Preview the New BackStory!

BackStory is discontinuing our hour-long radio broadcasts, but we’re far from going away! You can continue to hear BackStory on our website or through your favorite podcatcher.

If you’re new to podcasts, the best way to find BackStory is by searching for it through iTunes’ app store, Google Play, Stitcher or other favorite apps and then subscribing to be sure you never miss an episode. You can subscribe to BackStory through Feedburner, too.

We’re also members of the Panoply network now, so look for us there beginning Feb. 3.


Comments (22)

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  1. Nicola Lonski

    I want to get the podcasts. I need somebody to “hold my hand.” I have a mac so this should be east–I am not a Luddite–but I just don’t understand.

    This was my favorite show. Wah–I am going to miss the history guys.

  2. Christine Romboletti

    Absolutely love to hear about these additional hosts and new style!

    I used to listen on WAMU but now tend to catch the podcast on Sound Cloud, via my phone…Whichever way, I look forward to your excellent research and spot-on coverage of issues through the lens of history.

    Now, more than ever, the USA needs programs like yours.

    Can’t wait! 🙂

  3. A.C. Wilson

    I’ ll miss it. I’m a slow adopter, so I won’t be immediately hearing your new format.

    (I listen to WBEZ in Chicago.)

  4. Harron68

    I truly will miss the show being on radio. Limiting exposure to a younger multicultural audience necessitates the changes. I can’t help but think it’ll be fluffier and shorter in segments. Neither is good for learning. Short cuts avoid depth. Still, something is better than nothing.

    • Diana Williams

      Same feed. In fact, you should find a new episode (a preview of Friday’s episode) in you feed today! Thanks for listening!

  5. Sam Diener

    I’ve loved your show and am excited that you’ve added new hosts. As a teacher, I’ve even given students group assignments in which their job is to create a BackStory-style segment to present to the class. One suggestion as you re-tool. I think more history teachers might use and assign BackStory if you did three things:

    1) Post to the website for each episode links to the resources you used to research the episode: primary source documents, journal articles, articles or speeches by the historians you interview on the air, etc. And, since my guess is you probably research more than you can squeeze onto the air, post links to supplemental materials and/or related stories that someone else who was teaching that topic might want to use/ask students to investigate.

    2) Post to the website additional links that touch on that episode’s theme (or background on the time periods that episode covers), in particular to open source history texts and lesson plans. You could use, for example,, but you might also be able to partner with organizations like Facing History, Primary Source, and

    3) Your archive is invaluable, but few history teachers know about it or use it. One reason is that the episodes are organized by theme, but most history teachers teach chronologically. Are your segments indexed by date? If so, it would be fantastic if a history teacher teaching about, say, the 1830s-1850s, could click on that time period on your website and see links to all the segments you’ve broadcast over all these years that focused on that time period.

  6. Megan Miskiewicz

    Why will Backstory no longer be on the radio? Podcasting is for people who seek out a particular show – part of what makes Backstory so special is that it reaches individuals of the general public who might not otherwise engage with history.

    • Diana Williams

      Hi Megan:

      I just provided a very lengthy answer to Chris Widman on this page. While it’s complicated, the decision was not made lightly, but was made in the interest of helping the show continue to survive and thrive.


  7. chris widman

    why ditch public radio?

    how does that work financially–is podcast advertising that strong? audio production costs can’t be that much more, distribution costs through PRX are low, & don’t local stations pay a fee to carry the program?

    i know it’s difficult to focus on both a legacy & digital product, but the radio program seems like a perfect, paid way to distribute the content.

    • Diana Williams

      Hi Chris:

      The big picture is that on-demand is taking over all mediums. It started with the internet and blogs, which totally disrupted newspapers. Companies like Netflix and Hulu have turned television on its ear. And podcasting is finally catching up to the promise it showed some 10 years ago when the medium was first developed. Niemanlab did a great five part series on podcasting that you may want to check out:

      Anyway, you’ve asked some good questions so I’m going to try and answer them in order.

      Is podcast advertising that strong? It isn’t for us, yet, because we just started. But as the ability to accurately measure who’s listening, when and how long improves, things will only get better. Not just for BackStory, but industry wide.

