I’ve been listening to The Dinner Party Download for years. Multiple years. A few weeks ago I was informed that the show is now on WAMU on Sunday evenings at 6. I told American Public Media, the group that produces the show, them that I’ve been listening for years. They offered an interview with hosts Brendan Francis Newnam and Rico Gagliano. I told them I’ve been listening for years. You should listen.
That was good! If you think it’s good, contact WAMU and tell them you think it’s good. Podcasts still aren’t 100% understood by radio people.
Brightest Young Things: You’re brand new to the D.C. terrestrial radio market but that’s kinda weird because the shows been going on for multiple years, and I know it as a podcast for 200 plus episodes. Is this addition to the D.C. market a big deal or will you even notice a difference?
Brendan Francis Newnam: No, this is a really big deal for us. We’ve been trying to join the most powerful body in D.C. for years now but apparently Fugazi is not taking new members. We couldn’t decide who would run for Vice President so this is the third best thing possible. So yeah, we’re psyched.
Rico Gagliano: It’s a huge market, and we both grew up in Pennsylvania and spent time in D.C..
BFN: Actually, I buried the lead. My parents are WAMU members. They live in metro D.C., so now they actually know I have a real job. Before, they couldn’t figure out podcasting, they just took it on faith that I wasn’t asking them for money anymore. But now they can actually turn on the radio and hear me. Now that they get to hear me it may make them feel bad for themselves but at least they know I am gainfully employed.
RG: I don’t have to send photos of Brendan in the studio anymore to try to convince them, which is nice. I’m from Pittsburgh and I had family that lived in D.C. I remember going to the fireworks there and it being really hot. And also very busy. I admire people putting up with throngs of people constantly flooding your city. You know, protesting things or celebrating America.
BYT: You can’t get that frustrated with those people because those are the people that provide jobs for us, so that’s good.
RG: I like to hear that. Although I have a cousin that lives and every time there’s a protest and he’s like “Oh my commute!”And I’m like, “Oh yeah, it’s terrible about democracy and how it is working right in front of you.”
BYT: It’d be different if they decided that D.C. was the capital four years ago. But it outdated all of us, you know exactly what you are getting into.
RG: Exactly, like the raids in Manchester in the early 90s.
BYT: I would have more to complain about if I were you two if I still worked at Marketplace (both hosts used to work at the daily business, economics, and money radio show). It sounds like a painful place to work. It’s a very informative show, but also a very depressing show.
BFN: We both have a lot of pride. I know what you are saying, because the economy hasn’t been the best of late, and you deal with some topics on the face that seem depressing. The most depressing thing for Rico and I when we were working there was that it was for money. And we didn’t have any and it was something we didn’t even understood at the time. It was like we went in and did our stuff. We are much more arts and culture people, we are much more comfortable talking about music and cocktails and film than we are talking about collateral debt obligations.
RG: I was was literally tasked with talking about collateral debt obligations during economic downturns in 2008. I will also say that Marketplace is very aware of the potential of it being down all the time. They are very aware of it and do work it to try and find positive stories to do. We actually did, during the economic downturn, Brendan and me were tasked, because there was so much bad news, we did a piece, we created fake broadcast for Marketplace 30 years in the future so we had something to look forward to. Brendon is from Philadelphia so the Philles had won the world series. Warren Buffet in the future had been elected president and he bailed out the economy by just giving it money. There was a place called Googletown and we all went to Apple University. They tried to make it fun, I will say. And Brendan and I, actually, when we met, we were tasked to make it fun. I was writing a lot of comedy sketches for it and Brendan would help write those sometimes and appear in them. So we got the least of the brunt of the depressing news.
BYT: I know this isn’t your department per se, but it is your show, and I am assuming you do try all the drinks (every episode of The Dinner Party Download features a custom cocktail themed to a story, all made by guest bartenders). Are any of the drinks ever bad?
RG: You’d be surprised. Here is a dirty secret that is not much of a secret because I tell all my friends, Brendan and I are martini drinkers. We basically like cold gin in a glass, that’s our favorite cocktail.
