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667: Wartime Radio

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

When Dave was turning his life around and trying different things and figuring out what to do next, one of the places he looked was to the Howard Stern Show. And I think that was a really good choice.

I know everybody is not a fan of Howard Stern, but I am. And I think that one of the best things about the show is that it's always been a place where people talk with this kind of brutal and funny honesty about themselves. One of Howard's innovations is that he took the strain of crude, dark, confessional comedy that's always been a big part of stand-up, ever since Lenny Bruce-- Howard figured out a way to turn that into radio, daily radio.

Anyway, to get back to this guy Dave, he loved that about the show. And in 2015, he was a few months sober, in his early 40s, working as a waiter at Katz's Deli in New York City. When he was younger, he'd worked in television, hosting an interview show for college kids but ruined that career with heroin addiction.

Now sober in recovery, he needed a project. And he decided to a podcast about drugs with the feeling of the Howard Stern Show. Like, he remembered the years when comedian Artie Lange was on Howard Stern-- definitely my favorite period of Howard Stern.

When Artie would come on every day. He would talk about his own drug problems. He would tell crazy stories. He would talk in this very real way about the mistakes he was making in his life at that time that he was not able to stop, and Dave wanted to shoot for that. He would co-host the show with his friend Chris who-- he had met Chris years before in rehab.

They would spend hours in rehab smoking cigarettes and talking about the crazy things that they'd done on drugs. That's what they wanted the podcast to be. People'd come on, tell wild drug stories, and-- very important to Dave-- no recovery talk, which Dave found to be sanctimonious and annoying.

Dave

This show is not necessarily about recovery.

Chris

Mm-hmm.

Dave

It's about drugs.

Chris

Maybe eventually it will be who knows.

Dave

If this show is ever about recovery, you got to get somebody else in this spot. I'm out.

Ira Glass

OK, in case this isn't clear. In these recordings, Dave is the one with the deeper voice and the loud opinions, Chris is the other guy.

Dave

This show is about drug stories. It's not about recovery. It's not about doing the next right thing. It's about the last wrong thing.

Chris

But maybe with the evolution of your recovery, that's what the show will become.

Ira Glass

Notice how at the end there, Chris is not agreeing with Dave. Chris is 10 years younger than Dave, but started drugs and drinking at an earlier age-- he was just 11 or 12-- and has way more extreme stories about it, including a year in prison. He's also spent way more time in rehab.

And at this point, he'd been sober for nearly two years versus four months for Dave. And all of that gave him a different feeling about recovery and sobriety. He was game to talk about it, but Dave was adamant. Sobriety isn't all that entertaining. And first and foremost, he wanted the podcast to be entertaining.

Dave

If this show was about recovery, it's going to be lame.

Ira Glass

So they'd tell drug stories. It wasn't meant to be good for you. It was meant to be fun. They listed it in the comedy section of iTunes, not self-help. If you want self-help, Dave had said, go to a meeting.

They were going to call the show War Stories, but there was already a podcast called War Stories. It was about actual war with tanks and guns and stuff, so they came up with Dopey, which really captures the spirit of the show perfectly. As Chris put it, two dopes talking about dope.

Chris

Listen, I am so grateful to be sober. And I'm so grateful to be able to talk about drugs, you know, like in a way where I'm not feeling bad about it. It's not even euphoric recall. It's just funny.

Dave

And I think that's why we got along, 'cause we felt safe doing that with each other. You know, sometimes you feel a little judged with people when you recount funny stuff that's happened to you.

Chris

Yeah.

Ira Glass

In Dopey, there's going to be no judgment of drug use, past or present. They recorded the first episode on a laptop, no microphone or anything, near a fish tank in Dave's apartment in Manhattan. Maybe you could hear the hum of the tank in that recording. But between this episode, Episode 1 and Episode 143 of Dopey-- just 2 and 1/2 years later-- their lives are going to change drastically.

