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:






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.

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.

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

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.

5. The Supernatural

nightvalelogo-web4It is perhaps the way in which the supernatural leaks almost imperceptivity into the realistic, until lines are blurred to the point of being indistinguishable, that makes Welcome to Night Vale so gripping. In the town of Night Vale, memories can vanish with no subsequent alarm, the sky can be described as “turquoise”, “taupe”, “robin’s egg”, “turquoise-taupe”, “coal dust”, “coal dust with chances of indigo in the late afternoon”, and simply “void”, and the community calendar can feature updates like “Saturday: the public library will be unknowable”, “Monday will not harm you”, and “Wednesday has been cancelled due to a scheduling error”.

The sinister side of the supernatural activities prevalent in the town of Night Vale becomes truly apparent in episode 16, when Carlos’s voice is heard through voicemails he has left Cecil. As he describes “a man in a jacket holding a leather suitcase outside [his] door […] just standing in front of [his] door”, Carlos sounds clearly panicked, but Cecil, who was born and raised in Night Vale, is completely unperturbed. It is the first time since beginning to listen themselves that listeners are alerted to the fact that Night Vale is an arbitrarily and indiscriminately dangerous place to be. It may be charming, but it is certainly also terrible. In the safety provided by its fictionality, terrible is alluring.

4. Cleverness

In amongst all the humour, there is a delightful level of intelligence and insight to be found in Welcome to Night Vale. It takes great skill just to turn phrases the way Fink and Cranor do, and then to also keep an audience, many of whom didn’t grow up listening to the radio, not only interested but also entertained and often downright hooked without any kind of visual aid, with just one man’s voice and an engaging narrative, signifies remarkable talent. Welcome to Night Vale often has the feel of an audiobook of a novel because of this.

The podcast is often intriguingly metafictional: the character of Cecil Baldwin is actually voiced by an actor called Cecil Baldwin, there is an entire episode spoken in second person (titled A Story About You), and the listener is situated as a citizen of Night Vale themselves, allowing for full immersion in the often jarringly bizarre story world.

Welcome to Night Vale is also surprisingly philosophical at times. There are blunt discussions of immortality (“We all want to live forever, right? Wrong”), poignant statements about love (“Night Vale, my sweet and only Night Vale, may you find love. May you find it wherever it’s been hidden. May you find who’s been hiding it and exact revenge upon them”), and eloquent speeches about the insignificance of humanity (“A tiny flurry of human activity against the impeccable backdrop of stars and void”).

3. Humour

Welcome to Night Vale, for all its dark charm, is also startlingly funny. Even the most sinister of events are somehow comical when relayed by Cecil, often simply because of their surrealism or because of his tone of voice. There is also humour to be found in Cecil himself, such as in his unreasonable anger at Telly the barber, just because he cut Carlos’s “perfect hair”, or in his endearingly overwhelming crush on the scientist, which Cecil often discusses at length instead of reporting the news, much to the anger of Station Management (who “stays inside their office at all times, only communicating […] through sealed envelopes that are spat out from under the door like a sunflower shell through teeth”).

There is also something funny about the sheer transparency of the dictatorship government ruling Night Vale. Cecil’s statements about the government are somewhat a parody of authority; authority figures are rendered downright ridiculous through what Cecil relays of their behaviour (“our backwards court system will uphold any old authoritarian rule made up on the fly by unsupervised, gun-carrying thugs of a shadow government”) and through how Cecil relays their behaviour (“The sheriff’s secret police then ethically kettled the pool of reporters, gently coercing them with pepper spray. Most were taken away peacefully, in handcuffs and black hoods”). Even the way in which some authority figures are identified, such as the “government agents from a vague yet menacing agency”, is funny in an absurd sort of way. Authority in Night Vale is ultimately represented as being downright ridiculous through the way in which it is rendered utterly useless in a town where the supernatural prevails.

2. Representation

Welcome to Night Vale is fantastic in terms of diverse representation in the characters of Cecil and Carlos alone. Carlos is a person of colour, and Cecil and Carlos are a canonically gay couple. Furthermore, their relationship is portrayed in a healthy way – Cecil’s crush on Carlos is one of the only normalities in a town full of the unimaginably surreal – and Cecil is able to speak openly on public radio about their steadily growing relationship. Science fiction so often creates alternate universes in which anything and everything is possible – except the non-existence of homophobia, and it is so refreshing for a work of fiction to finally, truly imagine a society in which homophobia seemingly and simply does not exist. In Night Vale, everyone is in danger.