BFN: Some of the drinks, like most of the beer cocktails, you can imagine, are awesome. And actually, Derek Brown, who runs the Passenger in D.C., whose been on our show a couple times, and has made some cocktails for us. He made cocktails for the president and wouldn’t tell us what they drank, we tried to get him to do that. I wanted to keep this in but I didn’t, but afterwards he confirmed, and he’s run some bartender guilds or something like that, that true bartenders agree that the gin martini, up, dry, is the classic drink and one of the most difficult things to pull off because it is so simple.
RG: He’s an authority so we believe him. He’s going to be our next president.
BFN: So our thing is that we don’t drink all the drinks. But all the people that make them, it’s more about the story behind them and kind of hearing what in their imagination.
RG: It’s the creativity that we really love. I’m happy to sample a complicated cocktail put in front of me. I don’t know if you heard this, I think it was the first show we aired in Washington. We aired one cocktail once that was specifically designed to be terrible to commemorate the biggest flop in Broadway history, called Moose Murders. So the name of the drink was The Murdered Moose. It started with –, and it was garnished with both an onion and a cherry and it sounded just horrible. That was probably the worst one but it was supposed to be.
BYT: Going back to the stories, have you guys been to any dinner parties and someone is stealing what was on that week’s show not knowing that it is you two on the show?
BFN: The other dirty secret is that we don’t get invited to dinner parties. No, I’m teasing. There will be meta moments where they want to continue talking about something later.
BYT: That’s so great. It must be a really rewarding feeling.
BFN: It’s great, I love talking about work when I am not at work.
RG: I have actually had my favorite run in recently, and this is especially a nod to Brendan here. We had David Crosby on the show recently talking about his first solo album, which is considered one of the great California albums. And I went down to the vinyl shop after I listened to Brendan’s interview because the record sounded so good and I never had it. And I take it out. I bring it to the front desk and the guy who owns the shop was checking me out and he was checking out my purchase. He was looking the album and he’s like “You know, I heard a great interview with David Crosby about this album the other day.” And I’m like, “Yeah I think that was my show.” And he was like, “Really, what’s your name?.” And I’m like, “Rico Gagliano, I didn’t do the interview but that was my show.” He’s like, “Oh yeah.” He said “In fact, I put this album out because I heard the interview and I was like, someone else has heard the interview and will by that album, and it’s you.”
BFN: Rico is the only person that heard it.
BYT: Who thought of the format of the show?
BFN: We created it together. Generally, we worked at Marketplace and on our own personal lives we played some music. We are into culture. Rico studies film and I kind of been into music and had a podcast before. And we were talking about things that we wanted to cover and the format kind of emerged. Initially it was kind of a facetious act where you know what, we go to parties and people asked us all this information and pick this show and listen to it, and you have everything you need. You don’t need to talk to us. And then as we wanted to do more things and they asked us to make it into a hour. We were like, “Alright, great, well an etiquette segment would be another cool way to talk to people”. At first it was the subjects driving the format and ultimately the format helped us expand the subject.
RG: In the early days of the podcast the idea was that it was only 12 minutes long. So the point was that on your way to a dinner party you could listen this podcast and by the time you arrive you would know what was going on if you were, like most of us, super busy and not able to take in this huge amount of culture flooding into the landscape. But one of the reasons we wanted to expand the show after the first few months was because we realized were getting some really big guests. Like some of our early shows were with some pretty big guests, like Girl Talk. We talked to him for like literally 2 and a half minutes. And it was like, this is absurd for the sake of this format and that’s what drove us to expand.
BYT: It is interesting that you chose to edit the podcast which is the one sort of audio format that does not need a lot of time editing.
BFN: But that is also what separated us from a lot of other podcasts out there, and it still does. The point is that this is just enough information to help you win your dinner party and we don’t want to bother you. And at that point, media was exploding the idea was that we are going to curate the world for you. Foodies are alienating, staying on top of music gets complicated after a certain age for some people, there are so many movies coming out you don’t know what to follow. So relax, trust us just like you trust public radio to deliver you information about current affairs and money. Here is what you need to know. We initially wanted to do that as a service to people to keep it neat and tidy. And we enjoy editing. We brought the public radio background and having it be fast and kind of the good music in between things was something that made it fun for us to produce and separated it for us from a lot of podcasts at the time which was just microphones in a room with people talking.
