The AI-assisted logo of the "Concord Storytellers" podcast. Image courtesy of CJ Johnson

‘Concord Storytellers’ explores community’s past, present, and future

By Beth 

Before papyrus, even before the evolution of language, there were storytellers. 

Experts trace our efforts to chronicle events as far back as the cave paintings of Altamira, Spain, Lascaux, France, and, 49,000 years ago, to Indonesian caves. 

Though Concord came along much later, the town has its own rich legacy well worth preserving. 

And using 21st century technology, Concord resident CJ Johnson aims to do just that.

“It’s a modern time capsule,” he says of his nascent “Concord Storytellers” podcast. 

Johnson believes his venture is timely in light of the upcoming 250th anniversary of the start of the American Revolution. His mission is to showcase prominent guests speaking to historical and contemporary Concord and to the future of the community.

Telling tales

Featuring Concord historian Richard Smith on Thoreau, the first podcast episode dropped on Spotify and Apple in April. The second, “Ghosts and the Astrological in Concord” with author Brianne Keith, came out in early May. A third episode with Concord resident and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek followed. 

Though it’s early, Johnson says “Concord Storytellers” — with no marketing — has already garnered a couple hundred downloads through Apple and Spotify searches. 

“I am hoping it will grow as we actually get the word out.”

Past; present; future

While history is important, Johnson maintains his podcast is not strictly steeped in the past. “I do want to tell stories of our past, speak with notable residents, but also explore how the town is preparing for a rapidly changing world,” he says. He is eager to identify guests who can address these issues and how the community will look in 50 years. 

Johnson also envisions a digest of smaller stories — what he calls “fun facts” — from submissions made through the “Concord Storytellers” website. 

“I was at a meeting and heard that back in the 1700s, people started painting their chimneys black to show support for the Crown, instead of being a revolutionary. But then others thought it looked really good so it became a design trend,” he says. 

“You won’t get a 30-minute episode out of that, but it’s a cool thing. A lot of people must know [and can contribute] these kinds of things; it will be fun to put it all together.”

CJ Johnson, right, interviews Concord resident Micah Benson, chief science officer at KSQ Therapeutics, for an upcoming podcast. Courtesy photo

Podcasting 101

Johnson is a tech entrepreneur by profession. While attending MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he started a software company and ran it for 12 years. 

“I was working 100 hours a week the entire time. I didn’t have a life,” he says. When his son Luke was born in 2018, he sold the company and moved Luke and wife Mira, also a tech entrepreneur, from Belmont to Concord, seeking his next adventure and more space in which to raise a family.

At a friend’s suggestion, Johnson did a podcast for a charity golf tournament. “I had no idea how to do that, but we did it,” he reflects. Growing up, he craved creativity, and although he later immersed himself in the tech world, he missed it. 

“Podcasting seemed like fun — a project well worth doing,” he says.

One basement, one laptop, two mics

Working in his basement with two microphones and a laptop and shutting off a noisy oil burner when recording, Johnson uses podcast hosting platform He’s teaching himself as he goes, just as he’s done with nearly every venture he’s started. 

His website features an AI-generated logo: two Colonial-era figures in a tavern engaged in a podcast. Johnson also asked ChatGPT to tweak the image to make the duo more diverse.

Johnson’s dream guests have Concord ties. Among them: Concord-Carlisle High School alum Sam Presti, executive vice president and general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder; “Captain America” actor Chris Evans; and Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

“I think the hardest part will be getting people locked down and scheduled to record,” he says. 

He envisions creating his podcasts for one year and then wrapping up the project, positing the library may want to archive them. Even if that doesn’t happen, Johnson is satisfied knowing they’ll be out there.

“I feel like we get these very polished views of history,” he says. “But we need to know what people are really like. Fifty years from now, I hope someone will uncover this.”

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