10 Reasons to Listen to Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and produced by Commonplace Books. Each 20-30 minute long episode is narrated almost entirely by Cecil Baldwin and takes the form of “a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.”

Often sinister, frequently funny, always brilliant and utterly unique; here are ten reasons why you should “turn on your radio and hide”:

10. Atmosphere

The overall tone of the podcast is arguably its most distinctive element. Comparisons have been drawn between Welcome to Night Vale and H.P. Lovecraft, Lemony Snicket, David Lynch, and The Twilight Zone but, although similarities can be identified, no comparison comprehensively fits. Welcome to Night Vale is clever, comical, creepy, philosophical, adorable, gripping, theatrical, romantic, chilling, horrific, hilarious, minimalistic, soothing, reassuring, eccentric, and insightful – often all at the same time – and despite frequently being described as something-meets-something, is completely innovative and utterly unique. There is no single film, book, game, TV or radio show, let alone a podcast, that comes close to what Welcome to Night Vale achieves in atmosphere alone.

9. Twitter

Welcome to Night Vale’s style of dark, witty humour is perfectly suited to Twitter’s 140 character limit, and @NightValeRadio currently has over 20,000 followers. The tweets range from puzzling to downright disturbing, curious to giggle-inducing, and are very similar in style and tone to “Today’s Proverb”, a feature of the end of every podcast episode (“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A basilisk”, “Does the carpet match the drapes? No, it doesn’t. You’re the worst interior decorator. Please leave my home”, “If you love someone, set them free. Set them free now. This is the police, and we have you surrounded”). Each tweet is like a tiny snippet of the podcast itself and the account features such gems as these:

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8. Fanart

Welcome to Night Vale’s fan following has always been enthusiastic, creative, and devoted, but a recent surge in popularity spreading across Tumblr has resulted in a bright new Welcome to Night Vale fandom appearing.

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Cecil, Carlos, an angel, a Hooded Figure, a feral dog, and You, by Tumblr user starlock. Click here for full view.

The outpouring of recent fanart is incredible. Despite having no visual aids from the podcast itself, there is a surprising alignment in visions of what Cecil Baldwin and his love interest, Carlos the scientist, look like. Cecil is frequently white (although there are some excellent depictions of him as a person of colour) and blonde, wears glasses, a shirt and tie (many artists’ view of his attire shifted slightly with the revelation in episode 27 that he wears a “tunic and furry pants” on a first date), and often has kinetic tattoos and a third eye in the middle of his forehead. Carlos is dark-skinned, as stated by Cecil in episode 16, wears a labcoat or a plaid shirt, and his infamously “perfect hair” is generally intact following his run-in with “the barbarous barber Telly” in episode 3.

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A section of the map of Night Vale created by Tumblr user cryingmanlytears. Click here for full view.

However, the fanart is not just limited to depictions of Cecil and Carlos. Work featuring recurring secondary characters such as Old Woman Josie and her angels, the Hooded Figures who lurk in the dog park (“Dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. Do not approach the dog park. The dog park will not harm you”), and Khoshekh the cat, who hovers in a fixed location above the sink in the men’s bathroom at the radio station is also prevalent. One artist has even drawn up a detailed map of what the town of Night Vale could look like, using only references made in the podcast.

7. Music

Music is a key feature of each Welcome to Night Vale episode. Disparition provides original instrumental music for both the theme tune and background music played in some sections of the podcast, which can be downloaded for free from their website. The theme tune, which starts during Cecil’s introductory “Welcome to Night Vale”, is suitably sinister, and the background music is remarkable for its fluidity. Whether Cecil is poetically discussing the void of the universe or cheerfully relaying a message from the radio show’s sponsors about how “the earth is eventually going to be swallowed by the sun”, the background music aptly enhances the atmosphere of the show without ever becoming intrusive.

Indie musicians are also regularly featured on Welcome to Night Vale. Towards the end of each episode, Cecil announces “The Weather” but, instead of the expected weather forecast, a song such as A Little Irony by Tom Milsom or Those Days Are Gone And My Heart Is Breaking by Barton Carroll plays. These songs, aside from being great music in and of themselves, contribute somewhat towards the narrative of the podcast; they always fit with the tone of the episode, often right down to seguing out of the previous spoken segment, and create a sense of familiarity in their regular appearance in amongst a story world full of the strange and unfamiliar, in which even Cecil’s voice is not a guaranteed constant (see episodes 19a and 19b).

