Darren Marlar is a podcast host with a big personality and a great sense of humour. His award-winning podcast, Weird Darkness, contains true stories of the “paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained”. With over 1500 episodes to his name, Darren Marlar is a podcasting force to be reckoned with. I ask him how it all began:
“My birthday is November 1st, so I always celebrated it surrounded by Halloween”, reminisces Marlar. “In fact, my first memory of it was going Trick or Treating with my dad. There was a cool house all decked out with Halloween decorations and I was terrified! I didn’t want to go up to the door, as there was a man on the doorstep dressed as a werewolf. My dad saw how disappointed I was not to go up to the house for candy, so dad told me to go up to the wolf and give a big roar, which I did. The wolf acted all scared and ran away. That was the trigger right there; so began a life-long interest in the paranormal”.
Darren is by no means solely a podcast host, however, with over thirty years of experience as a radio broadcaster and voice-over artist, he is a true veteran in the voice-presenting industry.
In 1990 he began working full-time in radio for a Christian radio station in Kansas City and is still employed in Christian radio to this day, in Chicago.
Other artistic projects include voiceovers for commercial clients, movie trailers, Kickstarter trailers, skits, and adverts. Darren admits he’s always been an audio buff and got into radio through his ambition to be a singer in High School. Having also tried stand-up comedy and regular acting work, he soon realized that his creative passions lay elsewhere, so he ditched the singing for talking, a decision he’s been happy with ever since.
At this point, I’m treated to a short burst of his voice-over range and repertoire, from a deep movie trailer Don la Fontaine voice, through Sam Elliot-style: deep and silky cowboy to Walt Disney-style animation voices. I’m actually quite impressed with the show! However, Marlar’s podcast style is more chatty show host than ‘voice-over guy’ and it suits the genre well, especially when it comes to story-telling. As the Bronze winner for his narration of ‘The Tell-tale Heart’ at Hear Now 2020 Podcast Palooza and named as ‘one of the best storytellers in podcasting’ in 2019 By Podcast Business Journal (to name but a few accolades), he is no stranger to his efforts being recognized by the industry. However, he remains modest about his achievements, “I’d done podcasting for a long time before I even knew what podcasting was- turns out I’d been doing it all the time!”
“So, how did the idea for Weird Darkness happen?” I ask.
It turns out that he initially recorded a whole radio slot, then trimmed it down, keeping the main bits and put it out as a short radio show called ‘Marlar in the Morning’, in which was contained ‘The Daily Dose of Weird News’; a YouTube version of a comedy podcast idea he had had. It was initially weird news mixed with comedy but soon the comedy became less of a feature and so Weird Darkness was born in 2015.
“I was watching a YouTube channel by someone and he was telling stories about ghosts, goblins, etc and I thought it was interesting, I like that material,” says Marlar, “I thought, I can do that and bring my storytelling material to it. So I tried one as a tester. It got a good reception and I found that podcasting was less time-consuming and more enjoyable. It got my creative rocks off.”
The rest, as they say, is podcasting history.
Darren works from home these days, splitting his time between voice-over work and podcasting. He says he does it because of the sheer enjoyment of it and it’s easy to believe him. Listening to his upbeat, jovial style, you really couldn’t keep up that level of positivity every day unless you really loved your work. “Unless you’re Joe Rogan you don’t make a lot of money out of it. I do it because I love it”.
Over the last year or so, Darren has upped his output of the podcast from two days to a whopping seven days a week. “How do you manage it”? I ask.
“Well, there are archived episodes on at the weekends”, he admits, “fans love to hear old episodes, you know, especially the old trailers and sound effects.”
But still, seven days a week? I ask how he does it, what does his week looks like? He says;
“There isn’t really a typical weekday day, they’re all different. I sleep late, get up about noon, which annoys my bride (an endearing reference to his wife of twenty-six years), as she gets up early. I eat my breakfast and wander into the studio about one or two pm. Then follows email sorting, reading news, answering letters, which takes a good couple of hours. Then onto crafting that day’s episode.”
“Lots of people think I craft an episode a few days ahead. I wish I were that organized! As we speak, I’m still in the middle of creating tonight’s episode. In fact, sometimes I don’t even know what stories are necessarily going to be in an episode until I make it.”
But the magic soon happens. The mark of a true creative.
Darren works on the basis that he needs twelve pages for one hour, then organizes it accordingly. Next, he writes little teasers, introductions, and any links in the show.
