Podcast: Monster Talk www.skeptic.com/podcasts/ monstertalk/
Host: Blake Smith, Karen Stollznow, Ben Radford (early episodes only) Episodes Count: 140 Format: Interview, Discussion Established: July 2009 Frequency: Fortnightly Topics: Cryptozoology
It may sound like a podcast aimed at monster movie fans (for that you need to turn to Monster Attack or Monster Kid Radio), but Monster Talk is in fact a podcast focusing on cryptozoology, the weird world of obscure creatures and monsters from folklore. The first episode, almost a decade ago, launched with a discussion of Bigfoot, covering the history, evidence, and exploits of Bigfoot hunters – all from a sceptical perspective. Initially a spin-off of the Monster Science website, the podcast is now under the auspices of Skeptic
Magazine and is hosted by the entertaining duo of Blake Smith and Dr Karen Stollznow. The podcast aims to interview scientists and investigators who have focused on cryptozoological and legendary creatures, taking in favourites like the Loch Ness Monster, lake creatures, werewolves (in the context of Darwin and evolution), ‘el Chupacabra’, aliens, and Pterosaurs.
A full text transcript on the website accompanies each episode (a treasure trove for researchers) and a set of notes offer follow-up opportunities, linking to websites, news stories, and other resources concerning the specific topic of each episode. Monster Talk was a winner of the 2012 Parsec Award for Best ‘Fact Behind the Fiction’ Podcast, the show’s third nomination in the category. The show has also been nominated for the 2013 Ockham Award for ‘outstanding skeptical achievement’.
The sound quality on the early 2009 episodes is variable at first, but the team behind the podcast have learned through experience, and it is now a polished presentation, often led by some introductory chat followed by an in-depth interview with someone who is an expert on the show’s topic. Recent contributors have included psychologist Ray Hyman on the US government ‘psychic soldiers’ programme, Guy Lion Playfair on the Enfield Poltergeist, folklorist Mark Norman on the phenomenon of ‘black hounds’, Joe Gisondi on Bigfoot hunter culture (a recurring topic for Monster Talk), and researcher Sharon Hill on the ‘stone tape’ theory.
As this suggests, Monster Talk has extended its remit beyond cryptozoology to take on all kinds of forteana. The first years of the podcast (140 episodes are freely available to download) did honour the focus suggested by the title, but, as the hosts discovered, there is only so much that can be said about the key topics of cryptozoology. There are always new discoveries to cover and new experts to interview, but when you’ve debunked the core subjects, it makes sense to cast your net wider.
As you’d expect, given its ‘skeptical’ stance, Monster Talk takes a solidly scientific view of the world of cryptozoology. The very first episode on Bigfoot (and ‘relatives’, like the Orang Pendek and the Yowie) presents a lengthy interview with Professor Todd Disotell, who recounts his extensive study of supposed Bigfoot ‘samples’– be it biological residue, fur, blood, or whatever – none of which have proved to be conclusive enough to show that Bigfoot is real. The question of evidence often comes up in Monster Talk discussions – why is the material always so ropey, the photos always out of focus (despite the proliferation of modern camera phones), and the eyewitness reports so inconsistent? All of this and more is tackled from an essentially scientific viewpoint, making Monster Talk a nice antidote to all those wild-andwoolly-creature and weird world podcasts out there.
Other subjects covered over the years include the beast of Boggy Creek, sea serpents, sleep paralysis, the legends of Atlantis, Satanic panics, vampires, demonicallypossessed cats (!), and the modern folkloric figure of Slenderman – a positive feast for those of a fortean bent.
And if you are interested in monster movies, try episode 124 (from March 2017) titled ‘Crush, Crumble, and Chomp!’ in which the team interview Ed Godziszewski, author of a book on Kaiju, those giant Japanese movie monsters who love to spend their time trampling on urban centres.
Strengths: In-depth, scientifically driven discussion and interviews of true value.
Weaknesses: Monster Talk, while having a sense of humour, can be a bit po-faced and occasionally dry. Recommended Episodes: Ep19: Cthulhu Rises (focusing on the monsters of HP Lovecraft’s fiction); Ep25: The Rise of Bat Boy (a Weekly
World News favourite); Ep49: Internet Video Hoaxes (inside the world of hoaxers); Ep60: Sasquatch: Ketchum If You Can (Dr Disotell returns to debunk more Bigfoot nonsense); Ep110: Tell Me Strange Things (on the mysterious life of Montague Summers).
Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable, serious-minded take on the wide, weird world of cryptozoology and far beyond. Recommended.