I launched Breaking Walls in 2014 as an interview show with a simple concept: sit-down conversations with luminaries, centered around helpful topics, all laddering up to a monthly theme.
The show next expanded to include on-the-scene reporting at places like The American Museum of Natural History, The Maggie Flanigan Acting Studio, and Industry City.
Eventually I began to produce mini-documentaries about people, programs, and moments during the Golden Age of Radio. For a time, I was producing all of these kinds of shows concurrently, but the listening audience kept asking for more audio documentaries on the history of radio. I decided to move Breaking Walls solely in this direction.
Today Breaking Walls is a once-per-month audio documentary on the history of American Network Radio Broadcasting, focusing on people, places, and events from the Golden Age of Radio.
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Snippets and Interviews From Breaking Walls
COMING SOON: New York, 1835: A city at its tipping point.
In ten years since the completion of the Erie Canal, New York City’s population has grown from 167,000 to 270,000 and total land value has increased from $65 million, to over $230 Million by 1836. Widening old streets and creating new ones is central to raising property value. Between 1834 and 1836, 3962 commercial and 2387 residential buildings will be built.
Most of these 270,000 residents live below Fourteenth Street in wooden or brick buildings no taller than five stories. The gap between rich and poor is rapidly expanding as each week thousands of new men and women pour onto New York’s dangerously overcrowded streets. Many come to earn an honest living.
Others for more nefarious reasons.
At this time, a substantial portion of the land capital traded on the New York Stock Exchange is purely speculative. Buyers purchase on credit with the intent to flip property before needing to pay back the original balance.
Simultaneously, property improvements raise property taxes, leaving little incentive for landlords to build well. This combination is creating enormous financial debt; A major problem for a city which desperately needs to expand.
In 1835, the whole city of New York is a construction site and a pathogen for civil unrest. It’s overrun with crime, vice, disease, rampant financial speculation,
Although New Yorkers vote for the construction of the Croton Aqueduct in April, the city still has no reliable source of running water. That same month, officials place a twenty-four hour guard in the cupola of City Hall to ring a large bell and hang a light in the direction of any fire. The potential for a cholera epidemic or a crippling blaze is a constant source of fear.
These fears are stirred by the City’s penny papers, chiefly The Sun and The New York Herald, whose publishers Benjamin Day and James Gordon Bennett are battling for readership. In August, this battle leads to the greatest literary hoax of the nineteenth century—fooling both layman and scholar—portending the existence of intelligent life on the Moon.
Even as he calls the hoax remarkable, Phineas T. Barnum is orchestrating one of his own. With the help of William Niblo, Barnum is set to make his career by publicly displaying a woman named Joice Heth: Ms. Heth claims to be the one hundred sixty-one year-old nursemaid to George Washington.
This exhibition is attended by the most influential people in the city, like John Jacob Astor and Eliza Jumel, as well as three up-and-coming New Yorkers named Helen Jewett, Aaron Columbus Burr, and Windham Bowen. All three are of questionable origins and heightened cunning. Remarkable indeed.
On the frigid, blustery night of December 16th, 1835, the worst fire in New York City history sweeps through Manhattan. The East River is frozen solid. The undermanned and exhausted team of volunteer firefighters are no match. Everything south of Maiden Lane and east of Broad Street—the chief merchant district and the one with the highest property value—turns to ash.
The fire causes an estimated $20 Million in property damage; the equivalent to one half-billion dollars today. It is found to be caused by a leaky gas valve near a lit coal stove. No public blame is ever assigned.
But what if New York’s greatest fire was no accident?
Coming soon to your favorite podcast app: Burning Gotham—a new audio drama about the fastest growing city in the world, and the opportunists who shaped it. Stay tuned for trailers, soundscapes, and more information.
Available through the same Breaking Walls podcast feed, an original audio drama: A Man Named Marlowe.
Los Angeles, 1935—The heart of the great depression, with glitz and glamour right next door to misery and suffering. It’s the kind of world where those with money don’t want to share it and those without it have no idea how to get it. It’s the kind of world where Philip Marlowe will take a case he’ll regret, but will he get to live with them?
Author Raymond Chandler set The Big Sleep, the first of his novels involving famous private detective Philip Marlowe in (then) present-day 1936, but who was Marlowe before The Big Sleep? In A Man Named Marlowe, we’ll find out.
It’s a story with an empowered woman, heinous crimes, back room deals, gruesome murders, hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold, and two long-dead ghosts that teach us heroes can live forever.
Each show is available in the same feed as Breaking Walls, therefore if you subscribe to one show, you’re subscribed to both. You can subscribe below, listen here, or search for A Man Named Marlowe by searching for Breaking Walls wherever you get your podcasts.