From neighborhood news to comic reviews, local podcasts connect with community

Millions of people worldwide use podcasts as a mobile source for entertainment, perspective, and news, and it's no surprise that Washtenaw County residents are in on the movement. Numerous podcasts focusing on various topics are produced in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. Some are media-focused, some are business-oriented, and some are community-driven. We chatted with three local podcasters about the stories behind their podcasts.


Martin Bandyke Under Covers


When Martin Bandyke recently had the chance to talk to rock writer Anthony DeCurtis about his book Lou Reed: A Life, Bandyke couldn't help recounting his own unpleasant encounter with musician Lou Reed, who was known for hating the media.


"While it didn’t demean my appreciation for (Reed's) music, it made me wonder, 'Why was he like that? Why would he agree to do an interview? Why was he so nasty?' Anthony DeCurtis really had a lot of insight about that – you know, like what made Lou Reed tick," he says.


Bandyke is best known locally as a radio host on ann arbor's 107one (WQKL-FM), but he also produces a monthly podcast, Martin Bandyke Under Covers, for the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL). He's interviewed DeCurtis and numerous other authors on the podcast with the goal of "shining a light on a lot of great writers and their books."


Bandyke frequently features AADL events manager Tim Grimes on his morning show and sporadically hosts events at AADL. That ongoing relationship with the library prompted the launch of Martin Bandyke Under Covers about four years ago. Bandyke hopes listeners will be interested in reading the books featured on his podcast, so he tries to give AADL a heads-up in hopes that the library will have the chance to put them on shelves.


Bandyke sees the podcast as being an extension of his work on the radio. He wants to introduce people to interesting new aspects of the worlds of music, film, and other related areas, as he aims to do when he's on air at 107one.


"I just have this lifelong commitment, as long as I’ve been on the air, to try to play music of all sorts of genres that I think deserves to be heard," Bandyke says.


His "voracious interest" in music and movies often guides his book selections. Bandyke estimates that about 90 percent of the interviews he conducts for his podcast are with authors who have written books about music or movies.


Bandyke especially enjoys talking to authors who are also musicians, like Lol Tolhurst of the Cure and Andy Partridge of XTC, and authors who are experts on specific musicians, like David Bowie biographer Dylan Jones and Elvis Presley aficionado Peter Guralnick. Bandyke interviewed one of his musical idols, Ray Davies of the Kinks, about Davies' book Americana for the first episode of Martin Bandyke Under Covers in December 2013.


The most recent episode of Martin Bandyke Under Covers features an interview with RJ Smith about American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank, a biography of the renowned photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank. For the next episode, which should be posted in early June, Bandyke will talk to Michael Benson, author of Space Odyssey, a book about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Super Skull


As the co-owner of comic book shop Vault of Midnight, 219 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, most of Nick Yribar's life is devoted to comics. But he says one of the best parts of his job is co-hosting the weekly comic book podcast Super Skull.


"We’re having this golden age for comic books right now and we wouldn’t be doing (Super Skull) if we weren’t so excited about the stuff that we’re reading every week," he says.


Yribar hosts Super Skull with Vault co-owner Curtis Sullivan and former Vault employee Marcus Schwimmer. Sound engineer and cartoonist Rachel Polk produces the podcast and occasionally co-hosts the show. Timed to coincide with the release of new comics every Wednesday, Super Skull focuses on comic book industry news and the hosts' reviews of their favorite comics of the week. Sometimes the show includes interviews with comic-book writers or artists, but the interviews are usually shared as separate episodes.


Yribar says he and his co-hosts created Super Skull almost four years ago because they're "obsessed with podcasts," but they couldn't really find a comic-related podcast that they liked listening to. The podcast started out as a promotional vehicle for Vault of Midnight, with the intention of encouraging more customers to come in and buy comic books. But over time the focus has shifted from the shop to the medium of comics itself.


"We thought we were in a unique position," Yribar says. "We have access to all of this stuff. We have a perspective that we can offer as retailers and lifelong fans of comic books. There’s a neat format that is already built out because every single week there are new comics being released."


The hosts read comic books on Tuesdays, record episodes of the podcast on Wednesdays at AADL's podcasting studio, and then release episodes on Thursdays. They try to make Super Skull approachable for people who aren't huge comic book fans, encouraging them to overcome their preconceptions and see value in the medium.


"It’s an extension of Vault of Midnight, which is built to be as accessible as possible," Yribar says.


In Super Skull's most recent episode, Yribar and Sullivan discuss seven of their favorite new comics and seven upcoming releases they're looking forward to. They also talk about April 2018 comic sales numbers and the hectic experience of hosting Free Comic Book Day.


What’s Up in the Willow?


"Whenever you see West Willow mentioned (in the news), it’s related to some type of crime," says New West Willow Neighborhood Association (NWWNA) advisor Alex Thomas. "There’s just so much going on — as in any community — that’s not covered."


Thomas started producing a monthly video podcast called What's Up in the Willow? about a year ago in an effort to share information about resources, local news, and residents' personal stories in Ypsi Township's West Willow neighborhood. He saw a need for some type of media to inform residents about what was happening in their neighborhood since the Ypsi area lacks a local newspaper.


What's Up in the Willow? is hosted on Thomas' personal YouTube page, with links posted to the NWWNA's Facebook page. The video podcast mainly serves as a recap of the NWWNA's monthly meetings at the Community Resource Center, 2057 Tyler Rd. in Ypsi Township.


Thomas tries to spotlight organizations that serve West Willow and beyond. He believes two of the NWWNA's staunchest community partners are the Washtenaw County Health Department and Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley because they're conducting outreach and strengthening their relationships with residents. But he realizes only some residents make it out to events and meetings that the organizations host, so he wants to ensure residents who don't usually show up also have the opportunity to access resources and share concerns.


Since there’s a dearth of local news coverage, Thomas thinks there aren’t many opportunities for people to share what’s going on in their community. His video podcast aims to address that problem by featuring "real people from the community telling stories about what actually is going on in the community."


"We want the podcast to give an opportunity for the community to define itself to the greater public," Thomas says.


The most recent episode of What's Up in the Willow is a bit different from previous episodes because it's a broader recap of information from the past several months since the video podcast took a brief hiatus. The goal of this episode is to inform viewers of what happened during the interim. Moving forward, Thomas plans to continue producing the video podcast as a recap of the NWWNA's monthly meetings.


Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.


All photos by Doug Coombe.

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