By Episode 143, Dopey would sound completely different. In the episodes in between, they chronicle this story where so much happens to them and some others, things lots of drug users face. But because podcasts and radio are so intimate, it all gets documented in the most unfiltered way.

Dave and Chris wanted their show to be just for fun, but it ended up being so much more. Today, we're going to have two stories like this. Stories about a kind of DIY radio-- very different kinds of DIY radio-- but in both stories, it's amateurs inventing how to talk about what it is that they're going through.

And really, both stories are dispatches from two very different battlefields. I know that sounds a little grand, but really this story-- from the opioid epidemic-- and then the other story is from a small town in Syria, in the middle of the war that's going on there. And we hear about life during that war in this way that is much more personal and close up than we usually get. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: Two Dope Kings

Ira Glass

Act One, Two Dope Kings. So OK, you remember the premise? Two guys-- Dave and Chris-- they have this podcast. It's called Dopey. Dana Chivvis from our staff, listened to dozens of hours of the podcast, spanning 2 and 1/2 years, and tells the story of what happened.

Quick warning before we start, since this is the podcast internet version of our show, we have removed the bleeps that we use when we do the show on the radio. If you prefer a bleeped version of the show, it's at our website. Now here's Dana.

Dana Chivvis

We've been talking about this podcast for five minutes already. And the whole point of the podcast is to tell crazy drug stories, so let's get right to one. This is from the very first episode. Chris tells the story.

Chris

So I relapsed. I don't even want to say I relapsed. I just started using again after a brief period of abstinence. And I took a lot of Xanax-- about 60 bars-- for those of you that know bars.

Dave

At once?

Chris

No, over a period of about three or four days.

Dave

So you took 120 milligrams over four days?

Chris

Yeah, and I blacked out for about a week. And during that blackout, I robbed a veterinarian. I went into the veterinary clinic. I told them my cat was having seizures and I needed phenobarbital ASAP. They told me something like, you know, we don't just hand out medications for the asking. Please fill out some paperwork and can we see your cat? Obviously, I had no cat with me.

Dave

Did you have a cat at home?

Chris

I did have a cat at home, Smegal.

[LAUGHING]

So I fill out the paperwork. And while I was filling out the paperwork, I ended up putting it down and storming into the back, knocked over the nurse. And the veterinarian came into the medication storage room and tried to stop me.

I got out. The police came. I struggled with the police and fought them, and got a bunch of assaults on the police officers. There was a helicopter on the scene. It was a big, big deal.

Dave

And just so you know something about Chris-- he's burly. Chris is at least six feet. He's like one of these Massachusetts Protestant white guys. He's very big and broad. And I would be scared if Chris got upset.

Chris

But I'm a gentle person.

Dave

Very gentle, very gentle soul-- like a lamb.

Dana Chivvis

If Chris is the lamb in a drug addicts clothing, Dave is the border collie, constantly circling Chris, herding him between drug stories, nipping at his ankles. For his Boston accent--

Dave

Oh you invite all your Facebook friends to like Dopey.

Chris

No, I invite certain ones.

Dave

Certain?

Chris

Certain--

Dave

Which certain ones do invite up to your room?

Chris

Room--

Dave

I invite certain friends up to my room.

Dana Chivvis

Or for Chris's vaping habit--

Dave

What's the flavor?

Chris

This flavor is the milk inspired by Momofuku.

Dave

Ugh-- this fucking vaping-- it's the end of the world and it's--

Dana Chivvis

Chris, on the other hand, comes across as a sweet docile kind of dope who finds subtle ways to subvert Dave's alpha maleness. Like on episode 15, it's as easy as the word toodles.

Chris

OK, toodles.

Dave

No, no, no, we don't say toodles.

Dana Chivvis

Which Dave hates, so Chris starts saying it at the end of every show.

Chris

All right, toodles.

Dave

Please stop staying toodles.

[LAUGHTER]

Dana Chivvis

They do very little editing, except they do bleep out people's last names. They want the show to be anonymous, which is why I'm not using last names either, by the way. And they use nontraditional bleeps like this one.

