December 6, 2019

Alyssa Tufts

Black Barrel Media produces gripping historical podcasts

Black Barrel Media takes your ears on a journey with their entertaining, historical podcasts.

Black Barrel Media, a local boutique podcast network and production company founded by brother and sister duo Chris and Mandi Wimmer in June 2018, specializes in creating high quality, storytelling podcasts that entertain and educate.

The co-owners organize their podcasts into three flagship shows: Infamous America, Legends of the Old West and American Centrist. Legends of the Old West currently has six seasons that range from topics including Tombstone, Jesse James, American Outlaw, Red Cloud’s War, Texas Rangers and Deadwood with anywhere from three to 12 episodes. Their Infamous America show covers the wildest and at times, darkest chapters of American history in three seasons including Salem– telling the story of the Salem Witch Trials; Black Sox– the 1919 World Series Scandal; and the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid.

American Centrist, which began in October this year, gives voice to the Center when it comes to politics and discusses issues that impact lives from both sides

The shows, which are available on many platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Tune In and Google Podcasts, incorporate Chris’ experience in film and journalism and Mandi’s experience as an event producer. So what prompted the brother and sister to transition from their current careers and start a podcast and production company? Chris says he loved podcasts and became addicted to them. 

“I loved the creative potential of podcasts and saw similarities from my previous career in the film industry in Los Angeles and recognized podcasting was a field I wanted to get into in the future. Mandi comes from the world of mega event production. So we recognized that if we teamed up and joined forces we could combine our two skill sets and it would make for an interesting and unique company.”

Black Barrel Media combines thorough research, cinematic music, sound design and informative storytelling all encompassed into an entertaining 30-minute podcast. The episodes for each show are released on a week-by-week basis to tell the stories of Old Western history, scandals that rocked American culture and approaching politics from each side, but Chris and Mandi say their inspiration for each of the shows is steeped in part from their family’s interests.

“As I became more addicted to podcasts, I do what everyone does when they discover a new medium: I looked for things I wanted hear,” Chris says. “I started searching for topics, subjects and genres that interested me and our family’s always been steeped in the old west and  watched Western movies and read Western books, so naturally I looked for a podcast that told stories of the Old West and I didn’t really find one that I enjoyed or that did it the way I was hoping would be done that was the perfect opening for me to create my own. 

“After that I started seeing the potential of this storytelling avenue–and then all the doors opened. What other kinds of stories can we tell with this format, what else is not being done? So that led to the creation of a second podcast, the Infamous America podcast, which would focus on other historical stories from American history that had a different theme to them, a different style or era that they applied to.”

Legends of the Old West includes seasons that feature the creation of the Texas Rangers; Tombstone– a 5-part series on the events that led to the most famous gunfight in the American West, and the destruction that followed; and the early years of Jesse James, plus interviews with authors, actors and leadership that write, play or are involved in Western culture. Infamous America, which Mandi describes as historical true crime, features the Salem Witch Trials; Black Sox- the 1919 World Series Scandal; and Billy the Kid.

“The interesting thing about the Legends of the Old West and Infamous America shows are that they are educational and they are also highly entertaining,” Mandi says. “So it’s kind of challenging to mix both of those things together and I think Chris has done an amazing job of extremely thorough research to tell the true story to the best of our ability. Obviously when you get into history, there’s a million different versions and different takes on how things happened, but we really focus on what sources we’re using and research the sources to do the research to make sure we’re telling the story to the best of our ability and with very fast-paced cinematic storytelling and sound design. The ultimate goal for our listeners is to kind of create a movie for your ears.”

Black Barrel Media’s podcasts have grown in popularity since they debuted their first show in 2018; Legends of the Old West and Infamous America have over 1,300 combined 4.5-average starred reviews on Apple Podcasts that rave about the attention to detail, accuracy and entertaining shows Chris and Mandi have created.

Chris says marketing the shows has been almost entirely a grassroots campaign that’s focused on word of mouth and social media. “Word of mouth is always the strongest marketing tool out there and we’ve had very good success with that. In the beginning I did some basic social media and it grew organically. If you produce the best possible product, people will find it and tell other people,” Chris says.

