The Unexplained With Howard Hughes: the podcast that investigates the paranormal

The podcast always seems to feature a guest sweetly insisting, “This is not a bunch of baloney!”

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Ever since Howard Hughes started presenting a Sunday-night show on the recently launched talkRADIO, the paranormal investigator has been sounding a little fretful on his regular podcast. “Some of you think that because I’m doing a once-a-week radio show from London, based on this podcast that’s been running for ten years, that I don’t need donations now,” he said mournfully in the most recent episode. “But I absolutely do. Most of us who do radio exist very much on the margins.”

I have been listening to Hughes since 2012. Crop circles, shadow people – I can never get enough and will for ever cherish his episodes on the Enfield poltergeist (“If you’re easily upset, you may have to skip this edition”) and “the world’s most haunted house” (“I mean, when the refrigerator floated downstairs, they didn’t just say, ‘Oh, my God . . .’”).

The podcast always seems to feature a guest sweetly insisting, “This is not a bunch of baloney!” like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind begging François Truffaut to admit that they don’t need to wear special face masks, because what’s going on in Wyoming clearly isn’t a toxic nerve gas spill.

The way that Hughes deals with his many listeners – a gnarly, scratchy bunch – is diplomatic. Recently, in just five minutes, Bob in Boston questioned the show’s analysis of electrogravitic drives (“Let’s not go off into fairy-tale land”), Matthew in Wales dismissed Hughes’s attitude to free energy as overly sceptical (“You sounded like a BBC reporter”), Paul in Wisconsin insisted that at least some time should be devoted to transhumanism and Laurentino in Portugal (a conspiracy theorist and regular emailer) was disappointed that he alone had noticed that Dr Patrick Kelly on the 251st show sounded like “the voice synthesis of Mac OS X”. Not for the first time, Kurt in the US even objected to Hughes speaking at all.

“Maybe I do talk too much,” our presenter conceded, sadly. “But I think you’re going to have a problem finding a podcast where the host doesn’t talk.” (Might I suggest, Howard, a special on Upton Sinclair’s book Mental Radio, about his telepathic wife, Mary?) 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 19 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Huckster