“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale,” radio host Cecil Baldwin says. The podcast Welcome to Night Vale begins.
Welcome to Night Vale is a functional radio program hosted by Cecil Baldwin and written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. Although it is broadcast from Night Vale, a small town in the middle of the desert, the podcast runs like any typical radio station with news, announcements and advertisements. It is currently the second most popular podcast on iTunes, where it is available for free download and subscription.
At first the program might seem fairly normal, if a bit odd. Further listening reveals the true absurdity of Night Vale, a place where Lovecraftian horrors and conspiracy theories are real and mundane. Take for example, the mysterious hooded figures that live in the dog park. These hooded figures are simply a normal part of Night Vale’s existence as dogs are in ours.
Each episode usually centers around one story, such as dinosaurs coming through a portal that opened during a PTA meeting, but also includes public service announcements like “Alligators. Can they kill your children? Yes,” advertisements and traffic. The weather report is a song from some independent musician seeking publicity or just wanting to support the show.
Beyond this nonchalant absurdity, Welcome to Night Vale is sometimes oddly parallel to the real world, satirizing current events like gun debates with announcements from the Night Vale chapter of the National Rifle Association that “Guns don’t kill people. It’s impossible to be killed by a gun. We are all invincible to bullets, it’s a miracle,” and a desperate newspaper printing only “imagination editions.”
I discovered Welcome to Night Vale this summer and spent one long lazy day listening to all twenty-odd twenty-minute episodes. Cecil’s voice is strangely calming, and the nonchalant horror leaves me delightedly chilled. The satire, however, is my favorite part. The podcast goes along with its usual rolling pace when suddenly I realize that something was definitely a commentary on something I’d read in the proper news. I find it amazing that such an unusual fictional place can be used to effectively poke at secrecy in American government and other topics.
This is possible because the town is strange enough to be fascinating but normal enough to be relatable. Welcome to Night Vale simultaneously reminds listeners of the wonder of fiction and the oddness of reality while still being amusing. I wouldn’t listen right before falling asleep, though, despite the closing words of every episode: “Good night, listeners, good night.”
By Emma Remy