Phenomena: The podcast about everything you never notice
For everything in the world that people manage to maintain their focuses on - from their work, to their children, to their schedule, to their taxes, there seems to be just as many overlooked aspects of society, perpetuating outside their bubbles of knowledge. What about all the things people don’t notice? What about all the things the normal public doesn’t hear about - the little, potentially insidious occurrences that happen right under people’s noses?
The podcast “99% Invisible” strives to find these peculiar aspects of society - stories of people whose job it is to make sure that society functions properly, outside the knowledge of our public sphere. The topics can be varied; a good example of this is Episode 110: "Structural Integrity." The episode, 23 minutes in length (about the same runtime as normal episodes), focuses on the CitiCorp Center in New York City and its one looked over, highly dangerous structural flaw. The construction of the building had left it extremely prone to quartering winds that would hit the building on its corners. These winds left this skyscraper in the middle of Manhattan with a yearly 1 and 16 chance of being taken down by a storm. The damage would be catastrophic.
Luckily enough, the issue is resolved due to an observation by a man walking around Manhattan, but that’s explained in the podcast. The show was created by Roman Mars and began as a project of KALW Public Radio and the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco. The show’s first recordings were recorded in Mars’ bedroom, but now the podcast resides in Oakland, California, and continues to release new episodes to this day. The episodes are released each Monday, and with 255 episodes and counting, the show has found a way to highlight and analyze aspects of society that continue to go unnoticed and unobserved.
Episode 93 covers a topic slightly less destructive than previous one mentioned: the creation of revolving doors. Theophilius Van Kannel, as the story goes, was not a supporter of chivalry, and specifically, holding doors open for women. In 1888, with the mission in his mind to never hold a door for a woman again, Van Kannel constructed and was eventually given his patent for what at the time was called a “Storm-Door Structure,” but would eventually become what we now know as the revolving door. These kinds of episodes highlight the podcast’s ability to take normally mundane topics and find a way to relay a engrossing narrative around them.
The podcast’s category of entertainment can change as they cover an incredible array of topics. Some of the notable categories include architecture, sound, technology and history. The main website for the show also offers articles about an equally diverse group of topics as the podcast itself, plus each recording is paired with a description so that the listener can have a general sense of what the episode will be about.
The website also offers a list of easy, interesting podcasts to listen to for new listeners. One of the suggested episodes is about a man who corrected a highway sign in Los Angeles, only to have the city decide his addition was useful - deciding to keep it and continue to replace it as normal maintenance. A random driver on the I-5 highway would never think to consider the origins of the highway sign above them as they sped past. Like many things, those signs can act as something else to be taken for granted - coming with story worth telling.
The podcast creatively focuses on the ignored, yet essential parts and stories of society. Stories can range from the origins of defensive shifts in baseball, celebrating the Stonewall Inn in New York City, and to why car dealerships use inflatable men outside their stores. With enough digging, there's sure to be an interesting topic in store for any listener.