Juno Steel is one of The Penumbra’s ongoing storylines where the pulp detective lives on Mars. (The clips above are from “Juno Steel and the Prince of Mars” and “Juno Steel and the Midnight Fox”.) He is nonbinary and though he uses he/him pronouns, he prefers the honorific of Lady. Though we see it here in two confrontational moments in season 1, as the series continues, we learn that Juno not only refers to himself that way, but so have his lovers, both male and female. In fact, the majority of the recurring characters in Juno Steele identify as LGBTQ+ in some way. The centering of queer characters in a genre that historically villainized or codified queerness is one of the many mays in which the neo-radio drama has remediated and reclaimed radio for podcasts.
Podcasts are an intimate sound medium with roots in radio, whether it is looking at medium affordances (single-sense medium), format (radio segments, ads, DJ or hosts), or genres (talk radio, news/commentary, or radio drama). When we look at how podcasts have developed, they have remediated many of radio’s aesthetics and conventions, including reviving some long-dead (at least in the U.S.) programming like radio dramas, which predominately died out with broadcast television.1
With neo-radio dramas, we are seeing dramatic audio worlds come back to life with new technological affordances like directional sound, deeply layered sound design, and audio effects. Additionally, we’re seeing podcasts reimagine “classic” radio genres and time-period specific formats that reframe historically excluded or marginalized groups as the center protagonists (and sometimes villains). Additionally, we’re seeing genre hybridization that mixes historically popular radio programming like the pulp detective and superhero radio drama, or the late-night talk radio programming with genres that have always been more queer-friendly, like science-fiction and horror.
While reviewing a recommendation for LGBTQ+ audio dramas on Podchaser, I was struck that out of the 61 podcasts recommended 75% were in science-fiction, fantasy, or horror. Of that 75%, 13% used well-established golden-era or 80s radio genres.2 An additional 21% used some other form of media (session tapes, archives, video games, Hamm radio, frontline missives) as a frame for their stories. There is a strong tendency to position queer representation into genres that at the height of their popularity, historically we were barred from entry. With the rise in popularity of podcasts, we are able to position queerness into the pulp detective story, where the queer man isn’t the villain with the lisp, but the anti-hero detective who falls for the homme fatale as we see in The Penumbra’s Juno Steele, Dash, RedWing, or the improv of Dead Waves. For those who listened to community radio or Dr. Ruth growing up series like Welcome to Night Vale, King Falls AM, and Supernatural Sexuality with Dr. Seabrooke position queer identities as positively mundane (and central) in their supernatural world.
Though it’s certainly possible to enjoy any of these programs without the knowledge of radio’s generic past and codification, that knowledge makes the reclamation of these genres, their previously exclusionary tropes and conventions far sweeter for the listening audience.