      Audio production costs can’t be that much more. It’s more that you think. While I can’t be specific, between staff time and the costs to support those human resources, we’re talking more than six figures every year.

      Distribution costs through PRX are low. Not really. We distributed through PRX and Content Depot. One charges by the number of subscribers, the other by the amount of storage space. Again, I can’t be specific, but we paid each thousands annually.

      Don’t local stations pay a fee to carry the program? They would if we charged them. BackStory has been free to stations since day one.

      The legacy product as you call it was beholden to a clock, as all radio shows are. There’s no wiggle room in that model. Our primary goal has always been to tell good stories. Not all good stories neatly fit into a one hour package. Being digital first means the show is as long or as short as it needs to be to tell the story we want to tell. Which brings me back to being on demand. The entire industry is moving in that direction. If you recall, it was around this time last year that CBS announced it was selling its radio division. They didn’t put the thing that put them on the map up for sale because it was raking in the dough.

      We are so fortunate that listeners like you support us and a lot of that support is financial. See, that’s how we do what we do – through sponsorships and listener support. We are affiliated with a non-profit foundation, not a radio station. Radio never paid us. In fact, for the most part, we paid them and that part of the financial model was simply unsustainable over the long term.

      Change is hard, but necessary. We did what we felt we had to do in order to be here another eight years.

      If you have more questions, feel free to email me directly: Thanks for the message!


  8. Gerri

    I sure hope all the radio listeners posting here have adapted to the podcasts – if it’s any consolation, I was NEVER able to hear Backstory on the radio because my station didn’t carry it. I just happened to catch it one day while traveling through Chicago, and tracked it down. And that was back when it was just a monthly show.

    In fact, I’m so hooked on the time-shifting and instant replay benefits of podcasts that I now can’t remember the last time I listened to anything “on the air.”

    Though I still financially support both the podcasts AND my local public radio station, just on principle.

    Anyway – change is hard. I miss Peter! I wondered what he thought about our new president’s reference to Jefferson in the Prayer Breakfast speech. I hope you’re going to continue the occasional “short takes” on current events.

    But I’m sure the new hosts will grow on me in short order. So…welcome to the conversation, Nathan and Joanne!

  9. Amy Stringer

    I woke up on a recent Sunday morning, turned on the radio and no Backstory! Whaaa! Now I see what has happened. Just wanted to say we love the show and loved the hosts – great guys with such knowledge and wonderful humor. I hope to get the podcast figured out. Best to all of you and many thanks for all your efforts at educating us.

  10. Heather Claborn

    Hi. I just wanted to let you know I actually said, “OH NO!” when I heard WBEZ announce it was making program changes to its weekend lineup and Backstory was being replaced. I have loved this show. You guys do a fantastic job, always interesting and informative. I loved the many angles by which you approached each topic. Backstory had become one of my favorite parts of my public radio listening week. It was in a perfect spot for me to listen while I was cooking dinner on Sunday evenings. I need to get with the times and start accessing podcasts.
    I’ve always wanted to take the time to tell you all how much I enjoy your work. Keep it up!

  11. Peter Horne

    Listener from Canada. I only found you guys in March 2017 and am working through your archives from the beginning. I have gone through all of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History (with some Common Sense :-), Mike Duncan’s History of Rome and Revolutions, and Markham and O’Reilly’s Napoleon podcast. I suspect I have a problem. This IS the way to discover History. I suspect it’s the way for all knowledge – listening to believers engaging in conversations about their passion. Keep up the good work.

  12. Sutprem Blair

    I have never listened to your show but I got here to your web site, through the Bluegrass Country bio for Ramona Martinez, then tracked down her LinkedIn page. I am American History obsessed and can’t wait to listen to the show. I live in Taos, NM and pretty much listen to radio online anyway, so this format won’t b a stretch for me. I read the pro/con discussion here regarding radio vs on demand formatting. I like DJ’s, so I like Bluegrass Country vs online music streaming. I like not having to choose what music to play but the popping corn nature of being surprised at what might come next. Thanks for your work for history, we need to know where we’ve been as a nation so we can influence (as much as possible) choices we make collectively as governments, moving forward.