[LASER SOUND]

Dopey is not the kind of show you bring home to meet your parents. Dave and Chris swear a lot, for one thing. And obviously they're talking about heavy drug use. But it's not just that-- they can be insensitive and insulting too.

It is not politically correct by design. They use the kind of language you might forgive your grandfather for using, but which is harder to stomach coming from a 30 or 40 year old today. And then sometimes there's also language you wouldn't forgive your grandfather for using. I'm not going to play you that stuff.

On the first few episodes of Dopey, they run through most of their favorite drug stories-- how Chris made wine from orange juice at rehab, how Dave once stayed up all night doing coke, heroin, and ecstasy before appearing on Howard Stern. How Chris shot crystal meth while at a brain injury clinic.

They're not supposed to be engaging in recovery talk, but of course, the only reason Dopey can exist is because Dave and Chris are both in recovery. There'd be no Dopey without it, so recovery keeps slipping into the conversation. Even Dave does it.

Dave

We're actually in a hurry, because I have to go qualify at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at 8:00.

Chris

Yeah, it's a live episode of Dopey basically.

Dave

Basically, but more based on the recovery end of things. I'm a little bit nervous about it.

Chris

Are you?

Dave

Yeah, just let it rip. Don't even think about it, that's the best way to do it.

Dana Chivvis

Chris actually has a scholarly knowledge of 12 step philosophy. And now and then, he quotes by memory from the big book, which is sort of the Bible of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Chris

And then they added the appendix to the book where they quote William James, who says that you have a spiritual experience of the educational variety. That's what you're talking about. And it's actually--

Dana Chivvis

In the beginning-- for the first 20 episodes or so-- they get like 500 downloads an episode-- so barely an audience, but they start hearing from people right away. They get their first fan email from some guy named Troy three weeks after they upload the first episode. They can't believe anyone is listening to them. They call their newfound audience The Dopey Nation.

Other people start emailing, leaving reviews on iTunes. Some listeners leave voicemails with their own war stories. Their downloads grow. By October, they average about 1,000 downloads an episode.

Dave

So whoever The Dopey Nation is now, stay strong Dopey Nation.

Dana Chivvis

There's a Reddit thread about Dopey. A few people even get Dopey tattoos with the show's logo and the word Toodles underneath it. One guy takes Dave and Chris out to a steak dinner. He tells them he didn't get sober until he started listening to their show.

Dave and Chris try to write back to every email they get. They respond to comments on Facebook and Twitter. People aren't turned off by the recovery talk. They like listening to sober guys having fun, enjoying life in recovery. It gives them hope. Chris says the listeners come for the debauchery and stay for the recovery. He calls his marketing strategy rope a dope.

Dave and Chris know they have a finite number of drug stories between the two of them, so they develop a roster of recurring guests, friends of theirs who are also sober-- near celebrities like Rob Reiner's son, Nick, Dave's dad Alan, and then there's a guy named Todd, one of Dave's best friends from college.

They got addicted to heroin together in their 20s. Dave always said if Todd got sober, he could be the third host of Dopey, and Todd really wants to be on Dopey, but Todd is never sober.

Todd

All right, well if you want a good story, you know who to call here.

Dave

Yeah, if you give me six months sobriety time and you're on the show.

Todd

What?

Dave

Yeah.

Todd

I'm still full of stories. What are you talking about? I'm fucking full of 'em.

Chris

He's doing community service and stuff. He's giving back.

Dave

Please, he's giving back, but what-- you know-- just give me some fucking clean time and you can come back to the house.

Todd

I've got two weeks clean already.

Dave

That's a lie. That's a lie.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Todd

What do you want from me? [INAUDIBLE] more than two weeks. It's been two and a half weeks.

Dave

Since you've puffed weed?

Todd

No, no, since I did dope. I smoked weed three days ag-- no, two, three days ago.

Dave

You're such a fucking liar.

