Those who mourned WNYC’s surprising cancellation of Hillary Frank’s parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time will be relieved to hear that Midroll’s Earwolf podcast network has picked the show up. It will return in January with weekly episodes.Frank, a former This American Life producer who launched The Longest Shortest Time on a shoestring in 2010, said she’s thrilled to be at Earwolf working with Chris Bannon, Midroll’s chief content officer, and Erik Diehn, Midroll’s vice president of business development. Both Bannon and Diehn had previously worked with Frank at WNYC before leaving for Midroll.
“Midroll, I think, has proven to be the best in the business at selling advertising for shows, and that was a big part of my decision, too,” Frank said. “I came from public radio. I love public radio, its mission, the work that it creates, and the people behind it. But one drawback of public radio is that it’s trying to do a lot all at once. For me, the idea of going somewhere that is doing one thing, and doing it really well, was appealing.”New episodes will run on Earwolf in chunks: weekly for eight weeks, followed by a four-week hiatus, then another eight weeks of new shows.
Earwolf has primarily been known for its comedy podcasts. While Longest Shortest Time is often funny, its episodes have also focused on more serious issues like postpartum depression, childbirth injuries, and stillbirth.
Those topics will continue to have a place on the show, Frank said. But “this show is evolving as I evolve. It started when I was in a really dark place after having a rough childbirth and recovery, and a desperate personal need to connect with other moms. I have changed over the last five years, and while I’m still feeling really committed to telling stories about surviving parenthood. I’m thinking of [the podcast] as being more about family.”“We work with a lot of talented, funny people,” Bannon said. “The opportunity to bring some of them into the conversation about parenting seemed really natural to me. Many of them are parents…there’s not always a clear line between comedy, pop culture conversation, information, and programming. What we’re realizing is that the audience just wants things that are good.”
That notion echoes comments made by an E.W. Scripps executive (Scripps owns Midroll) to Hot Pod’s Nicholas Quah last week: “The idea behind what we’re doing is to sort of take this really successful model with comedy and pop culture and extend it into the nonfiction space.”
Frank agreed: “I think of parenthood as a launching pad for talking about a whole host of topics that are all universal: Relationships, work, sex, life, death, health. The show, as I’ve grown, has gotten to be more clearly about all of those things.”
The Longest Shortest Time was one of three shows that WNYC officially launched in 2014, with the other two being Death, Sex, and Money and The Sporkful. (Those other two shows are still with WNYC.) While WNYC provided only a broad statement to explain its cancellation of Longest Shortest Time, Frank was generous about her time there, saying it was “a great incubator for my project.”Still, there are a couple of hassles associated with moving to a new network. The Longest Shortest Time app, which allowed listeners to record responses to various questions and upload them to be included in future episodes, won’t be making the move to Earwolf. “It’s very expensive to maintain apps and to extract them and move them elsewhere,” Frank said. “I hope one day to be able to resurrect it, but for now, my priority is going to be be on the podcast. I’m still going to be taking a lot of tape from the audience, but we’re just going back to the older method of getting people to record voice memos and send them by email.”
Frank does own the show’s archives and the website. The Longest Shortest Time Mamas Facebook group is going strong, with more than 17,000 members, volunteer moderators, and dozens of spinoff groups (including one for papas).
Frank sees her move from WNYC to Earwolf as a sign of how much the podcasting landscape has changed even in the past year.
“It was unthinkable, five years ago, that I could make a living making a podcast,” she said. “It was questionable whether I could make a living in radio. But now there are all these different companies. When I went to WNYC, the idea that I could have a full-time job hosting this podcast wasn’t something that was happening elsewhere. But shortly after that, a bunch of companies, like Gimlet and Radiotopia and Earwolf, started cropping up. I was just floored by how many different places came to me and wanted to partner when they found out I was available. That was not the situation five years ago.”