‘Twenty Thousand Hertz’ explores the history of well-known sounds, from the voice of Bob Ross to Netflix’s ‘ta-dum’
Look, maybe this podcast sounds way too niche for you. A podcast about sound? Yeah, sure. Only, sound is one of those universal things that the vast majority of people on Earth experience. So take that! In all seriousness, “Twenty Thousand Hertz” wants to find the history behind the most well-known, interesting, and recognizable sounds on the planet. From the nostalgic to the scientific to the psychological, with a little bit of added mystery that all human traditions possess, “Twenty Thousand Hertz” will suck you in and blow your mind every single episode.
From the iconic 8-bit sound of early video games, to the Wilhelm Scream, the evolution of accents, Hamilton, to the Netflix ta-dum, and the greatest songs ever written, “Twenty Thousand Hertz” has covered a little bit of everything by now. This podcast began in 2016 and is now nearing the 150th episode mark. Start from anywhere in their archive as episodes don’t need to be listened to in any specific order, and episodes are just 35 minutes long (its earliest episodes are just 15 minutes long).
Hamilton, the Dies Irae, and the McDonald’s jingle
Host Dallas Taylor has so lovingly crafted “Twenty Thousand Hertz” that you are immediately drawn in by the passion he puts into the show. He was inspired by “99% Invisible” to create this podcast about another omnipresent part of our everyday lives. Every episode is a deep dive into a curious topic that frankly, we didn’t think we cared about. Along with his producers, the 20k team meticulously researches their topics before spinning a deeply fascinating yarn about something as basic as snoring.
Episodes vary far and wide across the spectrum of sound. They dig deep into famous jingles like the McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It,” the sound of film, the work of foley artists, and all of the beeps, blips, and alarm sounds your phone can make. But it extends far beyond just famous sounds themselves. Dallas has looked into blind sports and the athletes who play them, video-less video games for the blind, the phenomenon of synesthesia, and the game-changing Shure microphone, the SM7. Obviously, he’s taken a microscope to music, looking into the history of the most famous piece of music, the Dies Irae, the concept of perfect pitch, vocal nodes, famous chord progressions, copyright law, and even the sounds of Hamilton.
Songwriters of the shadows
Recently, the “Twenty Thousand Hertz” team recorded an episode on songwriters – not singers, but the people behind the biggest hits in the world. It’s no secret that plenty of the most famous singers in the world don’t actually write their own stuff. From the start of popular music till today, much of the charts are dominated by singers performing songs written for them (or songs that their managers bid on).
Dallas and his producer start us off with Frank Sinatra’s first hit (and the first ever Billboard number one song) “I’ll Never Smile Again” with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, a song that was actually written by Ruth Lowe. There’s Johnny Cash’s mega-hit “A Boy Named Sue” which was actually written by writer and cartoonist Shel Silverstein (yes, of The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends). Silverstein also wrote Loretta Lynn’s “One’s On The Way.”
They tell us that it wasn’t until rock and roll came along that pop singers began recording songs that they wrote themselves. Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry were some of the first singer/songwriters to perform their own hit number one songs, influencing British Invasion bands like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks. Although, The Beatles were the only band in that bunch to perform mostly their own home-grown songs.
From huge acts like Three Dog Night in the ’70s, Tina Turner of the ’80s, Ricky Martin and Britney Spears of the ’90s and ’00s, all of their biggest hits were written for them. In this episode, Dallas and company interview songwriters behind the greatest hits of our time, learning what the secret is to creating beloved sounds.
“Twenty Thousand Hertz” is guaranteed to be your new obsession. It’s nerdy but not too nerdy, niche yet also universal, rooted in science and the unexplainable human anomaly of nostalgia. Whether it’s Bob Ross’s voice, the iconic Seinfeld theme, or the Satanic Panic about devilish messages hidden in rock music, this podcast has it all. Our only complaint is that we wished it released episodes weekly. Be sure to check out “Twenty Thousand Hertz” wherever you listen to podcasts.