He launched a local music podcast long before Ira Glass made the medium mainstream. He played (primarily) guitar in Timmy and the Sinister Clan, a “circus-y rock band” that came up with seven original songs and played exactly two shows, Graham says. Neither brought him popularity or prosperity, but his passion-based pursuits put him on a path that would lead him in that direction.
Serendipity and unspecific preparation proved pivotal to Graham’s current success as the host of the hit podcast “American History Tellers.” Perhaps it arose with Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” wherein a cast of celebrities reenacts historical events while an inebriated guest-star narrates. Or Lin Manuel-Miranda’s transformation of Alexander Hamilton into a sharp-witted, swaggering, rapper, singer bad-boy romantic.
Whatever the root, history went hip.
“I hadn’t thought about the history-as-being-trendy angle,” Graham says. But he was aware of a societal shift: “The acceptance of nerd culture.”
He clarifies, “You can be as geeky as you want today. People have license to publicly show enthusiasm for history” … or science or other topics once reserved for dudes who sat alone at lunch.
Then there was the great podcast craze of 2014. It happened after Graham graduated from the University of Mary Washington in history-rich Fredericksburg, Va. The town fueled his fascination with American lore.
Graham’s post-grad audio company operated in an East Dallas carriage house; it brought in work from Wondery, a podcast network started in 2016, backed by 20th Century Fox, which creates some of the most buzz-building shows in the biz.
But this was before Wondery became the “prominent podcast producers,” as USA Today puts it. Eventually, the Wondrey crew invited Graham and his warm baritone voice to narrate “American History Tellers.” He also would compose the score, a plus. He recognized the most successful podcasts “possessed a certain musicality,” he says.
And pacing — that’s vital, he adds.
Finally! An opportunity to combine his foremost obsessions and skills—“I grabbed it,” Graham says.
The result is a series Graham dubs “pop history, rooted in entertainment.”
The series’ stupendous reception is a testament to powerful storytelling.
“Imagine it’s May, 1754 …,” “Imagine you’re a tavern keeper in the English settlement of Liverpool in year 1776 …,” “Imagine it’s 1794. You’re a Scottish immigrant …” This is Graham’s trademark intro. What follows is a look back at critical events, eras, and people that shaped the United States, delivered by your coolest-ever professor. His faith that we still can learn from our past is infectious.
Graham and his relatively small team of researchers, writers, editors turn lessons about the Cold War, the space race, prohibition and Andrew Jackson into dramas with complex characters and binge-worthy plots. Storytelling without imagery can be challenging, “It turned out amazing,” he says. It’s a six-part series.
He lives in Dallas with wife Libby and their 3-year-old daughter and still works in that rudimentary studio. He has no plans on moving to LA for superstardom, he says, though he did fly there once to meet the Wondery team — “that was a great experience,” he says. It upped everyone’s motivation.
In fact, a new podcast called “American Scandal” is on the horizon. “The format is similar [to AHT], but we dive deeper into scandalous, salacious events,” Graham says. Think steroids corruption, Eliot Spitzer, Iran Contra.
Graham is just happy he kept doing things he loved because it led him here.
“I got in early,” he says. “It’s been a ride.”
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