On top of this, Welcome to Night Vale also dismantles cultural appropriation within the first ten minutes of the first episode (a white man who “wears an Indian headdress out of some racist cartoon” isn’t taken seriously and is later frequently called a “jerk” because of his cultural appropriation), and does not always conform to the gender binary, with things like announcements beginning with “Ladies and gentlemen and those of you not clearly falling into either category” instead of just “Ladies and gentlemen” increasing in frequency.

1. Cecil Baldwin

The voice of Cecil Baldwin is the voice of Night Vale and the voice of Night Vale. Cecil both carries the show and defines the show. It is hard to imagine the podcast working without him.

Cecil Baldwin the voice actor is exceptionally talented and astonishingly versatile. Naturally, his voice is calm, his measured pace soothing, his accent all-American. But, without hesitation, his voice can also appear dark, deep and sinister when discussing the supernaturally unknown, or light, lilting and buoyant when relaying Cecil’s conversations with Carlos, and then every shade and tone in between at different times. It is simultaneously unique and distinct, recognisable and impossible to place; it can be reassuringly familiar or disturbingly unrecognisable. It brings the already fantastic scripts to life, makes it possible to imagine and relate to even the strangest happenings in Night Vale, and stays with you long after you’ve finished listening.

In many ways, Cecil’s evocative, driving voice reflects the multi-faceted and impossible to describe atmosphere of the podcast itself.

You just have to hear it all for yourself: Subscribe to Welcome to Night Vale via iTunes or listen for free online here.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Laura U

    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!

    • Amelia Roberts

      Thank you! Possessed is definitely an appropriate word choice!

  3. Jillian Whetzel

    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. Scott Lass

    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
    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.

    • Amelia Roberts

      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.

    • Amelia Roberts

      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!

    • Amelia Roberts

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

  8. Lua

    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.

    • Amelia Roberts

      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.’

    • Amelia Roberts

      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?

  12. Old Woman Josie

    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.

    • Amelia Roberts

      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. Mozzarella

    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.

    • Amelia Roberts

      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. LadyViridis

    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.

  23. The Doni

    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!

      • Chelsea

        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.”

          • Tigey

            “I respect the old racist bastard just the same.” Probably the way Garry Kasparov felt about Alexander Alekhine.

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

  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. Zujaja K

    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.

  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.

  30. I was already looking forward to listen to Welcome to Night Vale, but now i just can’t wait to do it! And by the way, i totally agree with the fanart, it’s kinda funny how thanks to he internet we can now enjoy things we would never heard of years ago, things that are not really part of the tv show, the movie, the book, or in this case, the podcast.

  31. Laura N

    Cecil the radio host and Cecil the voice actor only share a first name. Cecil Baldwin is the voice of Cecil Gershwin-Palmer.

    • As I’ve said to someone else here already, this article was written and published a good while before that information was shared in the podcast.

  32. Benjamin Gray

    I heard about Welcome to Night Vale from a friend, thanks Amanda, and It is just the best thing ever. I am a schizophrenic so this show is not healthy for me but it is too good to stop. Today I was walking down the road and was listening to it, it got to the end and Cecil said “Good night Night Vale, Good… and I looked up and a diesel passed by that said Night, and I started running while crying, thank you so much…

  33. Laura Groeneveld

    I have successfully used this article to convince people of listening to WTNV, thank you for that!

  34. The characters name is Cecil Gershwin Palmer, not Cecil Baldwin. The actors name is Cecil Baldwin, common mistake.

    • As has been explained a few times in comments, this article was written and published a good while before that information was revealed in the podcast.

  35. I love Nightvale. Their new book is absolutly amzing and the whole podcast can be taken in many different ways.

  36. captaindownpour

    found it on tumblr, honestly saved my life

  37. The characters name is Cecil Palmer. The irl guy is Cecil baldwin

    • As has been explained many, many times in the comments, this article was written and published a very long time before that information was revealed in the podcast.

  38. Worldweaver3791

    Welcome to Night Vale is notoriously impossible to describe. But you’ve nailed it. You should be proud of yourself.

  39. Worldweaver3791

    Aww, you’re welcome.

  40. I know I’m late to jump on this discussion but I really loved Night Vale when I first started listening. Later on I started hearing other characters speak along with Cecil. It got kind of cheesy to me. Maybe I’ll give it another chance but the part stuff I heard just sounded too corny and poorly performed. Wonder if any one else’s opinions have changed as well.

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