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Berwyn

No mystery to success of Berwyn natives' popular podcast

Brent Hand (left) and John Goforth met at Southern Illinois University where they hoped to host a radio show. Those plans never materialized but their podcast, Hysteria 51, is gaining in popularity.
Brent Hand (left) and John Goforth met at Southern Illinois University where they hoped to host a radio show. Those plans never materialized but their podcast, Hysteria 51, is gaining in popularity.

With their roots deep in the Chicago area, childhood friends Brent Hand and John Goforth have turned their wacky musings on some of the world’s greatest mysteries and conspiracies into an award-winning podcast, Hysteria 51.

A titular play on the infamous Area 51, Hysteria 51 explores everything from aliens and paranormal activity to true crime events and conspiracies. Structured as a casual and comical chat between two friends, Hysteria 51 has built a loyal fan base with its exceedingly entertaining topics and funny, inviting hosts.

Hand and Goforth met in grade school around 30 years ago in Berwyn. They attended Southern Illinois University-Carbondale together as roommates, where they often discussed their interest in co-hosting a radio show. That fantasy never took hold, but when podcasting exploded onto the scene as a viable and popular evolution of the traditional radio show, the two decided to give it a shot.

Hand and Goforth said they debuted two shows the same week, the first being Rad and Fad, a show in which they discussed nostalgic entertainment of bygone decades and decided whether they were “rad” or a “fad.” The second was Hysteria 51. Goforth gives Hand credit for the idea behind the show. A lifelong fan of the “world of the weird,” as Goforth put it, Hand saw a space for their brand of conspiracy talk to exist. When the two shows debuted, the two knew immediately which show to pursue.

“We launched both [shows] at the exact same time and it became very apparent very quickly which show was taking off and which wasn’t,” Goforth said. “You could just see it in the numbers.”

Those numbers happened to be extremely rare among first-time podcasters.

“Hysteria 51 debuted at No. 64 in the world in iTunes podcasts,” Hand said. “We got very lucky. Most people don’t break into the top 100 ever, and we debuted there. So we got a nice push early on.”

Fans were quickly attracted to the “everyman” structure of the show, and the pair think they’ve carved a comfortable niche for themselves within a decently occupied genre of podcasting. They attribute much of their success to their style.

“The challenge in the industry is discovery,” Goforth said. “One of the ways to differentiate ourselves is having a very specific type of show. The vast majority of our genre was a bunch of serious believers. So we thought maybe we have some laughs and have a couple beers while doing it.”

Podcasting offers the benefit of being delocalized. Someone can start a podcast from anywhere in the world with equipment and the internet. However, places such as Hand and Goforth’s hometown in the Chicago area offer incredible benefits in their field.

“It’s the greatest city,” Hand said. “We love Chicago, and we’ve had so many opportunities to do stories and visit the actual sites, from the haunted Congress Hotel to H.H. Holmes’ murder house to Resurrection Mary at Resurrection cemetery. We’ve been able to talk to local people about them because we’re in Chicago.”

There also are professional and networking opportunities on which the duo can capitalize.

“Chicago is also a big media city,” Goforth said. “That allows us access to a lot of cool and different people. A lot of other creators are here to collaborate with.”

The future looks bright for Hysteria 51. The show is now under the extremely popular How Stuff Works podcast network, and the co-hosts will be attending conferences around the country, from Kansas City’s Planet Comic Con to Los Angeles’ Alien Con and Chicago’s own True Crime Podcast Festival later this year. Until then, the two intend to keep producing the best show they can.

“Were going to be putting on as great of shows as we can, while trying to be as front and center and accessible to our fans as we can,” Hand said. “That’s one of my favorite things about doing this whole show.”

New episodes of Hysteria 51 are released every Monday and can be found on podcast apps such as Stitcher and Spotify.

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