More than a few podcasts originate as live shows before being adapted for the Internet. Some are produced live, then digitized into podcast format. Others start live, then move into a studio where they are produced as episodic podcasts.

You may know about The Moth, a live audience, stand-up, notes-free, true personal story-telling program featuring everyday folks, sometimes celebrities, whose tales are worth sharing. The Moth was born in the Deep South, on a screened-in patio (hence the moths), where friends would gather to exchange stories and entertain each other.

It morphed into a staged production, became a hot ticket in New York, then begat the very popular public radio show, The Moth Radio Hour (KPCC and KCRW both broadcast it), which in turn gave rise to staged Moth competitions in cities nationwide, that are edited and packaged as both broadcasts and podcasts.

Stories range from the heartfelt to the harrowing, the hilarious to the heartbreaking, and everything in between. A Mormon virgin finally has sex. A black man on the Brooklyn Bridge is arrested because a cop can’t believe he’s babysitting his white girlfriend’s son, who’s with him. The unbearably gut-wrenching experience of a nuclear engineer inside the Fukushima power plant when that massive earthquake struck, who needs to find his family.

Moth “story slams” take place in partnership with public radio stations across the country, so as long as there are people willing to stand up and share their stories, there will be plenty of Moth podcast episodes to come.



Would you consider reading your teenage or junior high school diary onstage? Mortified is another event that evolved from live stage to podcast to book to streaming TV (Netflix), and continues to be off-the-charts funny. Sometimes celebrities share their innermost embarrassing moments, too.

Picture yourself reading aloud excerpts from the 53-page porn script you wrote – before you had any idea of how sex worked or how to spell the essential bodily parts (pinus and vaginia). Or imagine being a young Orthodox Jew, from a strictly religious family, whose own father performed his circumcision, who decides he wants to start breaking the rules that restrict him. After declaring he believes in Satan, he dares to swim nude at summer camp. The rest is…hilarious. And, if you grew up watching Home Improvement, you might appreciate the depth of passion that a chubby teen girl feels for “J.T.T.” (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), the actor who played Randy, the son…and what happens when she has a chance to meet him.

Bravo to these brave souls who expose themselves—emotionally!—in public.



Here’s another show that started onstage, became popular as a podcast and then inspired publication of a book. Risk! was created by Kevin Allison, of the MTV sketch comedy troupe The State, and takes place onstage monthly in LA and New York. The producers describe it as a forum “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.”

They’re racy, intensely personal, often hilarious, sometimes touching, frequently sexual in nature; and occasionally celebrities stop by to show a side of themselves never revealed in public, such as Sarah Silverman, Lili Taylor, Marc Maron (a podcasting legend who works out of his garage, where he once interviewed President Obama) and New Yorker humorist, Andy Borowitz.

Risk! is downloaded 2 million times a month, and if you don’t want to listen to an hour-long complete podcast, just click on the favorite stories link here: to get a taste of what’s in store.



Several friends recommended Lore to me. This is an unusually successful, one-voice narrated podcast about the origins of folklore and “the dark side,” and it can be a little creepy, a little scary and “ewwww-inducing,” but always fascinating.

I usually appreciate production values: audio clips, ambient sound, mixed with good writing and solid narration. But Lore is a unique topic and continues to hold my attention, even though it’s just narrator/writer/producer Aaron Mahnke speaking, with some atmospheric music behind him.

Here you’ll learn where “saved by the bell” came from: coffins that had “alarms” in them in case the buried person really wasn’t dead. Being buried alive, apparently, was less rare than you’d think, in a time when verifying death was more art than science.

We hear how the vampire myth came into being, inspired by deaths from consumption, where bodies were exhumed and tested for sufficient “putrefaction” to assure they were dead, and if any sign of uncoagulated blood remained in the heart, it was taken out and burned to destroy the “demon” of disease that was believed to be haunting and killing the living. Drinking the ashes in a tonic was supposed to prevent people from getting tuberculosis…but of course, it was just folklore.

It’s history, mixed with the macabre, and really engaging. Mahnke’s got a great grip on the facts, writes well, reads well, is easy to listen to, and has created a very popular podcast.

Six episodes of Lore have been turned into Amazon Prime TV by executive producers of The Walking Dead and The X-Files. I first listened to “They Made a Tonic,” then watched the episode, which is tricky … what you see in your head, turned into visuals, can sometimes disappoint – but not in this case.

This is really good stuff.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.