Brian Koscho is an Athens resident and current grad student at Ohio University. Though Athens is not his hometown, Koscho has called Athens his home since his undergrad years at OU. His work as marketing director at Stuart’s Opera House for the Nelsonville Music Festival kept him busy for 12 years following graduation.
After graduating with his undergrad degree in social studies education, Koscho decided to return to OU to improve his craft and further explore his passions. With a focus in audio storytelling and publication design, Koscho has grown special interest in podcasts throughout his years of work.
Studying as a MFA student, in a program designed for mid-career creative professionals, Koscho has the opportunity to combine his many lifelong interests by launching a new podcast called Invisible Ground.
The Post sat down with Koscho to talk Invisible Ground, networking and more.
The Post: How has your major tied into the podcast hosting and everything?
Koscho: Part of what I'm going to school for is to learn more about audio storytelling and also everything from the technical parts of those worlds to how to tell a story, how to talk to people, how to curate and put together a piece. This was sort of an independent study. I'm going to keep doing it. I've hosted a podcast for seven years now, with another project I do called The Western Reserve. It's an Ohio music podcast. I talk, and I have guests on occasionally, but it's more of just a mixtape every time. But this was a bit more of an, “OK, you're quitting your job and going back to school to learn how to do this stuff,” which is a little different when you're older, too. I've been telling people grad school has a way, especially after you've done something else, it has a way of really making me realize that I definitely knew what I was doing before, even though I never thought I did. My undergrad degree is in social studies education, so I was supposed to be a history teacher. I ended up at Stuart's, and I've always been a musician and always been a creative person besides all that, so I fell into that world for a career, which was amazing. So the history part kind of comes from that — it's the stifled social studies teacher in me.
P: How did you get to completely hosting, producing and putting together this podcast?
K: So I do have the one other one, which is called The Western Reserve. It's not on an official hiatus, but with school, it's been too hard to do. I've been doing that since about 2015 or so. Another project that I've been involved with since 2004 is this thing called Aquabear Legion, which is an Ohio music collective. It's kind of like a record label website, promotional whole thing. We put out records, CDs, tapes and digital downloads and used to put on shows and all sorts of stuff. So that podcast is through Aquabear Legion. I hosted and produced and edited that one. In addition to this stuff right now, I'm also currently a reporter for Inside Appalachia, which is a West Virginia Public Broadcasting show. It's a radio show that NPR produces, so it's on other affiliates, but it's a podcast, too — a pretty popular podcast. I've done one story, and I'm working on a second one with them, and that world is really interesting to me. Invisible Ground was cool, though, because it's mine. I can experiment, and I can do stuff that works or doesn't work and try things, a good laboratory to mess around with all of this stuff. The stories I've done for Inside Appalachia are a seven-minute piece writing and talking and all that stuff, but it wasn't like this was: 36 minutes. I probably recorded six hours worth of stuff for it or seven hours worth of stuff.
P: That's awesome. So if you wouldn't mind just sharing a bit about Invisible Ground — how it got started, who all speaks, how long it's been going, just the drive and purpose behind creating it?
K: When I worked at Stuart's, a historical venue, I was like our amateur historian there. I always had found that, especially going to school to be a social studies teacher, that history is this thing that people find to be very dry and very boring. At best, actually, at worst, it tends to just be a thing that they don't even want to associate with. But what I often found is when I talked to people, and as I kept making connections myself with history, was that was totally the opposite, that it's this living, breathing, really interesting thing. It is the story of our past and our people and our neighborhoods, and everything from big, important stuff like world wars and global conflicts, and things all the way down to how did the street that you live on get its name? And what's the deal with this architecture of this one old house in town, or whatever it might be? When I came back to school, one of the big things I was trying to think about was this grand idea of, “Let's make history interesting,” right? That idea was always there, and local history to me, especially down here, is really, really interesting.
I talked to Tom Hudson a lot, who was the former director of WOUB, and he hosted a lot of podcasts for WOUB. He's on my committee, and he was the first one, when I brought up the cemetery thing, who was like, “Whoa, that's a really good idea.” I talk to Jessica Cyders, who's amazing. She's the director of the Southeast Ohio History Center here in Athens. Tom O'Grady, who was the longtime director of the History Center before her and still does a lot of work. I talked to Evan Shaw, who's a colleague of mine who I work with a lot. I talked to Andrew Chiki, who works for the city of Athens. He knows the history of that place really, really well. So it's just one of those things that I wanted to bring people in that were engaging and made me excited when I talked to them and interested when I heard these things.
P: Yeah, you have some great people, too, that you know just through networking for this.