“I really try to structure each season of the two historical podcasts very much like it is a TV show, so it’s one long story that hopefully gives you a cliffhanger at the end,” Chris says. “A lot of people we’ve heard from choose to wait until the very end and binge it like it’s a Netflix TV show and go through all of them in a weekend, so it’s interesting to hear that that phenomenon applies to audio as well, it’s not just for Amazon or Netflix. We purposefully structured each episode and each season to hopefully have that effect and make it feel like you’re listening to a TV show, it just doesn’t have the visuals.”

Chris and Mandi want to extend the company’s reach towards education and have had discussions with ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism about Black Barrel Media and potentially working with students in the future. “I know the Cronkite School is instituting podcasting as part of the curriculum,” Chris says. “I know there’s a growing fervor to be a part of the podcast world, so we’re trying to make sure that ASU understands that we’re here in Arizona, we might be one of if not the top podcasting entity in the state, so we definitely want to work with ASU as a place I went to school and everybody that wants to be a part of it in some fashion.”

“In terms of consulting other people that want to get into podcasting or production companies or companies out there that want to start podcasts, like anything, you start an endeavour and you think it’s going to be easier than it is, you come across a lot of questions,” Mandi says.

“The great thing about the podcast community is that everybody’s very willing to help each other; it’s a very tight-knit community. There’s a massive audio boom happening right now, there’s about 750,000 podcasts out there but billions of potential listeners so there are new podcasts being made,” Mandi says.

“But you want to make sure that the quality is great and you have a great product and I think Chris and I have done a pretty good job in the fact that we’re semi perfectionists in what we do so we’ve definitely learned a lot of lessons the hard way and we’re probably our biggest critics at the end of the day.”

Given their success and future aspirations for the company, Mandi says one of the most rewarding parts for her is reading reviews of the podcasts and seeing the impact they have on people’s lives. “This a very chaotic world and a very crazy time that we live in and I think people are looking for outlets and with audio, you can listen to these podcasts anywhere–in your car, while you’re hiking, at the gym, while you’re at the grocery store, at work if you’re at a place of work where you can listen along with something,” Mandi says.

“I think what we have done, particularly with how Chris has done our two flagship shows, is created an outlet for people, kind of taking people back in time to these historical events to maybe in some cases a simpler time and people are waiting for the next episode to come out and are super excited to hear what the next series is, and it’s fun to see that people are following it to that level and we’re creating an entertainment that is very valued by people.

“Also to see the teachers that have reached out to us, like anything today with audio expanding and growing, the way teachers are teaching is changing as well and podcasts are now being introduced into the classroom,” Mandi continues.

“Because our shows have historical and educational components to them, we’ve had teachers reach out to ask us if they can use our shows to teach the Salem Witch Trials or to teach the story of Tombstone, Arizona or different things like that and that’s really rewarding to watch the spread of how far this can go and the impact you can have on people’s lives at the end of the day.”

For Chris, it’s the creative freedom and the ability to deliver what you created directly to the audience. “That’s what got me into podcasting in the very beginning. Having spent several years working through the screenwriting pipeline in Hollywood, it’s very difficult to sell a screenplay and get it made and there’s levels of bureaucracy from start to finish. The great thing about podcasts is if you can create it, you can deliver it directly to the audience, you don’t need anyone’s permission, it’s entirely up to you and that was one of the big things that drew me to the medium.”

For 2020, Chris and Mandi are planning to produce two episodes that will be released every Wednesday every week all year long to run seasons for Legends of the Old West and Infamous America simultaneously.

“Our flagship shows are Legends of the Old West and Infamous America and American Centrist is a show that we’ve just started and we’re still in all honesty figuring out the right format for it, so we haven’t done a huge push behind it because we’re still tweaking it, so we will continue with that through the 2020 election for sure, but it may just take on a different format in the coming weeks,” Mandi says.

Black Barrel Media will also have a fourth show in early 2020 that is currently in pre production, Mandi says. 

“It will take you behind the scenes into a very exciting lifestyle that will be very fun I think for listeners and one that I think people will get pretty excited about.”