Dana Chivvis

Todd is one of the few recurring guests still actively using drugs. His life is in shambles. He's 42 and he can't hold down a job. He spends all his money on drugs, lives in his parents' apartment in Manhattan. He often just watches DVDs all day.

Chris

How you doing Todd?

Todd

Miserable, how you guys doing? [LAUGHS]

Dana Chivvis

That's Chris talking to Todd on Episode 54.

Chris

I'm doing all right. Miserable--

Todd

Not that good.

Chris

Miserable-- is that related to substance abuse?

Todd

Um, prob-- everything is related to substan-- what's not related to substance abuse these days?

Chris

Uh, less in my life.

[LAUGHTER]

Dana Chivvis

On this episode, Todd tells a very dopey story about getting so high on heroin, he passed out in a subway station and then slept through a meeting at the unemployment office the next day.

Dave

The call failed.

Dana Chivvis

Towards the end of this story, the call drops and Dave says--

Dave

Dude, that's the worst story I ever heard in my-- I thought it was fun for a second, and then I realized poor Todd is in big trouble.

Dana Chivvis

As a listener, to me it seems like Todd has a specific purpose on Dopey. He's a caricature of how not to treat your addiction, an example that Dave and Chris can hold up to their listeners and say, don't do it like this guy.

When Dave and Chris talk about recovery, they often talk about abstinence and 12 step programs. That's what worked for them, but the science shows that opioid addiction is best treated with medications like suboxone and methadone, which are associated with a 68% decrease in death.

For a while on Dopey, Dave was pretty clear that he thought medications were dangerous, that you should learn to live without any substances. Chris was more middle of the road. Dave's opinions have changed by now. He feels like whatever works best for you is what you should do.

Less than a year into making Dopey, Dave moved out of the apartment with the fish tank and in with his partner Linda and their six-year-old daughter. Chris eventually moved to Boston and started working towards a doctoral degree in psychology.

He was dating a med student named Annie. They lived together, had a dog. He was also working part-time for his sister's company-- which helps people who are struggling with addiction and other issues find treatment-- and he was working every other weekend at a sober living house.

By episode 96 of Dopey, they're getting about 3,000 listeners a show. They decide to relabel the show. They move it from the comedy section on iTunes to the self-help section, mainly because they thought they could compete better against other self-help podcasts, rather than comedy podcasts, but also because by now they've admitted to themselves they are, in fact, a self-help show.

But anyway, back to Todd. On Dopey, Todd is the foil to the sober good life, to their successes. Where he lacks control, Dave and Chris now exercise restraint. Where he is depressed, they are content. Where he can't hold down a job, they're raising children, getting advanced degrees, making a podcast every week.

Dave

Do something good for yourself tomorrow. Just do something.

Todd

I'll try.

Dave

Just-- nah, just do something. One thing and--

Todd

I will.

Dave

--it all builds on each other, right?

Todd

Right on.

Dave

Whatever, all right, bud. I love you.

Todd

All right, guys. You Chris, Dave have a great evening.

Chris

All right, thanks for calling Todd.

Todd

All right, you got it, boys, I'll talk to you later.

Chris

All right, bud, bye.

Dave

Bye.

Todd

Bye, peace.

Dave

That's tough. Sad, sad, call.

Hello?

Todd

Yo.

Dave

What's going on?

Todd

What's up, dude?

Dana Chivvis

On Episode 126 last March, Todd's on the show again. This time though he's sober. He's been to detox and moved into a sober living house. He refused to go to rehab, so Dave and Chris arrange for him to move into the sober house where Chris works in Western Massachusetts.

Dave

You sound terrible.

Chris

Did you just wake up?

Todd

No, I've been up for hours-- too many hours.

Dave

Oh turn that frown upside down Todd, this is the first really sober call on Dopey.

Dana Chivvis

That's Dave. He keeps saying how nice it is to talk to Todd when he's sober. He's happy to have his friend back, lucid. Dave tells him he bought some new equipment for Dopey-- a soundboard and three microphones, an extra for when Todd is back.