Following that is the audio portion, which he finds the most fun. Then edit. And edit again. Even though he is a professional voice-over artist, he admits that he still makes mistakes.
“It takes twenty minutes to skim the edits and remove them, then I go back in to process levels, sort out the normalization (to change its overall volume by a fixed amount to reach a target level), put in sound effects and music, the whole process probably takes six to eight hours. I treat it as a full-time job”.
He usually finishes about midnight, which he says is ok for most episodes, (unless it’s thriller Thursday which has to go out Friday morning as it takes him so long to edit it- he says it makes him look like an idiot but that’s how it is).
I’m sure his fans will forgive him. It sounds like a mammoth process. The thing with Darren Marlar is, you can tell that he’s a perfectionist. He won’t be satisfied until an episode is completely finished, and if that means it’s late out, then so be it. I admire him for this level of dedication to his craft.
Our conversation takes a sharp turn leftfield then, onto the subject of the paranormal. Has he had any notable spooky experiences of his own?
“No. No big paranormal experiences except for a couple of sleep paralysis incidents”.
It transpires that, a few years ago, during one of these episodes, he became convinced that the experience was demonic in some way. A sense of evil came over him, (known as ‘old hag syndrome’). He felt something evil was looming over him.
“It was a giant shadow figure”, says Marlar. “I wasn’t sure if it had red eyes or if I’m projecting it into my memory. It had an intense feeling of evil. Of course, you can’t scream but I was sure yelling in my head!”
He remembers closing his eyes and shouting, “Jesus save me, Jesus saves me!” It went away, then he was able to move. It has bothered him ever since.
“I’m not sure why it happened to me but I’m sure it has a spiritual aspect to it”, he muses. “That’s the only paranormal thing that’s happened to me.”
This brings me to a question that has been asked of him many times:
As a man of strong faith, how does he reconcile his faith with the paranormal?
He pauses. Apparently, a lot of Christians come to him and ask him exactly the same question. He says, “The Bible has ghosts, witches, and monsters but nobody ever talks about them. For instance, in the Old Testament, there is Leviathan, which is a sea monster. There’s also Behemoth, which is a land monster, a little like a dinosaur. There are also witches in 1st Samuel (28:3-25). Saul consults with the Witch of Endor when he wants to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel, to get advice about going into battle”.
He continues, “Jesus himself talks about ghosts in the book of Luke, ‘look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as I have.’ In a way, he says, ‘yes, ghosts exist, but I am not one. So the Bible does say ghosts are real.”
So he really doesn’t believe he is far from his faith. What he is careful to avoid, however, is endorsing or recommending things that are dangerous for someone’s soul. Things such as ouija boards. He wouldn’t recommend them but does talk about them in the podcast because they are interesting. He is not endorsing or promoting the use of them, just telling a story about them. He doesn’t want to put anyone’s soul in danger. He simply wants to share his faith and let people decide for themselves.
“Sometimes the entire episode can be so dark that I want to leave people with a little light and hope. That’s why I end each episode with, “now we’re coming out of the dark let me leave you with a little light”.
On the subject of light and hope, Darren spends a lot of time promoting and raising money for depression and suicide awareness and even donates all the profits from his merchandise to a variety of charities that raise money for these causes. I ask him how this came about.
“I suffer with depression”, he says. “It’s something that doesn’t really get talked about. It’s not easy to talk about mental illness.”
He goes on to explain, “Other people wouldn’t treat someone different if they had a physical illness. We keep it secret for some reason. We treat ourselves like lepers, we don’t want to say we’re struggling. It needs to be more open to discussion, rather than being a closet illness. We need to admit we need help and stop worrying that people will think we’re mad. They won’t. Chances are they would just want to help, but we are way too hard on ourselves.”
Darren’s take on it is that Weird Darkness has such dark content and contains so much darkness and death, that people who suffer from depression are more apt to gravitate towards those types of dark subjects. Initially, he put out thirty-second public service announcements during the podcast, saying if people were suffering from depression or thoughts of hurting themselves, here was the info for various depression or suicide awareness charities and prevention hotlines. He says he got lots of emails saying ‘thank you for including that in your podcast, we really appreciate it”.
“They tend to put their trust in you which is a huge responsibility and burden. If one person emails there are 10 who don’t because people tend not to say anything.”
Darren was diagnosed with depression, so he knew what his symptoms were and how to handle it. He looked online and didn’t find anywhere that was specifically targeting depression for the wider community. He thought, ‘No wonder we’re not talking about it, not even the web is!”
