When Sonoma State Alumnus Jake Mermell asked his former professor and Sonoma State University Criminal Justice Department Chair Eric Williams to be a guest on his Saturday morning ESPN radio show in Los Angeles, it was to discuss Williams’ other passion: the Boston Celtics. It went so well, they a started a podcast about law, criminal justice, prisons and current events.
“I realized he and I had a pretty good chemistry in class,” says Williams. “He was that rare student that would read the Economist cover to cover. He was a lot of fun to argue with.” That’s high praise coming from someone who studies Supreme Court arguments for a living.
The two link up via computer and record the show in their respective homes. Mermell puts together the final product, which is published on the Web a few days later. The fifth episode of “Doin’ Time with Eric and Jake,” published this month, is now available for download or streaming via computer or mobile device on iTunes and Soundcloud.
The episodes touch on everything from politics and criminal justice to basketball and television. One particularly enlightening segment about Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland discusses the politics behind his nomination and why he has yet to have a confirmation hearing from both the Left and Right sides of the political aisle.
Mermell, a conservative, and Williams, who describes himself as “someone more on the left,” respect each other’s opinions but don’t shy away from sharing their own. Williams shows what makes him a popular (and award-winning) teacher by respecting his younger co-host’s views and engaging in conversation. The show doesn’t come across as a student interviewing a teacher, it feels like a well-produced radio show centered around smart conversation.
The tone of the show is not overly academic, but it delves deeper into topics than clickbait websites like Buzzfeed might. “I would like to reach people who have some interest in the criminal justice system or law, but I certainly am not speaking to scholars,” says Williams. “I happen to love this stuff and I would like people to also love the stuff I’m interested in.”
Media critics have predicted 2016 as the year that podcasting explodes, much like blogging did in 2004. So far, the critics have been spot on.
President Obama solidified the legitimacy of podcasts when he appeared on Marc Maron’s show earlier this year. The runaway hit 12-episode Serial podcast saw 3.5 million downloads of the final episode of its first season, and a behind-the-scenes tour with the creators sold out across the country, including at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center. “I’ve owned my car for two years and never turned on the radio because I only listen to podcasts,” says Williams.
Still, he acknowledges it will be some time before podcasts become a universally adopted format. “But my mother has never heard an episode of the show yet because she doesn’t know how to get podcasts,” says Williams.
When asked who his dream guest would be, Williams said “any Supreme Court Justice,” but then narrowed it down to Clarence Thomas. “I had a chance to meet him a few years ago with a couple of students and he was very surprising,” he said. “I think he would be surprising to a lot of people.”