Whether it’s the NPR quiz show Ask Me Another or keeping up-to-date with Adnan Syed’s case in Undisclosed and Serial, podcasts are always playing while I’m in the car, doing dishes, or just hanging out around the house. My future brother-in-law enjoys a lot of the same ones I do, so when he recommended The Black Tapes, I took his advice and started listening. Having finished the first season, I’d like to encourage others to check it out.
The Black Tapes started in May 2015. From their website:
The Black Tapes is a weekly podcast from Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale, and is hosted by Alex Reagan. The Black Tapes is a serialized docudrama about one journalist’s search for truth, her enigmatic subject’s mysterious past, and the literal and figurative ghosts that haunt them both.
Journalist Alex Reagan focuses on Dr. Richard Strand’s work as a ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts. He runs The Strand Institute, which offers a one million dollar reward for anyone offering proof of the supernatural. In over 20 years, he has never had to pay out because he proves them false, however there are a number of cases he is not yet able to resolve with his current technology. He keeps these case files in black VHS boxes, and when Reagan discovers them, she names them The Black Tapes. Strand allows her to investigate the tapes with him and see what they can uncover.
In addition to the tapes, Reagan also focuses on Strand himself. As a non-believer, he is not welcome in the ghost hunting crowd, and as a person, he’s more than a bit abrasive. There’s also the mystery behind the disappearance of his wife, Coralee, and Strand’s inability to give straightforward answers about it. Reagan balances her work with Strand on the cases with her opinions of him personally, struggling at times with knowing whether or not she can trust him.
Does this all sound real? It’s not. The creators have mimicked the format of Serial in that a journalist is researching a story and relaying it as she discovers information, but it’s not a true story. The creators, however, are committed to depicting it as if it is real. If you visit any of the websites for The Black Tapes, its producing company Pacific Northwest Stories, or even The Strand Institute, you will not find anything that relays these are fictional stories. As one reviewer says, “Ever wonder how people tuned into War of the Worlds and thought it was real? I kinda get it now.”
A typical episode concentrates on one Black Tapes case. Reagan will investigate, sometimes with Strand and sometimes alone, and interview those involved to learn the truth. Strand will repeatedly argue against the supernatural aspect of the case, offering unprovable theories that usually sound valid. As the season goes on, however, it’s hard to be convinced that all is natural with these cases.
If you enjoy stories and the paranormal, I highly recommend listening to The Black Tapes. Some people describe it as Serial meets X-Files or Welcome to Nightvale, but I definitely see hints of Supernatural in this as well. It takes you up and down along their journey with haunting shadows, exorcisms, demon portals, murders, and more. Each episode has a new twist and will leave you wanting more.