – who was estranged for 15 years – he came home. When he heard my brother’s voice, it brought back all the memories. He’s visited us three or four times already.”

Read more at The Guardian

 

 

TIME

Case Highlighted in Serial Podcast Moves Through Appeal

Producer Sarah Koenig on Balitmore-set 'Serial,' a global podcast hit
A collage of photographs of Hai Min Lee and her friends were on display at Lee's memorial service on March 11, 1999 in Baltimore, Md. Elizabeth Malby—TNS/Sipa USA

A hearing scheduled for January represents Adnan Syed's "last best chance" at freedom

(BALTIMORE) — A 15-year-old murder case that landed a popular teenager from Baltimore County behind bars for life is being revived in a podcast that offers more questions than answers about the crime and its fallout.

Ultimately, a Maryland appeals court will decide the man’s fate.

Millions of listeners are anxiously awaiting the next installment of Serial, a podcast from the creators of “This American Life” that tells the story of Adnan Syed, a Woodlawn High School student who was found guilty in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The podcast is the brainchild of longtime radio producer and former Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Koenig, who spent more than a year digging into Syed’s case and reporting her findings in almost real-time in hour-long segments released online every Thursday (with the exception of Thanksgiving).

Nine episodes in, the podcast has attracted more than 1.5 million listeners per episode worldwide and turned Syed into something of a household name, inspiring a dedicated fan base, re-cap blogs and even spin-off podcasts, not to mention heated debates around countless water coolers and dinner tables about Syed’s guilt or innocence.

But although the buzz surrounding the case is new, Syed has been trying to prove his innocence for years — so long, in fact, that his case is now in its final stages of appeal. A hearing scheduled for January represents what Syed’s lawyer, C. Justin Brown, said is the man’s “last best chance” at freedom.

“I joke that when I was hired to do Adnan’s appeal I was a free-wheeling single man and now I’m married with two kids. It’s been a lengthy process,” said Brown, who has represented Syed for more than five years. “There are three parts to the legal process: a trial, then an appeal, then you have post-conviction relief. This is the last step.”

Syed, now 34, was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and false imprisonment in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors said Syed strangled Lee after becoming inconsolably jealous when the two broke up and she began dating someone else.

The primary points Brown makes in his appeal are some of the same reasons Koenig told listeners in her podcast’s first episode that she decided to investigate the case: there were no eye-witnesses tying Syed to the crime, and Syed’s attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, failed to interview a witness who said she was with Syed at the time Lee was killed. Gutierrez, a high-profile Baltimore-area criminal defense attorney, was disbarred in 2001 when client funds went missing. She died in 2004 of a heart attack.

Brown in his appeal says Gutierrez knew about Asia McClain, a classmate of Syed’s who saw him in the library around the time prosecutors say Lee was killed. But Brown says the attorney failed to pursue her alibi during trial.

“The entire trial depended on whether Syed could prove where he was at the time of the murder,” Brown wrote. “Meanwhile, a credible witness — an honors student who had no obvious bias in favor of Syed — had come forward unsolicited with a recollection that she had been with Syed around the time of the murder … Yet the lawyer did absolutely nothing.”

Brown also wrote that Gutierrez erred when she did not seek a plea deal for Syed, who asked her several times whether a plea option was available.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals asked prosecutors to respond to the post-conviction appeal in September to see if they too believed Syed had ineffective counsel in a move Brown said is highly unusual. Ultimately, as millions of listeners try and parse the evidence for themselves, what happens next is up to the judges.

“It’s an unusual phenomenon,” Brown said. “The Court of Special Appeals has shown some interest in the case and asked the state to respond to our application, which is more than they usually do in this procedural posture. But I truly think the appellate courts make their decisions based on the merits of the case, and not the popularity of a podcast.”

Read next: Serial: What to Watch, Hear and Read If You’re Obsessed with the Podcast

TIME radio

Serial Podcast Gets Season 2

Sarah Koenig
Sarah Koenig, host and executive producer of Serial Meredith Heuer

"Between the money you donated and sponsorship, we’ll be able to make a second season"

Serial, the most popular podcast in the history of podcasts, will return to give listeners one story, told week-by-week, with its just-announced second season.

“This American Life funded the bulk of Season One, but for Serial to continue, it needs to pay for itself,” staffers wrote on their website Wednesday, about one week after first asking listeners to donate. “Today, we have good news: between the money you donated and sponsorship, we’ll be able to make a second season.”

