Since last summer, Christy Fili and Carly Bencivenga have opened up their Midtown home to travelers from around the world looking for a place to stay. They do it via the online hospitality service Couchsurfing, which is exactly what the name implies — the platform connects you with hosts who try to make you feel like you’re crashing at a friend’s place.
For Fili and Bencivenga, that means they treat you like they’ve known you forever. Even if you come from as far away as South Africa, like the group of three guys they once had who brought skateboards and needed a place to stay. Fili and Bencivenga took them to check out Big River Crossing and Earnestine & Hazel’s. They swapped stories. The guys confessed their love of the Bluff City, and it gave the hosts an idea.
Wouldn’t it be great, the hosts wondered, if they could allow other people to eavesdrop on these conversations and learn from those who are experiencing Memphis for the first time?
Which is how the Surf Memphis podcast, recorded each week at Crosstown Concourse, came to be.
Surf Memphis records at the OAM Network in Crosstown Concourse.
Fili and Bencivenga have a big map at their home with pins stuck all over it representing the couchsurfers from 18 countries they’ve hosted. The weekly podcast launched in January and features candid conversations with the pair’s temporary houseguests.
“We’ve had people come stay with us, and it’s always led to amazing conversations about kind of their perspective on our city or about traveling or places they come from,” Fili said. “And we’ve hosted people from every continent except Antarctica. We just thought — hosting all these people, how awesome would it be to put this in a podcast and let other people listen in and hear what somebody from Serbia has to say about Memphis.”
The pair of 20-something best friends, who are both Memphis transplants, say that each conversation with a Couchsurfing guest makes them fall in love with Memphis all over again. And the relationships are lasting – Fili and Bencivenga still talk to at least a third of the people they’ve hosted.
Bencivenga, from Arkansas, moved to Memphis in 2015. Fili is a New Yorker who moved to Memphis in June of 2017.
And while their podcast — part of The OAM Network of podcasts — is very much a product of their own circumstance, it can also be viewed through something of a larger prism. As a metaphor, even, for the act of podcasting.
There’s a diverse community of hosts around Memphis who sit down behind a microphone each week to tell stories and cover topics ranging from nerd culture to how to deal with grief. But they do it for reasons not unlike the one that motivated the Couchsurfer hosts — wouldn’t it be great if someone else could hear this story?
Here’s a look at a few other podcasts in Memphis hosted by storytellers worth checking out:
Richard Douglas Jones of Black Nerd Power.
Black Nerd Power Podcast
Richard Douglas Jones, one of the hosts of the Black Nerd Power Podcast, which is recorded at the Two Rivers bookstore in Cooper-Young, remembers once attending a comic book convention and seeing a group of kids who wanted to dress up as characters from Batman.
“All their costumes were great. The only thing is they were black. And so people kept coming up to them going — oh, look. It’s black Batman. And the guy was like, why can’t I just be Batman?”
It struck a nerve with Jones, who remembered encountering similar things as a kid. At the time, he thought he was an outlier. Slowly, he realized that there’s an audience, a really big audience, of nerds like him who for lots of reasons weren’t being addressed or catered to. “That’s when I decided to do what I do with the podcast,” said Jones, who also hosts it with Markus Seaberry and Ms. Kimber.
Katee Forbis of Motivated AF with Katee Forbis
Motivated AF With Katee Forbis
Katee Forbis likes to describe the content of her podcast “Motivated AF With Katee Forbis” - the “AF” being an acronym for, yes, that — as punk rock positivity.
She started it in the fall as a way to inspire and motivate people, but not the fist-pumping, rah-rah sappy kind. Forbis lost both of her parents in the last two years, and she wanted to see how what she learned from that experience could help people dealing with grief or just going through a hard time. She records her podcast at home.
“I have guests on and I kind of — I tend to like stories where instead of it being all success, I appreciate the people who can talk about their failures or missteps and things. Because I feel like people are motivated and inspired by that, just as much as they are success. So I’ve been having people on, and they come and talk about things they did or how long it’s taken them to get somewhere. Just kind of reminding everybody we’re all the same that way.”
Stinson Liles of Southern Hollows
To Stinson Liles, one of the owners of the advertising agency Red Deluxe, podcasting is a hobby that scratches an itch the same way building ships in a bottle does for other people.
The simplest description of his “Southern Hollows” podcast is that it’s a history podcast, a vehicle for stories that especially explore darker themes and episodes from the past. The podcast’s own subhead of sorts is “A podcast of erstwhile unpleasantness.”
To get a sense of what it explores, one episode took a look at how a small town in Louisiana became a battlefield again years after the Civil War ended. It was on Easter Sunday in 1873, when the residents of Colfax, Louisiana, went to war with each other during the heat and violence of the Reconstruction years.
“You just come across fascinating things that people never really knew existed, and then they do seem sometimes emblematic of a broader thing that was going on in history that’s relevant for us to revisit," he said. "I love podcasts. I love listening to them. It’s been such a great phenomenon in the past couple years. It’s media that’s easy to consume when you’re driving or working out, and it doesn’t interfere with your life as much," added Liles.
“There’s so much written content out there, I think there’s an opportunity to really engage with people with that added element of audio. I think people want to engage their mind with something that’s not the inundation of current events. I like podcasts that offer that kind of departure. Sometimes you’ve just had enough.”
Beale Street Caravan
Pat Mitchell Worley is a co-host of Beale Street Caravan, a podcast version of the globally syndicated radio show of the same name that started out focused on the blues.
It’s evolved in recent years into more of a roots music-focused show. Each week the show, which attracts more than 3 million listeners, brings Memphis sounds to public radio audiences as well as those who download the podcast version — sounds that cover blues, soul, folk and rock ‘n’ roll. Folks are recorded while performing live for the broadcast at the show's Downtown studio, located at 49 Union Avenue.
Mitchell co-hosts the show with Kevin Cubbins.
“Over the years as we became our own entity, we had an identity that was uniquely Memphis ... so we do more to showcase the Memphis acts than we did at the beginning of the show," Cubbins said. "I say we’re more of a roots music show now than a straight blues show. And we’ve seen the number of stations in the U.S. go up since we started focusing more on Memphis and what’s going on in Memphis.”