WNYC's Kai Wright Launches The Stakes

Last month, WNYC Studios premiered a new biweekly podcast called The Stakes. It’s a show about social change and what it takes to create it. Each episode takes a social issue, from democracy to healthcare, from pop culture to the environment, and breaks it down to figure out how we move forward.

The show is hosted by Kai Wright, who has also voiced The United States of Anxiety, Caught and There Goes the Neighborhood.

Pocket Casts asked Kai about the show and what listeners can expect this season. Read on to learn more.

Why did you decide to make this show? Why now?

We are all overwhelmed by the cascading crises of the Trump era, and we’re trying to create a space outside of that mania—because it’s rarely felt more urgent that people stay engaged, rather than turn away in exhaustion. We’re telling deeply reported, often intimate stories that invite listeners to slow down and think meaningfully about American society. How’d we get here? Do we like what we’ve built? Can we make it work better, for more people? These are our driving questions, and we believe a lot of folks want answers, too.

Kai Wright (photo credit: Matthew Septimus / WNYC Studios)

What audience does the show serve?

Our door is wide open to all! As with our previous podcasts, we know we’re a home for history buffs who hunger for backstory and context when they’re hearing the news. We know we are a home for people of color and women and LGBT folks who want to hear themselves, and stories that reflect their lives. We know we’re a home for all sorts of people who want to live in a diverse society with shared opportunity. And we know we’re a home for people who don’t wan’t to wallow in problems, but would rather start thinking about how to fix them.

Which episode this season are you most excited about?

I think I’m most excited about an upcoming episode that looks back at the eruption of “conscious” rap in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Remember Kool Moe Dee? And KRS-One? How’d that moment happen? And where’d it go? This was a fun episode to make. But I’m excited about a lot of them. I got a chance to sit down with former attorney general Eric Holder, Jr., the week after the special counsel’s report was released. That conversation was like oxygen for me.

How are you pulling from your hosting work on other podcasts to shape or influence this one?

The Stakes is a direct evolution of our three previous podcasts, and I’m trying to blend the most special elements of each into this new whole. This show allows me to do the two things I love about being a reporter: The opportunity to sit with someone and listen, deeply, to their personal story; and the opportunity to learn from the brilliant people who can put those stories into a larger context. We’re also very much building on the reporting we did There Goes the Neighborhood, The United States of Anxiety, and Caught – each of which were efforts to understand how America got to this place, and how we might get someplace new.

Tell us more about how the show is engaging new audience through other channels?

We hope everyone will join our ongoing dialogue by signing up for our newsletter at TheStakesPodcast.org and chiming in on social media with #TheStakes. And we’re not just a podcast! The show airs on WNYC as part of our All Things Considered broadcast, and we’ll be working regularly with WNYC’s national radio show The Takeaway to bring our reporting to the radio.

You can listen to the first three episodes of The Stakes right now in Pocket Casts, including the most recent, which focuses shockingly high mortality rates among black mothers after childbirth.

Upcoming episodes this season will focus on:

  • An examination of “conscious” rap and what its rise and fall can tell us about the relationship between culture, politics, and commerce. The episode includes special interviews with rap legend Kool Moe Dee and music writer Nelson George.
  • Fifty years after the Stonewall uprising, the fight for LGBT rights has become a broader movement around the fluidity of sexual and gender identity. What is the state of queer politics today?
  • The dangers of behavioral psychology and our digital addictions. How did we all get so hooked on digital life? And can it be controlled?

Subscribe to The Stakes now in Pocket Casts and follow conversations about the show on Twitter.

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