Reporter and executive producer Sarah Koenig told TIME earlier this year that her team “want[s] to keep it going and the idea is that we will, if people seem interested in it.”

The producers don’t know when the season will air, nor what that story will be, probably because they still don’t know how their first story will end. The inaugural and current season of Serial is investigating the 15-year-old murder of Maryland teenager Hae Min Lee.

“I’m still reporting,” Koenig recently told the New York Times. “I said it’s not my responsibility to make a perfect ending. I do want a solid ending that is based in my reporting. But I don’t feel a responsibility to make it the kind of entertainment that you would get on some TV drama.”

TIME

Serial: What to Watch, Hear and Read If You’re Obsessed with the Podcast

HBO's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga
JIm Bridges—Jim Bridges/HBO

From Blood and Money to Love and Radio, here's what to do in between episodes of Serial

Serialthe addictive podcast from the team at This American Life — investigates the tragic story of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime. Each week, a little more of the story is told as host Sarah Koenig unravels the clues, guiding listeners through hours of interviews, cell phone records, and courtroom transcripts, trying to get to the truth — or at least to a better understanding of what happened.

One problem with Serial, though, is that it only comes out once a week and for many fans, gets gobbled up in one 45-minute listening session. That leaves a lot of time without Serial. Here’s what to watch, read or listen to while you’re waiting for a new episode of the podcast — or after the series wraps in December.

Movies

1. The Paradise Lost Trilogy

The saga of the West Memphis Three is one of the most haunting true crime stories in American history. The story begins with the brutal killing of three 8 year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Three metal-head teenage boys were tried and convicted for what many considered to be a Satanic ritual. The trilogy of films follows the original trials and subsequent appeals along with widespread public doubt about the guilt of the West Memphis Three, as they came to be known.

2. The Imposter

In 1994, a 13 year-old Texan boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three years later, someone claiming to be him surfaced in Spain. But was it really the missing boy or an imposter? The documentary follows the stranger-than-fiction tale of Frédéric Bourdin and the impressive lies that the charming stranger told to everyone who crossed his path.

3. The Staircase

Michael Peterson’s wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s home. Did she fall or was she pushed? French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s compelling, addictive mini-series strives to get to the bottom of what happened in their Durham, N.C., mansion, but creates more questions than answers in his searing, comprehensive documentary.

4. Dear Zachary

After Andrew Bagby was allegedly murdered by his very recent ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne wanted to create a “cinematic scrapbook” of his friend Bagby, intended as a keepsake for Bagby’s son. Instead, Kuenne’s film captured the tragic events surrounding Turner’s arrest and became a compelling true crime documentary along the way.

Podcasts

1. Criminal

Each installment of Criminal tells a resolved criminal case — focusing on victims of crime, relationships with criminals, or just otherwise fascinating tales of criminal activity — all within a 15 to 20 minute time frame. It’s the purist’s true crime series with stories from prosecutors, crime reporters and others involved in the cases.

2. This American Life

Serial is the first spin-off from the popular radio show and podcast, and while the show is formatted differently, it’s similarly engaging. Each week (more or less) the radio show follows three or four stories, some real, some fictional, usually all related to a theme, and presents them in an easy-to-digest format. Stand-out episodes include the “The Giant Pool of Money”, which is an explainer of the sub-prime loan crisis and “Harper High School,” a two-part series on a modern urban high school. If those aren’t escapist enough, there’s always the one about the squirrel cop.

3. Love + Radio

Each episode of the podcast revolves around a theme that informs the show’s stories “from the seedy to the sublime.” The show plays like a cross between This American Life and Radiolab (which also has a great podcast) with engaging stories that are real or not, coupled with complex sound design. Highlights include their award-winning portrait of Jay Thunderbolt, a strip club manager.

4. StoryCorps

Filled with over 50,000 stories of real people, StoryCorps has something for everyone. The stories were collected as part of one of the largest oral histories in existence for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, The stories are unveiled each week on NPR and released as a podcast that shares extraordinary stories from the lives of ordinary people.

Television

1. The Affair

The Wire’s Dominic West stars as a married man having the titular affair with a waitress played by the enchanting, sly-eyed Ruth Wilson. The story unfolds from a his-and-hers perspective, with the truth lying somewhere in between their memories of the events. The show’s first season is still unraveling, so it’s hard to know if it will live up to viewers’ expectations — but so far the show has set the bar very high.

