a new podcast of speculative journalism
by sam greenspan
/** LISTEN **/
There are two ways to hear BELLWETHER:
Support the show by purchasing the entire four-episode cycle right now on Bandcamp
Or hear Bellwether for free everywhere you find podcasts.
Episodes #01 and #02 premiere on September 27, 2021. Episodes #03 and #04 are released once per week for the following two weeks.
/** EPISODES **/
Your skeleton key for understanding this show. Start here and listen in order.
01_AUTOPILOT OFF REDUX
In 2018, Elaine Herzberg became the first pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car. But who is to blame? We prosecute the person who was behind the wheel at our own peril.
Elsewhere: short-term cryo has put Cass and Icarus in a relationship crisis.
(Note: this is an updated version of the Bellwether pilot, originally released in 2019)
Featuring: Jennifer Morrison (National Transportation Safety Board, formerly), M.C. Elish (Data & Society), Raj Rajkumar (Carnegie Mellon University), and Chris Urmson (Google formerly, now Aurora)
After a deadly fire at an Oakland arts space called The Ghost Ship, cities across America responded by cracking down on unofficial live-work spaces. Alt-right internet trolls took notice, and launched a culture war, pitting local governments about the people they are tasked with keeping safe.
Elsewhere: Icarus and Cass learn of an autonomous Juggalo community, and hear from an autonomophobic blogger back east.
Featuring: Geyl Forcewynd, Dan Weiss (The Yellow Dress), Gabriella Coleman (McGill University), and B. Rouse (UC-Berkeley)
A law that was supposed to stop sex trafficking is making life more dangerous for the people it’s supposed to protect. It’s also collapsing the entire internet.
Elsewhere: Icarus and Cass call on a spurned lover, who reveals that there's more to Bellwether than meets the ear.
Featuring: Sarah Fenix, Melissa Mariposa (Red Umbrella Hosting), Liara Roux, and Vex Ashley (Four Chambers).
04_KEEP IT 200
An autopsy on a dead link, and the anthropology of trying to find transgender health care at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles.
Featuring: Clare Stanton (Harvard Library Innovation Lab), Anne Petersen (18F), and Kathy Tu (Nancy podcast forever).
/** ABOUT **/
BELLWETHER is a podcast of speculative journalism created by Sam Greenspan. Bellwether presents stories of the world as it is through the lens of what it might become: in-depth longform nonfiction, told within the frame of an ongoing sci-fi radio serial.
Within the show’s nonfiction, host Sam Greenspan reports true stories of collisions with technology. A person is killed by a self-driving car. An online hate forum weaponizes municipal code compliance officers. A moral panic results in legislation that is collapsing the internet. A 404 “Page Not Found” error initiates a medical disaster. The stories are, in a sense, true stories of real people caught in real-world dystopias.
Bellwether’s fiction centers on Cass (Carmen Berkeley), the sentient A.I. companion of a human named Icarus. The pair are currently in the largest city in North America (Phoenix, Arizona), holed up in short-term cryogenic freezing (it’s the only place they can afford). They’re doing gig work for the “Cloudburst Truth & Reconciliation Commission”—a joint effort of A.I. and humans (or biological intelligence, or “B.I.”) to figure out what caused the internet to permanently disappear two decades prior.
Cass and Icarus’s job is to sift through the wreckage of the internet, and tag anything interesting they come across. Cass, the curious A.I. is in heaven surrounded by all this data. But Icarus is homesick; he is sustained on “copperwire” voice messages left for him by his family back in Kansas: Icarus’s moms (Katie Malia and Pooya Mohseni), his Uncle Ernie (Michael Chernus), and his grandparent (Keith Randolph Smith).
Icarus resolves to quit the Cloudburst T&RC and bring the pair back to Kansas. But on their last night on the job, Cass and Icarus come across a few artifacts—episodes of an old early-21st Century “podcast” called Bellwether. They begin to wonder if Bellwether might hold clues to figuring out what happened to the world—and maybe, how to save it.
Bellwether was created with support from: The 1,047 backers of the 2018 Kickstarter Campaign 🔔 The Institute for the Future 🔔 The Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University 🔔 The Shuttleworth Foundation 🔔 The Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency 🔔 The Paycheck Protection Program 🔔 The Economic Injury Disaster Loan 🔔 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance 🔔 The national eviction moratorium
Bellwether is created by Sam Greenspan, and co-written and co-directed with Alex Barron
SAM GREENSPAN is the creator of BELLWETHER, a podcast of speculative journalism. An award-winning radio reporter, producer and artist, Sam has been an active member in the public radio and podcast space for more than 15 years making radio. Sam was a founding producer at 99% Invisible, and helped transform the show from a backyard project to one of the most successful podcasts of all time. Sam also helped launch NPR’s TED Radio Hour, USA Today’s The City, Radiotopia’s Spacebridge, among others. Sam grew up in Florida and now lives in Los Angeles with their dog, Neon.
