I remember it as though it were a millennia ago. My very good friend and roommate had just returned to our little apartment after a night of mild debauchery, and was our habit, we decided to keep the party ball rolling by unwinding with a few cold brews and some cable television. Remember, this was a time when cable television was a relatively new thing. There were still discoveries to be made as you flipped about that seemingly endless dial. Fifty stations? Who could imagine that?
As we polished off another round of brews, we landed on the University of Colorado's public access channel. Here we watched poorly edited graphics describing various activities and events just up the hill from where we sat. Some were expired, some were of no interest, but every so often one caught our eye. What we saw was not what made us stay. What kept us transfixed was the audio that was paired with the endlessly repeating scroll of calendared happenings. It was the audio behind them. We sat and listened to the campus radio station broadcast coming through into our living room and we could not turn away. It started innocently enough, with a musical selection: USA for Africa's We Are The World. This was not a true surprise, since this charity single was in heavy rotation on just about every radio station in America at the time. What did catch us and keep us was what happened next.
The DJ came back on the air after playing the song, with a voice that sounded every bit as "relaxed" as we were feeling. He started by casting doubts about the record he had just played, wondering aloud if all the supposed millions of dollars that were being raised from the promotion and sale of this song was really getting to the victims of the famine in Africa. He rambled on for a few minutes, an eternity in radio time, but clearly not an issue on what was essentially commercial free college radio. He finished up with, "I dunno, I just figure somebody out there's getting rich and a lot of little kids are still starving."
And that was it. We couldn't change channels. He cut to another song, and then another. We kept waiting for this lone voice from the wilderness to return with another jab at the status quo.
Which is to say that once upon a time I witnessed the birth of podcasts. In 1985. My friend and I would stay up late once a week to catch this "show," which eventually evolved into a platform for "South America's favorite rock star, Johnny Dragon" hosted by the same DJ and featuring this mysterious visitor from south of our border. We listened every week and encouraged our friends and neighbors to tune in, taping three hour shows in the hopes of catching some of the edgy brilliance of that first night.
Upon reflection, do I find it hard to believe that someone might become caught up in a conspiracy-laden podcast where you feel that you have discovered someone, a voice that speaks directly to you? No. But eventually my friend and I made our way up to the studio where the broadcast was being made, and we confronted the reality of this undergrad and his buddies in the next room providing the call-ins from "the audience." We stopped listening after that. The mystery of anonymity was shattered.
I suspect that if someone bothered to drop by the closet where Steve Bannon generates his spleen to vent, that man behind the curtain would be revealed. He's not a wizard. He's not a genius. He's just a very bad man. With access to Al Gore's Internet.