2. Broadchurch

David Tennant (yes, the tenth Doctor) stars as a detective trying to resolve the murder of a young child in a small town, where everyone has secrets and no one seems to want to uncover the truth. Poignant performances and a devastating conclusion made the show a hit.

3. True Detective

HBO’s compelling detective show casts Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as an odd couple of detectives trying to crack a string of brutal murders with strange supernatural overtones. It was one of the buzziest shows of the year and if you’re a Serial fan, you should get caught up before the show reboots with Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell for season two.

4. Top of the Lake

Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney-based detective who returns to her small New Zealand town and gets embroiled in a missing person case. Acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion created the series, which brings a compelling female lead with complicated back story, a tough 12-year old girl who’s nobody’s victim, and a female-driven cult to the typical crime drama.

5. Happy Valley

This Netflix original hasn’t gotten as much publicity as Orange is the New Black, but it’s a compelling British crime story. The tense drama follows a police captain trying to save a young woman kidnapped by the man who raped her own daughter.

Books

1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson

The death of socialite and oil heiress Joan Robinson Hill in 1969 made waves in Houston and far beyond as her husband was convicted of her murder and married his mistress. Hill’s death was only the beginning of the story, though, and Thompson covers every twist, turn and dark secret of the sordid tale.

2. People Who Eat Darkness: the Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old Brit working at a “hostess bar” in Tokyo when she suddenly disappeared. Her father and sister flew to Japan to try and find out what happened to her. Parry, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Times of London, covered the case as it unfolded over months of investigations — and finally, over the course of the six year trial of the man accused of killing her.

3. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

The adventure writer turns his reporter’s eye on the horrifying double murder of a woman and her baby by two brothers convinced they received a commandment from God to commit the act. The story takes him deep into the heart of Mormon Fundamentalists, who defy the teachings of the Latter Day Saints and break the laws of state and country. It’s a darkly fascinating and ultimately unsettling tale.

4. The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is now one of the best known American true crime writers, but her fascination with true crime came from an unlikely source — she used to work at a suicide hotline with serial killer Ted Bundy. The book documents her relationship with Bundy, who she knew as a charismatic co-worker, but who was also a sadistic killer.

5. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart

Gary L. Stewart set out to find his biological father, but that led him to a horrifying realization that his father may be the elusive Zodiac serial killer. It’s not just a hunch, though: During his hunt, Stewart turns up clues — including forensic evidence — that could conclusively point to his father as the notorious Zodiac Killer. It’s a sensational story that crafts a compelling case and a disconcerting portrait of a murder.

TIME radio

Family of Adnan Syed Reacts to ‘Serial’ Podcast

"I wake up as soon as they put it on," his brother says

Millions have become obsessed with a 15-year-old murder case thanks to NPR’s “Serial,” a podcast from the team behind “This American Life” that explores a real-life mystery week-by-week. At the center of the case is Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee when he was still in high school, and has been in prison ever since.

Though Adnan plays an important role on the podcast and is interviewed in almost every episode, his family has refrained from publicly commenting on the show, until now. Adnan’s brother, Yusef Syed, spoke to CBS This Morning about Serial for the first time Thursday.

MORE: Serial: Sarah Koening On the Addictive New Podcast fromThis American Life

“I wake up as soon as they put it on,” he said. “Some days I’ll be like, ‘This is a really great episode,’ and some days I’ll feel down and depressed.” Yusef Syed, who with the help of a lawyer friend, originally reached out to “This American Life” journalist and “Serial” host Sarah Koening about his brother’s story, said he’s glad that the show has brought new attention to his brother’s conviction. The Innocence Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, has since taken on Adnan’s case.

But Yusef also was careful to remind rabid fans of the show who are sharing theories on Reddit and attempting to solve the mystery themselves that “there’s a real girl who died.”

Hae Min Lee’s family has not responded to Koenig’s request for interviews on the show and has yet to comment on the podcast publicly. One man on Reddit, claiming to be Lee’s brother, said that he has not told his parents about the podcast.

[CBS]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 19

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Teach data literacy in elementary school.