Now that this phase of Bellwether is complete, Sam is very much in need of a job.
ALEX BARRON is an audio storyteller based in New York. He is a producer on The New Yorker Radio Hour for WNYC, and has worked on projects for Audible, Parallel, Quartz and Blank Check Productions. He won a Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award for directing and designing Lucas Hnath’s NightNight. Before his time in audio, Alex worked in the literary departments of several theater companies, including Manhattan Theatre Club, MCC Theater, The Sundance Institute Theater Program, and the Playwrights Realm. He has developed new work with writers at theaters across the country.
See credits section for full rundown of contributors and collaborators.
/** CREDITS **/
Bellwether is created by Sam Greenspan.
Written and directed by Sam Greenspan and Alex Barron.
Carmen Berkeley, as Cass
Lex Ryan, as Guy Wire
Katie Malia, as S-Mom
Esau Pritchett, as the Cloudburst T&RC System Moderator
Azhar Khan, as Grant Ulysses
Michael Chernus, as Ernie
Pooya Mohseni as J-Mom
And Keith Randolph Smith, as Grandren
Casting by Kelly Gillespie
Sound design by Brendan Baker from Phenomephon, with Alex Barron and Sam Greenspan.
Production by Alex Barron, Sam Greenspan, Mara Lazer, and Jeremy Dalmas.
Editorial guidance from Claire Vaye Watkins.
Original reporting by Sam Greenspan
With reporting assistance by Jonaki Mehta, Sarah Ventre, Sam Lefebvre, and Sarah Henry
Story editing by Julia Barton and Ann Heppermann
Produced by Sam Greenspan, Jonaki Mehta, Sarah Henry, Mara Lazer, and Jeremy Dalmas
Operation support by Danielle Svetcov, Aisha Lomax, Elise Bergerson, and Austin McCann
Original score by Beau Sorenson, with additional music by Beaunoise, Lee Rosevere, Jeremy Dalmas, Alex Barron, and Peter Tran, performing as Curved Light
Graphic design by Helen Shewolfe Tseng and Nicole Jaffe. Web design by Nicole Jaffe
Jon Axtel 🔔 Bob Beard 🔔 Blair Bogin 🔔 Stuart Candy 🔔 Ann Chen 🔔 Sean Cole 🔔 Diane Collins and DC Dance 🔔 Cristal Duhaime 🔔 Isaac D’Souza 🔔 Ed Finn 🔔 Mark Frauenfelder 🔔 Steph Green 🔔 Amanda Greenspan D’Souza 🔔 Sarah Henry 🔔 Tim Hwang 🔔 Jacki Huntington 🔔 Ashleyanne Krigbaum 🔔 Warren Langford 🔔 Sasha Laundy 🔔 Megan Mantia 🔔 Taryn Mazza 🔔 Latif Nasser 🔔 Arwen Nicks 🔔 99% Invisible 🔔 Chris Noessel 🔔 ORDCamp 🔔 Eliot Peper 🔔 Monty Porter 🔔 Kaitlin Prest 🔔 Jack Rhysider 🔔 Rebecca Rufer 🔔 Mark Rutherford 🔔 Lea Rosen 🔔 Lee Rosevere 🔔 Rob Rosenthal 🔔 Elena Selk 🔔 Robert Smith 🔔 Donna Solomon 🔔 Mark Solomon 🔔 Dana Spectre 🔔 Raphael Sperry 🔔 Peggy Stierman 🔔 Molly Wright Steenson 🔔 Danielle Svetcov 🔔 The Sweat Spot Community 🔔 The Timescanner 🔔 Avery Trufelman 🔔 Merritt Tierce 🔔 UnionDocs 🔔 Jesse von Doom and the Doomlings 🔔 Dan Weissman 🔔 Western Sound 🔔 Sam Williams 🔔 Sam Woolley 🔔 Ruth Wylie 🔔 Cori Zarek 🔔 And everyone else who has believed in this project since 2017
This work was made on the ancestral homes and unceded territories of the Tongva, Ohlone, Serrano, and Cahuilla peoples.
/** CONTACT **/
sam at bellwether.show
tw & ig: @samlistens
Dana Spector, CAA
dana.spector at caa.com