RG: And I think that even though we are an hour, which is the standard length for many public radio shows, unlike public radio, we have an astonishing amount of segments in the show. If one of our segments is like eight minutes, that’s titanically long for us. We occasionally will be like, when we had Steve Martin on we ran it for 12 minutes. And Terry Rose, we talked to him for an hour. And we put an extended version of that for our web audience. But it is still important for us to keep things really tight, like the best of what we get out of folks and keeping it interesting and moving quickly.
BW: And I think it is absolutely fantastic. I wouldn’t surprise me if you guys are on Esquire TV in a year.
BFN: Well, yeah, we really can’t talk about this. People flirt with us a lot about those sorts of stuff. But we are genuinely radio dorks, public radio in particular. We both believe in the mission of public radio. Rico worked commercial entertainment, I have a law degree. We did other things with our lives and we both chose to work in this world. We like the people. We like the environment. And love the audience. Although that stuff is interesting and can present interesting challenges. Let’s face it public radio nerds need help. They need to know what to listen to. They need to stay up on things and we are here to help them.
BYT: Are you afraid to talk about politics or God at a dinner party?
BFN: No. But that’s not the mandate on our show. As far as dinner parties, I feel like Americans are too tame and they are too afraid to talk about things where all over the world are very interesting topics of conversation. It is okay to disagree with people and that’s how you can have really vibrant, fun times. As far as our radio show, there are people way better qualified to discuss these things.
RG: I will say that that directly contradicts one of our etiquette experts on our show. The Posts, Lizzie and Daniel Post, who are the great, great, grand kids of Emily Post. They pretty specifically say that something like sex, religion, and politics are the three kinds of no nos.
BFN: And I believe in the opposite of that. What if it’s like new people? You don’t want to alienate new friends but democracy requires robust discussion. And I think that when you are breaking bread with people that is the perfect forum to get passionate about different things and recognize that you are a safe space to talk about ideas.
RG: We love the Posts but we don’t always take their advice.
BW: Let’s end the show with some plugs for some public radio shows or podcasts that people in DC don’t know about.
BFN: Do you guys know 99% Invisible? That whole world is pretty great.
RG: Lea Thau’s Strangers. A lovely one. That’s from LA. That’s becoming popular but not blown to pieces yet. And she used to be a bigwig at the Moth.
BFN: And a companion to that, do you know Unfictional? It’s from the West Coast, it’s from LA. And it is kind of American Life-y but in it’s own way. And that’s part of the story. — doesn’t get as much recognition as maybe it should. We were recently part of a Big Sur Sound and Story festival in Big Sur, California where each Sunday that had a different radio program do and evening of stuff and their night was really successful. And also a friend of mine, he’s been around for a long time, do you know Wiretap? He does occasional stories for This American Life. He has his own show in Canada called Wiretap. He is pretty amazing. It’s just him every week just rambling and free-forming but it is consistently really great.
RG: I have one more, if you want. They are, they might be kind of known. — on the Cooking Channel. I was just on their show. It is a fairly new podcast, called the “Slumber Party with Allie and Georgia” where you go to one of their apartments and they have a teepee fort set up in the apartment and they do interviews with various people including the guy that does the comics strip “The Oatmeal”. And it’s basically asking the kind of question people would as each other at slumber parties when they were teenagers.
BYT: That sounds really precious.
RG: It was actually really, really fun. And it was surprising. I found myself talking about drug experiences. And like, I didn’t need to get myself in trouble.
BFN: Weren’t we on drugs in a teepee once?
RG: I refuse to comment. You might incriminate me.
Featured image courtesy of American Public Media, photo by Bill Youngblood for SCPR. Sarah Guan contributed to this piece.