By Mohana Ravindranath in the Washington Post

2. A new app lets kids explore the life and living conditions of other children around the world.

By Laura Bliss in CityLab

3. Politics inside Yemen — once a reliable U.S. ally and success story in the war on terror — has pushed the nation out of our influence.

By Adam Baron in Defense One

4. When it comes to science and health news, radio might save journalism.

By Anna Clark in Columbia Journalism Review

5. Rooftop solar power could beat the price of coal in two years — if utilities don’t shut it down.

By Lucas Mearian in ComputerWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME remembrance

How Tom Magliozzi Explained the Reason for Car Talk

Car Talk
Ray Magliozzi, left, and Tom Magliozzi, hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 19, 2008. Charles Krupa—AP

In 2000, the late NPR host and his brother spoke to TIME's Joel Stein

Tom Magliozzi, the co-host of NPR’s Car Talk who died Monday at 77, wasn’t always a radio guru.

Both he and his brother Ray, his co-host, went to MIT; before 1973, when they opened the garage that first got them invited to talk about cars on the radio, he was an engineer.

But in 2000, when the Magliozzis spoke to TIME’s Joel Stein about a book released that year, they explained that they decided back in the 1970s to pay ample attention to their “work-to-play ratio,” as Ray phrased it.

They could have made more money than they did, they could have been more famous — though just barely, considering Car Talk‘s reach — and they could have done something more prestigious, but they didn’t want to.

Their dedication to the accessible, nothing-fancy ethos was, they explained, part of the reason why they did a radio show about cars in the first place:

Cars, they insist, bond all Americans. “We can do a show about cars because everybody has cars,” Tom explains, straightening his Home Depot hat and throwing his backpack over his shoulder. “We couldn’t do a show called Brain Talk.”

Read the full article, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Four-Wheel Expertise

TIME remembrance

Peter Sagal Remembers ‘Car Talk’ Host Tom Magliozzi

Ray Magliozzi; Tom Magliozi
Brothers Ray, left, and Tom Magliozzi, co-hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, pose for a photo in Cambridge, Mass on June 19, 2008. Charles Krupa—AP

Magliozzi, one half of public radio's famous 'Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers,' died Monday aged 77. His NPR colleague remembers a career filled with laughter

I met Tom Magliozzi along with his brother Ray for the first time at a public radio convention in Orlando, Fla. in 2000, when they had been convinced to leave their comfortable homes in Their Fair City (“Cambridge, Mah”) with the promise of a pool to sit next to and the obligation to do nothing. I said something that made them both laugh, uproariously, and felt cocky for a second until I realized that everything made them laugh uproariously.

That was Tom’s great gift. All that raucous, distinctive laughter—who knew you could laugh with a Boston accent?—was genuine. Whether he was laughing at his brother or a caller with a car problem or his own silly jokes, his pleasure was too immense to be kept private. Everybody knows that Car Talk wasn’t about cars. It was about Tommy Magliozzi and his little brother Ray, as they continued their life-long refusal to take each other, themselves, or anything else seriously. And by sheer force of will the self-regarding gray edifice known as public radio eventually did the same.

Tom was opinionated, passionate, and occasionally profane, but very much the man he seemed to be on air. He leaves behind his brother and a large family, but also millions of listeners he convinced—if only for an hour a week—to just relax and enjoy themselves as much as he did.

Peter Sagal is the host of NPR’s weekly news quiz ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’

TIME obituary

Co-Host of NPR’s ‘Car Talk’ Dies at 77

Tom Magliozzi;Ray Magliozzi
From Left: Ray Magliozzi and Tom Magliozzi car mechanics and radio talk show hosts for the show, Car Talk on WBUR-FM National Public Radio. Richard Howard—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Known as one half of "Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers"

Tom Magliozzi, one of the hosts of NPR’s Car Talk, has died at 77 years old.

The radio host, known for his booming laughter, died from complications from Alzheimer’s disease, NPR reports.

Magliozzi and his brother, Ray, became famous public radio personalities as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” on the weekly show Car Talk, which went national in 1987.

After graduating from MIT, where his brother also went, Magliozzi worked as an engineer, a college professor and a mechanic. He got into radio after a local station started putting together a panel of mechanics for a show. He was the only one who showed up but was such a hit that he was invited back (and brought his brother, who is twelve years his junior, with him).

Car Talk has been airing archived shows since 2012, when the brothers retired.

[NPR]

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