The past is never past. Every headline has a history. Throughline, the newest addition to NPR's podcast roster, provides the history we sometimes forget — or didn't know in the first place — of events in the news and ideas dominating our national conversations. Through cinematic and sound-rich storytelling, hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei will give you the story and perspectives often missing from history textbooks to help you understand our world today.
Throughline delves deep into history, from explaining how the U.S. overthrew Iran's democratic government to unpacking how conspiracy theories shaped American political culture. The podcast will allow listeners to take a step back from the rapid-paced news cycle and more profoundly absorb the historical context at play in the dialogue surrounding today's headlines.
Ahead of Throughline's launch today, February 7, we spoke with Rund and Ramtin about their transition from producers to hosts, what discoveries they made during the production process, and how they hope the show will impact Americans' perceptions of their country's history.
Throughline journeys into the past to better understand the present—what can the stories told in the podcast tell us about where we are today?
In our culture, we tend to divorce ourselves from history, as if it exists in some faraway place. But the truth is, we live in history. Right now, this moment is history. So on Throughline we're trying to explore the connections between things that have happened in the past and our current world. We sincerely believe that there is no way to fully comprehend the domestic and international events unfolding around us without having a grasp on how we got here.
How did you pick the topics covered in Throughline?
We try to let our natural curiosity guide us toward topics. We are both constantly trying to soak up ideas from our daily experiences and news consumption. Really, anything that's in the headlines or happening in the world today is fair game. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the listener. So we cover all sorts of topics, ranging from politics to sports to culture to technology, with both domestic and international reach. Each episode is a journey into a particular topic. And by the end of that journey, we hope to have a better understanding of how it impacts the world today.
What was the most surprising discovery you made during your research for the show?
There are so many discoveries that surprised us. But, generally, we are always surprised by how many amazing stories stay hidden in the books of historians. Like, the story of how one young American spy forever changed Korean history. Or how coffee once struck fear in the hearts of Europeans. And how one marketing genius helped create today's opioid epidemic. We are just so excited to share all these amazing, rarely told stories.
How do you hope Throughline will impact Americans' perceptions of their country's history? What do you hope listeners will take away from the show?
History can teach us so much. It can help us see the world in a more complex way. And, frankly, we as Americans don't have a great sense of history. We tend to not want to look back. And we generally simplify our past. But by doing that, we miss out on so much. So our show is going to transport listeners to moments in time that shaped the world we live in now. We will create a fun, exciting listening experience and hopefully give listeners a more complete view of our collective history.
You both have previously worked as producers on podcasts such as TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. How have your experiences as producers influenced your work as hosts on Throughline?
Being producers on those shows has shaped our work in every possible way. We still think like producers and probably always will. We both love sound design, scoring and all the amazing potential of audio-rich storytelling. These are things we learned to love while spending countless hours cutting, mixing, and editing segments. The strength of our show comes from that experience and a genuine love of sound. On Throughline we are hosts, but we also produce the episodes. This gives us a chance to be creative in every step of making an episode. This doesn't happen often in the public radio world and we feel very fortunate to have this opportunity.
Rund, what have you enjoyed about working with Ramtin? Ramtin, what have you enjoyed about working with Rund?
Ramtin: Rund is the most creative producer I've ever worked with. She is constantly surprising me with her ideas and the segments she puts together. I also never have to worry about whether we are on the same page. It is so liberating to work with someone who shares your vision fully! I couldn't imagine working with anyone else on this show.
Rund: Ramtin seems to have an endless list of talents. He brings such a unique and creative and visionary approach to the work we're doing. Plus, he's SO much fun to work with. He has an infectious energy that makes everyone around him better. I know that without him, I would never have had the confidence to start on this journey in the first place. And would not have wanted to take that journey with anyone else.