Journalist Brandon Pope Talks Teaming with WBEZ Chicago for ‘Making’ Podcast Exploring Black Cultural Icons
Black History Month 2023 has wrapped, but the celebration of our icons should continue every day. The documentary podcast, Making, contributes to the rolling education of the social advancement of Black icons. Produced by WBEZ Chicago and hosted by award-winning journalist Brandon Pope, Making highlights icons like Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, Maya Angelou, and more, chronicling their journeys and providing context to the creation and work of these cultural giants.
Speaking with The Source, Brandon Pope details what has made Making as one of the most unique podcasts available, discoveries about Black icons during his recording, and his transition from television to an audio podcast format. All 10 episodes of season 4 of Making are available here for your platform of choice.
The SOURCE: How did you get your start, and what really attracted you to being a participant in this podcast?
Brandon Pope: You know, I wasn’t like one of those kids that had a dream of being a TV reporter or a journalist or anything. I wanted to be a power ranger. I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to be one of those things [laughs]. I had this great radio and TV class in high school. We made music videos and did morning announcements. I did some documentaries and stuff like that. And I just realized, okay, this media thing is cool. And once I applied to college, they were like, yeah, we call that journalism. So I’m like, all right, cool. I’ll do some journalism then. From there, man, it’s just been kinda learning the ropes and soaking up all the information I can. I have great mentors. My first market was South Bend, Indiana as a multimedia journalist, one man band that was shooting, writing, editing, doing sports for Notre Dame athletics. Then coming to Chicago and doing lifestyle tv and then getting this opportunity with WBEZ, Chicago Public Media, and NPR and hosting an incredible podcast succeeding an amazing public radio legend in Jen White and having her blessing. I’ve been doing some podcasting for a while. The team approached me and said, this would be a really cool thing to have your voice be a part of. And I hope that we’re doing a good job of that with these amazing black figures.
What experience did you have to let you know that this was going to be a good merger of the minds and have the creative freedom to tell these Black stories?
It was just knowing who I was working with. WBEZ has a great reputation, not just here in the city of Chicago, but throughout the country. And I had definitely listened to Making before I was a big fan of Making Obama and Making Oprah. I was listening to every episode and I loved the style of narrative storytelling that they did. So I was already familiar with the brand. I was already familiar with the people. I knew that they had a passion for good quality human storytelling. And so it was a perfect match in that regard.
How did you prepare yourself for being able to move over to that world, a more narrative-based history storytelling as opposed to entertainment?
I think a lot of it is just kind of tapping into what I do on TV but figuring out how I can bring that to the audio world. My TV career has been a lot of narrative storytelling and telling uplifting stories about our people, Black people. But the way you do it on TV is a lot more based on the visuals. Whereas with audio, you have to find a way to draw people in, right? And you draw people in through conversation. I’m a person who’s passionate about having a good conversation. Unfortunately, the TV industry is based off a lot of short timing. You don’t have a long time to have a real meaty conversation. But with the podcast, with this format, we’re able to really expand and unpack things.
Within this Making series, you talked about how you came into hearing Making Oprah or Making Obama. Through your tenure, you have tackled history from as recent as the past 10 years to up to 40 years. Who do you think created your favorite episode?
I’m a sports guy, right? So I’d say, personally, the Kobe Bryant episode may have been the one I was most excited about. I’m the happiest with how we approached it cause it was also the most challenging. Kobe Bryant himself, we know him as a sports icon, right? But there’s also another story to tell. He went through quite a few controversies and we needed to make sure that we had to make a decision, are we just going to tell gleaming histories and ignore anything that was controversial or any of the other stuff? Or are we gonna tell a full picture and really approach this from a journalistic perspective? And so Kobe was our chance to really do that. What we did with Kobe Bryant, yes, we talked about the sports icon himself. We talked to his head coach in high school, Gregg Downer. We talked to a columnist who had covered Kobe Bryant. So we got that perspective for sure. But there’s another conversation that we had about the sexual assault trial and about that controversy there.
So we had a separate conversation about how we deal with legacies. Complicated legacies and these legends that don’t have the most gleaming history out there might evoke different feelings depending on who you’re talking to. And I think, in that sense, that’s where our podcast became really bigger than just the idea of talking to people. It became let’s explore ideas about society. Let’s explore ideas about culture. Let’s explore ideas about the way we deal with complicated figures. And so Kobe Bryant was our chance to do that and dig into that. I think we did a great job of that.
Was there a time examining someone that you had a perspective change, for better or worse?
I think there are some people who are a big deal. You appreciate their contribution to history, but you don’t exactly. You’ve never had a chance to really sit down and process what their impact was. And I think for me, Jesse Owens was the best example of that. I’m an Ohio guy. I know the Jesse Owens story well. He went to Ohio State, and was killing these boys at track meets in Michigan. You know, I mean, it’s a great story. But I had never been able to really get told a full history of him and some of the stuff he went through, like going to the Nazi Olympics, right? Looking Hitler in the eye, right? At a time when, you know, the US is even questioning whether they should be a part of the Olympics at this time in Germany. Telling that story and then hearing from his family members, and professionals, these people who have dedicated their lives to understanding this person deeper than just their athletic accomplishments, but who they are, what their philosophies were, and what they meant to the world. Jesse Owen Owens was that opportunity where I got to learn something. I learned a lot, and I’m able to walk around now with a greater appreciation for what he’s done, not just for sports, but for American society. Um, and that’s probably my favorite part about doing this podcast. I’m a co-learner. The audience is learning things, but I’m learning stuff too. Diane Sawyer, famously said, stay curious. And I’m a guy. I’m all about that. I’m always curious. I’m always trying to learn more. And so I love that I’m able to unpack these legends and discover new things I had never heard before.
What have you learned about yourself, both as a professional, but also just as someone who appreciates the work and the efforts of these icons and has contributed to our culture?
What I learned about myself through this is that I need to trust myself more and trust my own voice more. I think that it’s easy when you are used to one style of thing and you’re jumping into something else to feel a little bit of trepidation. I’m really happy that I’ve had a great support team who’s explained new terms to me and helped me through some stuff. And they’ve helped me trust my voice, find my voice because they, want to hear more of my voice, and I’m empowered to be a part of it.