Dave

Dude, I bought a board that was smaller, but it could only have two mics. And I was thinking, well, what do we do when Todd gets home? [LAUGHTER] So I went out and I bought another board-- the Todd board. [LAUGHTER]

Todd

Yeah, all right, good. Thank you, I like that. I like that a lot.

Dave

Dude, do you remember? You remember when you and me were driving home from LA--

Dana Chivvis

Todd lasted a few months at the sober living house, but he got bored and one day he left. Moved back in with his parents, got a job. And then in June--

Dave

For those of you who don't know, this week was a terrible week for me. My very, very, very, very, very close friend Todd, who was on Dopey-- anyway, Todd died a week ago yesterday, so maybe eight days ago. He died. We don't know what happened, but I'm going to guess it was an overdose.

Chris

Yeah.

Dave

And I'm very broken up about it.

Dana Chivvis

Todd died in his parents' house. He was 44 years old.

Dave

Well, I told my friends-- I told my friends he died. And they said, well, he's basically the most likely candidate to die. And I agreed with them, but like, it's so sad to me that he never gets to be sober and he never gets to be free. He's never free.

It's like, if you're out there and you think you're going to get away with it, you might not. You know what I mean? And like, you guys should really fucking know that it could all end.

Dana Chivvis

Somehow after 20 years of heavy drug use, Dave had never had a close friend die from an overdose. Todd is his first one. It changes things for him.

Before, he'd laugh at the war stories-- all these absurd situations and bad decisions that should kill you, but didn't. He'd had the upper hand, but now he didn't anymore. Those things had killed one of his best friends.

Dave is the one who introduced Chris and Todd. They weren't close friends, but even still, Dave thinks Chris is a little cold about his death. And Dave knows this is unfair, but he feels a little resentful towards Chris. Todd was in Chris's sober living facility right before he died. Why didn't he look out for him better?

Todd's death last summer just happens to coincide with an uptick in downloads on Dopey. In July, their downloads double when they land their biggest celebrity interview yet-- Artie Lange, the comedian who inspired Dopey.

Artie Lange

This is the guest. I don't want you to know who I am yet because we'll let them guess. It's not Meryl Streep.

Dana Chivvis

He's Episode 140, just two episodes after Todd's death. Artie tells a bunch of stories about getting high-- on The Howard Stern Show, on an airplane, in a Santa suit.

Artie Lange

So I'm Santa Claus-- the next morning, if you hit the beard, all this cocaine would come out of the beard.

Dana Chivvis

He's a little unhinged during the interview, possibly high.

Artie Lange

What do I say?

Dave

Stay strong Dopey Nation.

Artie Lange

Stay?

Chris

Stay strong, Dopey Nation.

Artie Lange

Stay-- the autumn wind is a pirate--

Dave

Here we go.

Artie Lange

--bustling in from the sea. With a rollicking song, he tramples along, swaggering boisterously.

Dana Chivvis

On the next episode of Dopey, Episode 141, Dave and Chris are on Skype. They do an Artie recap. Chris, whose drug of choice was always cocaine, thinks Artie was probably on cocaine. They talk about it for 30 minutes before Dave changes the subject.

Dave

Two weeks ago, I'm at work--

Chris

Yeah, I know where you're going with this.

Dana Chivvis

Where he's going is, Dave wants to do a little recovery lesson. Two weeks before, Chris had made a phone call to his sponsor and it was clear he thought he was talking to Dave, so the sponsor got worried and called a friend of Chris's who texted Dave, who freaked out.

Dave

And then I'm like, holy shit, so I start texting you.

Chris

You texted me so many-- I took a screenshot of it. You texted me like 12 times in ten minutes or something.

Dana Chivvis

Chris is one of those people who always texts back, even if he's sleeping. So when Dave didn't hear from Chris, he sent a message to Annie, Chris's girlfriend. Chris eventually resurfaced and calmed everyone down, but he was ticked that Dave had contacted Annie. He was fine, just a little sleepy and out of it. No reason to scare his girlfriend.

