Ronald Young Jr. has always been fascinated with audio production. As a kid, he and his sister would record morning announcements on their tape recorder, and he earned his radio chops during an internship at Hot 99.5. A longtime fan of NPR’s This American Life, Young eventually became interested in podcasts. He launched a laid-back chit-chatty web show in 2016 called 10 Minutes with Ronald; when the format organically grew in length and depth, it evolved into his first podcast, the aptly dubbed Time Well Spent, followed by a second focusing on his film reviews. His most recent project, out now, was producing Seizing Freedom with Virginia Public Media, a 16-episode podcast using archival firsthand accounts and experts in African-American history to create reenactments of Black Americans navigating their new lives after the Emancipation Proclamation. Here, the Alexandria resident shares why podcasts are an important storytelling device and what’s next.
Why are the stories in seizing freedom so important?
People assume that the day after Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves were free and that was that. That’s not the case. Seizing Freedom presents history from the perspective of folks who were there and were living it: what they went through to get to a place where they could make a living, how they reclaimed their families, how they started school and worship–all the things we don’t think about. It’s important to remember so we can reflect that on January 6, 2021, there was a Confederate flag at the Captiol and recognize the significance of the palpable anger of whites who don’t want to see things change or feel things have changed enough. This pushes back on that.
What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about making podcasts?
I love finishing an episode, knowing that it exists and that whether or not people loved it or hated it, they listened to it and have an opinion. What can be challenging are people who don’t understand the medium or what I do, or who can’t see this as a serious profession or one that’s profitable or sustainable.
I want to continue making great episodes and grow my listenership, and by the end of 2021, I hope to be hosting a national show-I have some irons in the fire but am waiting for something definite. In five years, I really want to be the Ryan Seacrest of podcasts, with my hands in multiple pots, hosting, producing my own stuff and partnering with others, being a high-level tastemaker of audio and podcasts. I’m an optimist and I’m persistent, and today I definitely see a pat to getting there. Oh, and I would love the opportunity to have The Rock, Denzel Washington, and Barack Obama (in that order) tell their incredible stories as a guest on one of my shows.