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Welcome to Night Vale is a bimonthly podcast produced by Commonplace Books that is set up like a community radio show with local news, advertisements and announcements for the fictional desert town of Night Vale. Created by former Something Awful writer Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor in 2012, the show gained a large following on social networks in the summer of 2013, resulting in it becoming the most downloaded podcast on iTunes in July 2013.
Welcome to Night Vale launched on June 15th, 2012 on iTunes and Podbay.fm, narrated by New York City-based performer Cecil Baldwin. The series begins when a scientist named Carlos and his team moves into the town to investigate strange and supernatural happenings within the desert town including the opening of a dog park that is populated with shrouded, hooded figures and a house that does not actually exist. In addition to the news, each episode features a song from an independent artist or band in place of the weather report as well as ambient music by Disparition.
The podcast was noted for its unique storytelling as early as July 2012 in the comments of a Gizmodo Australia article on podcast culture. Later that year, the podcast was featured on the Dallas Morning News and the Welcome to Night Vale Wiki launched in November. In February 2013, it was included on a list of must-download podcasts by California NPR affiliate KQED. The following month, it was mentioned on an A.V. Club podcast roundup. Also in March, one of the first live performances of Welcome to Night Vale (shown below) took place at the Rebel Girl humor event in New York City.
In April, the podcast was linked on MetaFilter, where it was compared to cult classic Twin Peaks and animated mystery series Gravity Falls. Between April and May, discussions about the series took place on the Principia Discordia forums, the Shadow Manor blog, Goodreads, the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast Forums and the Maximum Fun forum. In June and July, Welcome to Night Vale was mentioned on the Daily Dot, Creepypasta.com the Artifice, Den of Geek! and The Geekiary. Welcome to Night Vale also maintains official Facebook and Twitter accounts, with more than 16,000 fans and 37,000 followers respectively as of August 2013.
By the first anniversary of the series, in June 2013, Welcome to Night Vale episodes had been downloaded approximately 150,000 times. Following the first anniversary episode, the downloads increased to 150,000 in one week, attributed to a growing Tumblr fanbase. By July 15th, he series hit #2 on iTunes’ audio podcast chart, taking the #1 spot from NPR series This American Life the following week.
The week of July 5th, 2013, the Welcome to Night Vale fandom exploded on Tumblr with more than 20,000 posts, 183,000 blogs and 680,000 notes using the #Night Vale tag. Similar to the Hannibal fandom, many Tumblr posters found that the Night Vale fandom came out of nowhere, also using the tags #Welcome To Night Vale and #Cecil Baldwin, for posts specifically about the narrator. On June 19th, 2013, the first single topic Tumblr dedicated to Welcome to Night Vale launched, taking its name Dark Owl Records from the record shop in the town. Since then, dozens of other blogs have been created including Night Vale Quotes, Fuck Yeah Welcome to Night Vale and The Shape From Grove Park. There is also a blog dedicated to sharing headcanons (shown below, left), or specific things outside of the story’s actual canon that people believe to be true, and Just Little Things-style image macros (shown below, right).
As early as June 22nd, 2013, fans have been sharing transcriptions of the podcast on blogging sites. One of the first transcription projects was launched by Dreamwidth user PickmansProgress who started transcribing to help her friends with auditory processing disorders focus while listening to the podcast. Soon after, the Tumblr blogs Welcome to Night Vale Transcripts and WTNVTranscripts were created and on July 15th, Tumblr user rubato collected links to every transcript into a master post. On August 5th, The Daily Dot reported on the “fanscripts,” comparing it to the practices of fansubbing and fan translations.
Despite Welcome to Night Vale being a solely auditory medium, tons of fan art has been produced featuring the town and its characters. As there is not much specific physical description provided about the characters, artists have interpreted them in many different ways, with a range of races and body types. Many artists also give the narrator Cecil a third eye, which is a popular headcanon throughout the fandom. Additionally, fan art will often include images of Cecil with the object of his affection and town scientist, Carlos, a ship known as Cecilos.
Gizmodo Australia – I’ve just picked up this amazing podcast called welcome to night vale
Dallas Morning News – Welcome to Night Vale: Eerie, witty podcast has Texas ties
Den of Geek! – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor on Welcome To Night Vale
The Daily Dot – In the surreal shadows of “Night Vale,” a new fandom lurks