Roman Mars’s increasingly popular podcast, 99% Invisible, sounds too NPR to be true. And though it’s distributed by PRX and a network of public radio stations, it is not affiliated with National Public Radio nor its funding resources. Far from it in fact. Mars describes it as “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”
Currently in its fourth season, 99% airs a couple times a month but has gone weekly recently to support a Kickstarter campaign. During Season 3, Mars was so successful in his crowdsourcing efforts, he was able to hire a producer and completely revamp the website, which currently reflects the show’s focus on the utility and origins of design. It’s one of the best podcast sites you’ll see.
With 99%, you’re getting real quality. The production elements are subtle enough as not to distract, and Mars’s delivery shifts between monotone to effectively emotive. On the surface, it’s a show about structures, big and small. Dig a little deeper and you get the origins of the Teddy Bear and the revolving door.
What I’m taken by is Mars’s cleverness. He’s found an untapped resource for rich, narrative content that no one (to my knowledge) has explored. He realized, that in revealing the stories behind the buildings, bridges, highways, and countless other overlooked “things” that surround us, he’s getting to the bottom of our humanity.
Admittedly, I’m skeptical of crowdsourcing. But proof is in the pudding. The last time Mars asked his listeners for money, the show got better. I can’t imagine his motives have changed in one short year.