Chris

--everything happened and I got upset. There's just that it had to come back to Annie. And I never would get upset if somebody expressed concern.

Dave

Well, that's not true. You get upset when I'm concerned all the time.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Dave

--you take concern as a personal attack.

Chris

How often do you text me, are you OK?

Dave

I'm concerned.

Chris

You do it like every five minutes.

Dana Chivvis

This was just two weeks after Todd died, so Dave was admittedly on high alert. And by the end of the story, he sees it from Chris's perspective. It's one of those irritating things that happens to people in recovery. You act slightly off one day and everyone assumes you're using again. Dave explains.

Dave

The point of this story-- obviously, you're fine. The point of the story is this is something that addicts have to go through who are using, who are lying. You know what I mean?

Like, they're covering up their shit or they just got clean and everybody is sure that they're still getting high. Or in your situation-- you know, you're 4 and 1/2 years clean, but like, how do you think somebody should deal with that? Because I bet there's a ton of people listening with very little--

Dana Chivvis

The next week they do Episode 142. Normally they record the show on Friday night and Chris puts it online on Saturday morning. But that Friday, Chris gets home from a work trip to Texas and he's too exhausted to record the show. They agree to do it Saturday.

Saturday comes around and Chris is fighting with Annie. He tells Dave he's too upset to record the show. He needs to go to the gym. Then after the gym, he needs another hour.

Dave's getting pissed. He knows The Dopey Nation is expecting an episode. They finally start recording late that night, around 11:00. Chris is lackluster.

Dave's doing most of the work, providing most of the energy. And Chris keeps screwing up and saying things that they later have to bleep out, like where he went on the work trip or his sister's name, or Dave's last name.

Chris

It's amazing that Bob [INAUDIBLE] is driving round and thinks, you know who I should talk to? Dave [BLEEP].

Dave

Why'd you say my last name? Now you have to bleep it.

Chris

Ah, fucking A. Let me put it in my notes. It doesn't even work because we've changed it so much. [BLEEP] Now it's twice. And what else?

Dave

What is wrong with you?

Chris

I don't know. I'm stupid. I can't-- [BLEEP] [BLEEP] --was. I said it once, right?

Dave

Ah, Chris.

Chris

What?

Dave

How are we going to get the show out?

Chris

I'll do it tonight.

Dana Chivvis

Dave's worried that Chris has lost interest in Dopey, that he's too busy with the other things in his life now-- his girlfriend, his job, his doctorate. He starts wondering if Chris is going to quit. And if he does, what will happen to the show? They finally sign off at 1:00 in the morning.

Chris

And stay strong, my brothers and sisters, in and out of recovery. And toodles, I'm going to stop the call recorder. You can stay online. All right?

Dave

Hey, but you don't have to say toodles. It's unnecessary.

Chris

Toodles.

Dave

So hello and welcome to Dopey, the podcast about drugs, addiction, and dumb shit. And I am Dave.

Dana Chivvis

This is the next episode of Dopey, Episode 143-- a week later.

Dave

For those who aren't on Dopey social media, the worst thing that could have ever happened, happened, and Chris relapsed and died. And here I am alone at my dad's with one microphone plugged into the mixer.

Dana Chivvis

Chris overdosed three days after Episode 142. He'd been secretly using drugs again, probably for weeks. After that last episode they recorded together, Dave and Chris fought.

First, Chris put the show online without bleeping out Dave's last name. Dave was pissed. He went in and fixed it, but inadvertently inserted 10 minutes of silence into the middle of the episode, which made Chris mad. So that Monday they're fighting over text message all day.

Dave couldn't make sense of what was going on with Chris. He told Chris it was fine if he didn't want to do Dopey anymore. But Chris said no, that wasn't it at all. He loved making Dopey. Dave believed him.

