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Exclusive: Makers of ‘HowStuffWorks’ Debut Podcast About U.S. Political Divide

Mar 15, 2017

The minds behind the popular podcast brand HowStuffWorks have a new season dedicated to the elephant in the room that is United States right now: a deeply divided nation.

The Stuff of Life comes back today for its second season with 10 new, nonfiction episodes weaving together political and personal experiences to put a pulse on the current disconnect felt by Americans nationwide right now.

"[The Stuff of Life] is taking the idea of the disconnect in this country and taking the most constructive and immediate action it can—talking about it," says Julie Douglas, an editor and writer at HowStuffWorks.com and the host of The Stuff of Life. "By discussing how and why we are in this divided place, TSOL hopes to create a sense of empathy as well as a safe forum for listeners to relate to one another on the most integral level. Just maybe we can find some common ground."

Fortune had an exclusive first listen of the second season's first episode, titled "Broken" and set in Washington D.C. for President Donald Trump's Inauguration Day on January 20, 2017 and then the Women's March the following day.

But this 18-minute chapter isn't just a bunch of talking heads and wonks debating. Douglas immediately brings the listener back to when she was 36 weeks pregnant and had to have an emergency c-section because the umbilical cord was strangling her daughter.

"It was like being inside of a nightmare you couldn't wake from," Douglas says in the opening seconds. She continues a minute later:

Since then I have come to understand we are all broken in one way or another, and that most human-made things are, too. Our ideas are broken. Our systems are broken. Our governments. And in this way, the personal is the political.

Douglas then brings the listener to the streets of D.C. with helicopters circling audibly, speaking with supporters and dissenters of the new administration while just blocks from the White House.

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HowStuffWorks produces nearly a dozen other podcasts, including Stuff You Should Know (exploring and sometimes debunking urban legends and myths) and Stuff You Missed in History Class (hundreds of episodes honing in on lesser known individual events from shipwrecks to a lost ski party in 1950s Russia).

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As the only season-based podcast in the HowStuffWorks catalog, the first season of The Stuff of Life, which debuted in early 2016, examined a new question each episode, such as "Why do we develop attachments to inanimate objects" or even "How do we deal with the fear of the death?"

The second season is following a similar pattern in going for a themes-based approach, tailoring episodes to emotions such as hate and anger, nostalgia, and empathy. But in tune with the quirky nature of HowStuffWorks, there will be some unusual excerpts—even an episode for which the show's producers interviewed a man who lived like a goat for a year.

The Stuff of Life stands out from other HowStuffWorks programs in another way as well. The podcast is looking to the medium's roots in radio by bringing back a call-in line so listeners can share their stories with Douglas. A call-in number will have a voicemail for listeners to record their thoughts and stories as they relate to previous episodes, which will be turned into audiograms and live on The Stuff of Life social channels.

The first episode will be published on Wednesday afternoon. All HowStuffWorks podcasts are available via iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and howstuffworks.com

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