6. Recurring Characters

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Khoshekh by tumblr user queenhannibal. Click here for full view.

The recurring characters of Welcome to Night Vale are perhaps even more intriguing than Cecil himself. Occasionally, another character’s voice is featured on the show, such as when Cecil plays a series of voicemails from Carlos in episode 16, or the Faceless Old Woman who lives in your home releases a series of statements in episode 26. Often, Cecil will quote directly from another character but, aside from these occurrences, the listener’s only experience of the other citizens of Night Vale is through Cecil’s reports of their actions. Through these, we learn that many of them have supernatural tendencies that Cecil so far seems not to possess.

There’s Old Woman Josie out near the car lot and the angels who change her porch light (she offers “to sell the old light bulb, which has been touched by an angel”). There are the interns at the radio station, all of whom die or disappear at some point. There’s Mayor Winchell and her impromptu press conferences, which often involve her “pounding the podium with her bleeding fists” or “vibrating slightly and staring at the sun for five straight minutes”. There’s Hiram McDaniels, a fugitive who “has previously announced interest in becoming mayor of Night Vale and is a thirty-six hundred pound five-headed dragon”.

The less supernatural-orientated characters are no less entertaining. Big Rico and his pizza place are mentioned in many episodes, Cecil’s vehement dislike of Steve Carlsberg results in occasional outbursts of “you don’t do anything except bring unacceptably dry scones to PTA meetings. Get it together, Steve”, and fifty-year-old Jeremy Godfrey is understandably upset when “the sound of chanting and machinery from under the pin retrieval area of lane five” at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex interrupt his birthday party.

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Article covers: Literature

Article by: A

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I am a contributing writer for The Artifice.

64 Comments

  1. Discovered Night Vale by a good friend and have listened to episode 1 so far. Awesome haha Looking over my shoulder now. Paranoia has kicked in and is staying.

  2. I can see how passionate you are about this show, almost like my daughter. She returned recently from the US and has been raving about this show like she has been possessed!

    • Thank you! Possessed is definitely an appropriate word choice!

  3. First time I hear about this podcast. I had a few minutes to spare so listened to the first episode and I’m very intrigued. Enough to proceed with the second episode. I have the problem to get obsessed with things that I follow monthly… why do I have a feeling that this will be one of these things.

  4. Oh nice! I love creative podcasts. I’m sold. I’m going to download the first few episodes and listen to them on the train tomorrow. Cheers!

  5. Jon Lisi

    You make a strong case for this podcast, I’ll have to check it out. I also like how you’re still calling this literature even though it’s a podcast. Some might disagree but I think we need to expand our ideas of what mediums are in this age to account for creations like this.

    • I definitely agree. I think literature is the closest category WTNV fits into outside aural mediums like radio show/podcast; the narrative element of it is so strong that it is often just like listening to the audiobook of a novel. I hope you enjoy it!

  6. Claire Macallister

    I’ve been muddling over whether or not to listen to Welcome to Night Vale and this article has been the deciding factor. You’ve got a great authorial tone.

    • Thank you so much! Very glad to have persuaded you – hope you enjoy it.

  7. Jessica Koroll

    It’s amazing how quickly the fan community for this has grown and seemingly come out of no where. I’m very intrigued by how well this show seems to have proven that even the well worn practice of oral story telling can still enthuse audiences today. I’m really looking forward to jumping in and giving it a listen. Your breakdown of it was really exciting to read!

    • Thank you! It’s absolutely incredible. I hope you enjoy it.

  8. Lua

    Amelia,
    I read your article last night and prior to this had not even heard of NightVale. I’m on episode six already. Great article – your description of the atmosphere of NightVale is spot on. I have really never come across anything like it! Look forward to reading more of your work.

  9. Katherine Kingsle

    I’ve been hearing about NightVale a lot recently. Usually I can’t really deal with podcasts because I need to be visually occupied, because I have the attention span of a goldfish. But I think your article may have convinced me.

    • I’m exactly the same! I find listening to it on the train is a great way to do it.