K: The benefit of staying in a small town for 19 years. Even connecting with one of my good friends, he's a professor at OU. He lives behind the cemetery on First Street. He had all these different experiences walking through there, and I was blown away by all of these stories. It was sort of these perfect examples of people I knew that felt the same way about that place as I did. It felt like a really good jumping off point. To many OU students even, that cemetery is — specifically, the angel, which I talk about a little bit — is this really iconic thing. It's something that if you went to OU at any point, that cemetery has been there since 1816. You probably walked by it or through it, or snuck through there late at night or whatever it is. So I think that goes back to that accessibility. It was something that I thought people could grab on to.
P: Right, for sure. So I know the first part of the series, you said you are specifically focusing on cemeteries. You started off with the first one talking about the West Green Cemetery in Athens. So when exactly did you start the Invisible Ground podcast? How many episodes are out now?
K: So just one. I'm hoping to have the second one out by the end of the year, maybe. The first episode went up at the end of October, so a couple weeks old, only as far as the public. I've been working on it actively since June. Actively recording, editing, scripting, the ideas were kicking around for a while before that. I already have chunks of the second one recorded. That's in editing and scripting now, and that one is on the Mound Cemetery in Marietta, Ohio. I'm hoping by the end of the year.
P: That’s great. OK, so my next question here: I'm interested to know if there's a meaning behind the title or how you went about choosing Invisible Ground as the title for your podcast.
K: I wanted something that would draw somebody in. I wanted to have this sort of feeling. I wanted it to have a vibe. I wanted it to have a sort of presence. So when I was thinking about the name, that to me, is a big part of anything. A big part of the show is to tell this part of history that people that haven't gotten told as much, and that's a big range of things. That's everything from of course, African American history and Native American history and the history of women in the early republic in this country or LGBTQ communities in the early days of this country, any of those things. There was also this element of making that as visible not to use the exact word as the rest of the things you might know about. So this concept of uncovering Invisible Ground or not maybe always realizing what is under your feet around you was sort of where that title came from. Then you realize, I'm gonna give it this thing that not only is everyone going to know it by, but then I'm going to have to say this phrase 9 million times in my life. And so far, it is checked out on all those things. I still like it and haven't gotten tired of saying it. I wasn't freaked out to answer your question about what it means. So it felt right. It felt like a good descriptor of what it was about, and it gave it its own space.
P: I like it a lot. That's great. So going into the research, you mentioned all the time and effort that goes into making just one of these. How extensive was your prior knowledge on, maybe not specifically the cemeteries, but just southeastern Ohio history? How much deeper have you had to expand your knowledge through this?
K: A lot. It was one of the things I was always interested in, so I've read a lot about it over the years. I'm good with where I'm at, but then as you can tell from people in the episode, that there's people that are far beyond that. So that was part of it too, like, “OK, you don't need to be a master of everything as a person writing a podcast, as a person interviewing people.” I've always been a big believer in any part of life in not reinventing the wheel. You bring the people in that know what they're doing, and you have them help you do something new. Again, being in a small town this long, I was lucky enough to have made friends with a lot of those people that have this similar interest as me but know a lot more. I think to get to your question, which is a really good one, that all of those things just provided that base. A lot of times when I was scripting and writing, even if I didn't know everything about something, I would know enough about it to be able to flag something that didn't seem right, or something I needed to know a little bit more about. I think most importantly, like I said, it just gave me the framework of, I knew who to go to and what to look for.
P: Right. So how successful have you felt that it's been so far? Where do you want it to go? Has it met your expectations? How's that going for you?
K: It's a weird thing. It's a balance. Especially firmly in my late 30s now, I don't do anything because I want anyone to listen or care. That's always a bonus when that happens. As someone that makes anything, the sooner that you get over that kind of stuff, the better. That being said, you don't make things so that nobody hears them or cares about them. So for me, it's two things. I've gotten a lot of messages, texts, emails and notes from people that I know and people that I don't know at all, which is cool. Athens is one of those places that's really special to a lot of people, like I said. I think it has a lot of potential. I hope it's something that I can keep figuring out different stories to tell. It's terrifying when you start doing something brand new because you don't really know if you're any good at it or if you should have done that. One thing that's been really cool about Invisible Ground is I now realize that I'm good at it.
P: Yeah, that's great. Last question I have for you, is there anything else you would like to share for potential listeners, or people who may be interested in your content?
K: So the first thing is, I really encourage anyone that has any cool stories, especially about Southeast Ohio, or something in their community, to reach out to me or even better to just go find out about it. A big part of this show is, I want to really encourage people to investigate this stuff on their own. Think about why things are the way they are, where they live, where they're from. Then also about their own histories, their families and their ancestors and where they come from. And I also believe it makes people better people if you know more about your community. If you know more about your past and you know more about each other, you tend to treat each other better. You tend to have this better understanding of these places where we all come from. I hope it's something that makes people think about life a little differently, even if it's a few people.