But meanwhile, Chris was also fighting with Annie. She'd left their apartment and went to stay with her parents. Chris was distraught, crying. He asked Dave to call and check in on him, so Dave called him after midnight and told them he'd check in again in the morning, went to bed.

He woke up at 6 AM to a text from Annie. She'd sent it in the middle of the night asking Dave if he'd check on Chris. So at 6:30, Dave sent Chris a text message.

A minute later, Chris wrote back, I'm good. As you like to hear, I'm sleeping, but not totally good. Alive, nothing to worry about. We can talk later. At 10:30, Annie called Dave and told him that Chris was dead.

In the next few days, Dave had to decide if he was going to do the show that week or ever again. In the 2 and 1/2 years of making Dopey together, they'd never missed a show. Dave thought if he skipped this week, he'd be letting The Dopey Nation down.

It would be like your drug dealer not showing up. And besides, drug users should know if somebody dies from a drug overdose. So three days after Chris's death, he recorded that episode of Dopey. And he calls Annie.

Annie

Hello?

Dave

Hey, you're on--

Annie

Hey, how are you?

Dave

You're on the show.

Annie

Oh, ha-ha-- hello, everybody.

Dave

How are you feeling?

Annie

Ah, pretty shitty.

Dana Chivvis

They start to piece together the mystery of Chris's death. Dave had completely misread his behavior. In retrospect, he was probably high on the last episode of Dopey. He was probably high when he made that weird phone call to his sponsor. He was probably even high on the Artie Lange episode.

Dave had been operating off the wrong story-- that Chris wasn't interested in Dopey anymore, but Annie hadn't. She had noticed the strange ways Chris had been acting. He kept taking the dog for walks, for instance, when the dog didn't need to go out.

He was staying up all night and sleeping during the day. She got suspicious he was using again, so she and Chris's sister arranged for a surprise drug test. On Monday, a guy showed up at their apartment and did a saliva test.

That night, Annie told him she was going to stay with her parents. Chris left before her mom arrived to pick her up. Now she realized it was because he couldn't wait any longer to get high. Annie slept at her parents' house and went to work the next morning. But soon after, she went home to check on Chris.

Annie

And I don't know if you want me to elaborate on how it was walking into the apartment.

Dave

Yeah, you might as well.

Annie

Or would you rather I not.

Dave

No, you might as well.

Annie

I walked in. The first thing I see is his shoes, so I figure, OK, he's here. And the vape is there, the keys are there, so I look at the couch. He's not on the couch. And I look at the bed, and he's not there.

And then I [INAUDIBLE] bathroom, I go into the bathroom. He's not there. And that's when I start panicking, and-- and as I walk into the bedroom, on the side of the bed, I found him dead.

I knew right away he was dead. Everything after that is somewhat foggy. I knew we had Narcan at home, because he always kept Narcan everywhere.

Dana Chivvis

Narcan is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. You spray it up a person's nose.

Annie

And I got the Narcan, but I knew it was too late. I just had to do it, because it was like the only thing I could do it at the moment.

Dana Chivvis

Chris had cocaine, Xanax, alcohol, and fentanyl in his system. He was 33 years old. Soon after, a package arrived for him at their apartment. It was filled with drugs-- Percocet, cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin.

Annie scoured the apartment and Chris's car. She found a bunch of drug paraphernalia-- needles, some of which were used, and clean pee he'd ordered online. Also, she found a small medicated patch that wasn't in any packaging.

She sent a picture of it to Dave. They couldn't be sure, but Dave thought it was probably fentanyl. Annie has a theory about Chris's relapse.

He had recently injured himself doing a high karate kick to try to impress her. Something in his leg popped, he was in terrible pain.

The doctor he saw wasn't his regular doctor and she thinks Chris got painkillers, fooled himself into thinking he could just take them for the pain and stop there. If Annie's theory is right, then Chris started using again two weeks after Todd's death and was dead three weeks later.