  10. I’ve seen this pop up on Twitter and Tumblr a lot recently but never really paid much attention. Now you had me at ‘comparison to H.P. Lovecraft.’

    • I hope it’s a fair comparison and that you enjoy it!

    • Lovecraft’s name was what brought me in, too. The creators of Nightvale also have a book out on Lovecraft’s unused story ideas, so they’re clearly fans. And there’s some stuff in the podcast that Lovecraft would’ve loved.

      • Good to hear. The book is being reprinted and isn’t available until September 2013, but the Kindle version is available through the Commonplace Books website and I think fans of Night Vale would definitely enjoy it, whether they’ve read any of Lovecraft’s other work or not.

  11. Am English and I found Welcome to Night Vale by accident and am hooked. I’m staring at the moon, howling and waiting for the next episode! I wonder if it’s the same moon?

    • With the introductions of the doubles, we just don’t know! Glad you’re enjoying it.

  12. I got SO hooked to this podcast, I am now on the 24th episode, been listening to it since a week and a half now, prolly. Welcome To Night Vale is just the most disturbingly enchanting “radio show” I’ve ever listened to. Cecil and his obsession with Carlos.. the dog park.. the feral dogs.. the hovering Khoshekh.. the hooded figures.. the void.. just beautiful.

    p.s: not the real old woman josie – Mahrosh I.

  13. I can confirm every one of these points made as I am an advid listener and have recent finished the podcast and caught up to the most current episode thanks to the encouragement of this article.

  14. I recently found this podcast and got hooked pretty quickly. Sad there are not more episodes, as I’ve listened to all of them multiple times already. Guess I’ll have to be patient. I hate that.

    • I’m just the same, but I also think that there’s an incredible amount of work there of an exceptionally high quality, considering the podcast was only created just over a year ago. Hopefully the two weeks between new episodes will fly by.

  15. Addictive like crack. One of the best podcasts of this year!

  16. Thank you very much for this. I just started Night Vale recently and I’m already on episode 23, and have had the embarrassing and delightful experience of bursting into laughter in the middle of a bookstore the time Cecil described traffic: “Mmhmm. Ah. Oh! Slow down man, this isn’t a race. At least, not a literal one… And that was traffic!”

    And my mother catching me smiling so wide it was scary was also quite telling.

    It’s great. It’s something to listen to as I work on more regular tasks, and it’s perfect for when I’m doing things that don’t require words, like chores, or drawing, or organizing. Wonderful. Sorry for blabbing, but it’s really great how much attention this is getting.

    • I agree; it’s so deserved. And it’s so great to hear people’s reactions to it. Thank you!

  17. You know, ever since you wrote about this podcast, their audience has blossomed tremendously! Their Facebook page went from 4000 likes to almost 30,000 likes. Good job.

    • Haha! I think that has more to do with tumblr than it does this article, but it’s really great to see it getting so much attention all of a sudden.

  18. Got to agree with this whole list. A good friend recommended Welcome to Night Vale to me about six weeks ago, while out at an awesome queer-geared venue. I’ve been hooked since I downloaded the first episode the very next day. Looking forward to donating some when my scholarship comes through. xo Love from Melbourne, Australia.

  19. This show is perfect and beautiful and I fell in love with it instantly. ;)

  20. My friend (who loves the show as well) described welcome to night vale as “a gay love story on the radio with a dictating glow cloud and music for the weather.” Since that I have used that to explain it to everybody who has not been fortunate enough to here Cecil’s enchanting yet often scary voice calming you down. And although my town has a dog park, I avoid it. I avoid it and do not think about it.

    But when it comes down to it really, there’s a bit of Night Vale in every town. Except Desert Bluffs.

    • I really love how Cecil and Carlos’s relationship is written. In a No Boundaries interview, Cecil Baldwin said that “Being gay is not a plot point. It’s not a.. token that you can, that look we have a gay character, isn’t that great, aren’t we awesome? It’s part of a person and therefore, should be treated as such. It should be one facet of a character, rather than the defining description of that character. And I hope that we have, through the writing and performance of it we have kind of, struck that balance where it is, the audience learns something more about Cecil and Carlos both. Not dependent upon their sexuality, but in addition to their sexuality.” which I think is an absolutely fantastic way to treat it and part of what makes the podcast so great.

