Before Joe Rogan, Tim Dillon, and Dasha Nekrasova, there was a surprising podcast host who brought life to the medium before it was even born. That actress and star was the comedy icon Lucille Ball. Prior to the podcast explosion that occurred in the 2010’s and thrived throughout the pandemic, certain celebrities hosted their own radio programs that featured a similar format to the genre we listen to today. One of such celebrities was Lucille Ball, best recognized for being the co-creator and star of one of the first and longest running sitcoms of the century, I Love Lucy.

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Lucille Ball would carry her massive recorder into the homes of stars and onto the sets of some of the most watched television shows where she would record and interview a wide range of friends, co-stars, fellow comedians and cultural icons, providing brief glimpses into the life of real Hollywood stars. Her recordings aired on a CBS radio program in the 1960s, known as Let’s Talk To Lucy. But now, nearly 60 years later, Ball’s show is making a comeback in the form of the modern podcast format. Sirius XM announced through the LA Times that the network is planning to repackage and redistribute Ball’s radio program as part of their pop-up channel 104. The podcast will feature 240 episodes with A-List guest stars including Frank Sinatra, Carole Burnett, and Dean Martin. 

An Icon of Unparalleled Influence

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Lucille Ball’s influence on the sitcom as a medium of television is unparalleled. Her show, I Love Lucy, became an industry standard based on format, presentation, and style. Ball developed and made popular the three-camera shooting style for sitcoms, which meant three cameras were recording the same scene from a series of different angles. This helped speed production along at an unprecedented pace, allowing for easier editing and a more authentic stage-like feel. The style became the most popular method of shooting, utilized for shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory.

Outside of her genre, Lucille Ball was also known for having been the lead producer behind the sci-fi television series Star Trek. Back in 1960, Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz purchased their own studio based off the success of I Love Lucy. When the couple divorced, Ball took over the studio, quickly becoming one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. As the head of Desilu Productions, Ball pushed for a unique sci-fi series at first known as The Cage. Through her help and influence, the pilot turned into a series that became known as Star Trek. The studio also turned out other television classics like Mission: Impossible and The Untouchables.

Reformatting Radio

Ball’s influence in the world of comedy and television was monumental. She was the first woman inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1968 and is known for having been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001. Posthumously, she was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989.

But her influence has stemmed beyond her sitcom and comedic performances. She is also now the technical godmother of the modern medium, the podcast. Her radio program featured a style distinct from most other radio shows of the time. Instead of cutting clips together and tying in b-roll audio to match the segments, she let her interviews run, diving deep into conversations about comedy and philosophy with some of the greatest stars of her time. She spoke with Bing Crosby, Barbara Streisand, and Bob Hope and was able to gather a range of unique answers and opinions that the stars were previously unable to express. Ball’s own openness and willingness to be vulnerable made her guests comfortable enough to share glimpses into their deeper truths, asking questions like ‘If you could be anyone in the history of the world, who would you want to be?’

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These conversation between Ball and her guests became a collective catalogue and audio time capsule that aged just as well as the I Love Lucy series itself.

“It’s been my nemesis and the greatest joy of my life for 30 some years,” said Ball’s daughter Lucie Arnaz in an interview with the Los Angeles Times about the interviews. “You do a first pass right, which is, ‘What is this? Should I throw it out?’ And then many years later you go through it for another reason — for a documentary — and you look at it differently.”

The program, going under the same name Let’s Talk To Lucy, will be coming to SiriusXM this year. But Ball isn’t the only cultural icon to reemerge from beyond the grave with a voice that still resonates with a new generation of listeners. Reformatting lectures and podcasts from previous icons is the latest trend to emerge from the podcasting industry.

Ghosts in the Machine

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In addition to Lucille Ball, the Be Here Now network has also started reformatting podcasts with lost-but-not-forgotten figures of influence. The network recently released a podcast starring Alan Watts called Being in the Way, narrated by his son Mark, which features some of Watts most influential and engaging lectures. The talks are now accessible to a younger audience who might be more familiar with the podcast format. The network has also launched a Ram Dass podcast called Ram Dass Here and Now that features lessons and lectures from the psychology-guru who continues to inspire modern-day comedians like Pete Holmes and Duncan Trussell even after his death.

Another podcast in the same vein is Marlon and Jake Read Dead People. The series, hosted by two novelists, is a literary podcast where the writers read the works of dead authors and discuss their historical implications and relevance to the modern day.  Hosted by Man booker prize winning author Marlon James and his editor Jake Morrissey, the series has already spanned 19 episodes and landed its own feature within the LA Times.

Despite no longer being present on Earth, the voices of these authors echo through adaptations of their works, whether it be in the podcast medium or in the feature films they have been adapted into. The duo of Marlon and Jake have discussed a variety of books-turned-films by dead authors  including William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Roderick Thorp’s  Nothing Lasts Forever (Better known as Die Hard) and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Both formats, the films and the podcasts, have created ghosts that live on through the machines of film and audio and new technology that serve to inspire another generation of creators who gain inspiration from their ahead-of-their-time predecessors.

Despite her passing in 1989 at the age of 77, Lucille Ball is still one of the most powerful women in Hollywood who sets the standard for being ahead of her time. Whether it was the advent of the podcast, the discovery of the three-camera shoot, or the creation of Star Trek, Ball proved herself to be a timeless icon beyond her superstar fame. She created genres, formats, and production styles that continue to appear in the culture of the modern era and was an innovative artist beyond her time. Through her challenging life, her dedication to her career, and her unique sense of humor, she continues to live on as both an iconic Hollywood star, and as an innovative influencer from an era in our culture’s past.

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Sources: MSN, NYPost, Yahoo, LATimes, People, AFrame, CBS, TVTropes, StarTrek, WomensHistory, BeHereNowNetwork 

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