After about a year of searching, he found iFred. It’s a charity specifically trying to find out what causes depression and what can be done to help people who suffer from depression. They aren’t counselors, but they do have numbers you can call. After talking to the president of iFred, he then found out about 7 cups, which is an app and a website where you can speak to people who will help you to deal with depression.
“That’s what I was looking for, for so long. It was like a hidden gem that no-one was talking to anyone about online.”
Once Darren started telling people about 7 cups and iFred, thankful emails started coming in thick and fast.
“These charities need money to keep on thriving. If people don’t know about them then no one is going to give to them, because these are all non-profit organizations. That’s why I started raising money for them. I began with money from Live scream on Halloween but I soon realized it was not going to be enough, so I started to donate profits from the Weird Darkness shop and rotated them between these organizations throughout the year. I’m also planning to be able to donate all the profits from Weird Darkness roast coffee too, in the future.”
Yes, Darren has his own brand of coffee too! Is there no end to this man’s talents? What else can we expect from this enigmatic entrepreneur in the future, we wonder?
Two things apparently, Retro Radio and the return of the Halloween Live Scream.
The Retro Radio idea started because he has always loved the golden age of radio, shows like The Whistler or The Shadow. Darren calls it, “The Theatre of the mind.” Darren had already had an idea about adding in an old-time radio show with a twist, at the weekends. Perhaps in the style of M. Night Shyamalan. Where, “You know it’s coming, and it’s still a surprise”.
Step in Carl Amari, host of Hollywood 360 radio show. Darren happened to be walking down the corridor at the radio station and Carl needed someone to star in a game for his show. He grabbed Darren and said, “Hey you, come and play this game with me”. They started talking and Darren discovered that Carl produced the Twilight Zone radio show. A few months later, Carl contacted him and asked if he’d like to use some of the old-time radio shows in his podcast, in return for recommending Carl’s show on the podcast. Carl believes in the value of podcasts, so was willing to take a chance on Weird Darkness. The perfect symbiotic relationship. Darren thinks it has a great feel for the show at the weekend, still in the spooky, dark sci-fi genre but with the old-time flavour of retro radio.
So what of the Live Scream? The live stream Halloween version of the podcast on YouTube has been tricky (change that to impossible) to set up with audience interaction, over the last couple of years, due to the pandemic. However, it is set to return this year, with spooky whistles and bells on.
“I love the Trick or Treaters stepping in front of the camera on purpose”, Darren enthuses. “The best bit is the children being dressed up. I thought it would be fun if they interrupted me, engaging me in a bit of banter. As soon as you tell the kids they are being filmed, they immediately go into ham mode, performing for the camera. It’s fantastic.”
This year, he is hoping to go outside and interact with the Trick or Treaters again. The fans really loved it, so watch out for it again this year, weather permitting. This is an exclusive, as he hasn’t told anyone else about it. You heard it here first!
So, where does that leave the podcast? What exactly is it, if it’s so many things to so many people? Is it in danger of being too eclectic? Too eccentric? Too willing to try to please everyone at the same time? Marlar sums it up by saying,
“My theory for having an anthology with five to six different genres in one episode was that, ‘people who like dark things will like other dark things too’. Simple. I wanted to do something different, not have all the same topics in each episode. I love reading about crime, unsolved mysteries, the paranormal, lore – all sorts of genres. Even if they are very dark in nature, I find them fascinating. That’s the reason I put all those subjects into Weird Darkness together. I find that most people who like dark things in one genre will like the dark in another genre too. The listeners may not like every story but each episode will have a bit of something that everyone likes. Then they will listen to the whole episode and maybe keep coming back for more”.
That’s what podcasting is all about, after all. Keep the audience coming back for more, week on week. It works. If you like the unusual, I’d recommend you listen to Weird Darkness. You won’t regret it.
So, to sum up, Darren Marlar is self-deprecating, modest, funny and has, “pretty much covered the entire planet” with his podcast show and radio projects. He says he didn’t realize he was well known enough to have a magazine article written about him. He says it makes him feel special. He IS special. And those parts of the planet or universe who haven’t heard of him yet should get themselves ready for the meteor that is Darren Marlar. Watch this space….he’s about to rock your world.
You can listen to WD on Spreaker, Apple Podcasts, Alexa., Google home device pocket cats stitcher. Wherever you listen to podcasts, you can find WD…. And find Darren on https://weirddarkness.com/archives/category/episodes