  21. Love this show. I started to listen when hearing about it on Ursula Vernon’s podcast. It’s pretty terrific, and I”m looking forward to hearing more. By the way, how do you spell Stekscorp (sp?).

    • Great to hear you’re enjoying it! StrexCorp seems to be the general consensus.

  22. The character Cecil’s last name isn’t Baldwin, that’s the voice actor. The character’s last name is Palmer.

    • This article was written and published three months before that information was revealed in the podcast.

      • Oh, right. Sorry.

  23. The best way I can describe Nightvale is “NPR in a Lovecraft novel”

    • It’s really interesting how the creators of the show have expressed a dislike for Lovecraft, but so many comparisons can and have been drawn – there might be another article there!

      • Have they really expressed a dislike? I didn’t know that. It seems odd, considering that Joseph Fink, creator of WTNV, wrote a book called “A commonplace book of the weird” which focuses on HP Lovecraft..

        • From their interview with brainwashed, which you can read in full online:

          “Joseph: This is going to put off some of our fans, but I actually hate Lovecraft, both personally and for his writing. I don’t think anyone can deny that he was a shitty person. His whole “cosmic horror” thing mainly came out of his intense racism. And I think that, on a prose level, he was also a deeply shitty writer. I mean his stuff his almost unreadable for me.

          That said, I think he was brilliant on an idea level, and that’s definitely where we connect with him. Our Lovecraft book, for me, is a way of leaving behind all vestiges of his writing, including the stupid names of his gods, while keeping the brilliance of his unnerving ideas and images.

          Night Vale is often called Lovecraftian, but we never consciously chose to make it that way. I just think Lovecraft, awful writer that he was, has had such an impact on modern horror and science fiction that it’s impossible to work in that field without using some of the ideas he generated. Which kind of annoys me, but I respect the old racist bastard all the same.

          Jeffrey: Neither Joseph nor I have ever named our pet a racial epithet.”

  24. I was meaning to listen to Night Vale for ages and now you totally convinced me – thanks :D

  25. Lois Zoppi

    It’s so nice to have an article that puts into words what I couldn’t about this mad show! Trying to explain it to someone is almost impossible…

  26. I’ve just started listening to Night Vale and I completely agree! The fandom that surrounds it certainly adds to the enjoyment- I’ve been particularly impressed by the insistence in fanart to retain Carlos’ skin-colour, as it happens all too often that characters of colour are white-washed into oblivion. I agree as well about the atmosphere the podcast’s sound effects, narrator, and music evoke, it’s brilliant. And it has a very ‘Lemony Snicket vibe’ to it, if you think about it, with its black humour.

    • Very true. I also think the way the creators have re-cast Carlos’s voice actor is absolutely commendable (the interview with Dylan Marron over on popmythology is really great).

  27. Hi, ld just like to say your article describes Welcome to Night Vale perfectly :) Its such a weirdly compelling, diverse show. One thing, however, was that you stated both the character and actor are named Cecil Baldwin. This is incorrect. The character Cecil’s name is actually Cecil Gershwin Palmer. The show writers did try to make the distinction in a few podcasts that Cecil the actor is not Cecil the character, it is still a common mistake though. Other than this small detail, I thought your article was great and is certain to convince people to listen and enjoy the uniqueness that is Welcome to Night Vale

    • Thank you very much! I know – someone else has previously pointed this out in the comments. This article was actually written and published three months before the character/voice actor name distinction was made public, and there are likely to be other small inaccuracies like this one in the article as the Night Vale world is expanded upon in the podcast. Glad you’re enjoying it!

  28. I see WTNV things all over tumblr, and it both makes me want to, and extremely NOT want to listen to it. There’s too much Nightvale on my dash. But I do like your points, writing, and explanation as to why you like it. So maybe I’ll have to give it a chance.

    • Thank you – I hope you enjoy it if you do!

  29. Peek 824545301

    I laughed when I saw Cecil’s voice as the top spot, but it is difficult to disagree with you. Very cool list and it was fun to reflect on how much I love WTNV and why. You’ve done a great job at making the podcast seem interesting and crucial to first time readers.

    • Thank you! Hope you enjoyed the new episode yesterday!

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