Dave

I mean, when the news came, I got angry about it. And then the next morning I woke up and-- you know, I felt the day between the last time I had spoken to him. You know what I mean?

I felt the distance, and I was like, it just felt like it was becoming real. And then this morning I woke up, and I could hear his voice in my head like we were doing the show. I could hear his voice.

And then I kind of woke up and it was another day since I had spoken to him. And it just-- it's like liquid becoming solid. You know what I mean? And it's like, you move away from this liquid feeling to this cold solid truth that he is never going to come back and it's over.

Dana Chivvis

Dave hangs up with Annie. And now he's got to end this episode of Dopey without Chris for the first time.

Dave

We'll just end it the way we always end it. And we'll say, stay strong Dopey Nation. And I said I would never say this, but Chris is dead, so I'll say toodles for Chris. And we love you. And everybody out there, please try to take care of yourself. All right.

Dana Chivvis

Dave still makes Dopey-- by himself now. He's pulling in bigger guests like the comedian Marc Maron and the rapper Killer Mike. He gets about 6,000 downloads an episode now, but it's not the same show.

Dopey, as the nation knew it, is gone along with Chris. It's not a buddy comedy anymore. It's more of a straight interview show. There are fewer war stories, and when there are, the tone is different. Dave is different.

There's this one moment in Episode 142, the last episode Dave and Chris did together, that I keep thinking about. Chris had just played a voicemail from a listener named Mike, who tells a story about hiding his pee in the closet of his bedroom. It's not important why. And afterwards, they get into a conversation about whether it's OK to laugh at drug stories.

In the first episodes of Dopey, Dave was a solid yes on that-- that was the whole point of the show-- but now they've flipped sides. Chris says yes, it's fine to laugh. And Dave says this--

Dave

I think it's funny, but the fucked up thing-- and it might be the end of Dopey, right? Check this out. Like, I just feel like this guy-- he's like everyone's laughing about everything they're doing. And then they can just drop dead.

Chris

But what's the flipside? Morbid reality the whole time until you die?

Dave

No, dude. I think it's funny. I think the urine is funny. I think that shit is hysterical. But it's like laughing on the train tracks and not seeing the fucking train coming. I don't think morbid reality is better. No, of course not. I'm just saying it's sad, you know?

Chris

We laugh on the train tracks, but we have the right to laugh on the train tracks. It'd be much different if someone had never struggled. And the truth is that when we were struggling, the person who would tell a story that was terrifying and laugh at it, might have a better chance at reaching us and getting us to stop than the person who's morbid reality.

Dave

I just feel responsible. I think it's obviously because of Todd's death that when we laugh at stuff, I just want to throw it out there that at any second, Mike could be dead. Because Mike's still using. And there's fentanyl everywhere. And it's killing everybody. That's what I'm saying. How's that?

Chris

Yes, no, of course. Yeah.

Dana Chivvis

Dave told me, he always thought Dopey was good for him and Chris, for their sobriety. He thought their creation would protect them, but it didn't. Chris is gone. Dopey, it turns out, was its own war story, playing out week by week.

So now on the show, Dave's mission has changed. The drug stories aren't just in service of a laugh now, they're in service of an urgent message. You could die. Todd died. Chris died. You could die.

Ira Glass

Dana Chivvis is one of the producers of our show. The Dopey podcast, you can find it wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up, what happens when you go on the radio and make fun of a militant Islamist group who also happened to run your town, because you're in Syria. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Good Morning, Kafranbel

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show-- Wartime Radio. People in battlefields of one kind or another, using very DIY grassroots level radio or podcasting to try to make sense of what is happening around them. We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two.

Good Morning, Kafrenbel. So back in my 20s, I was a volunteer reporter at a community radio station in Washington, DC-- WPFW, a great station, that really did reflect the community. DC was 2/3 African-American back then and also had immigrants from all over the world.

And the most popular show on the station, I remember, was the Bama hour. It was a guy named Jerry Washington who would play songs and talk a lot about his niece. There were Caribbean and Central American shows. There was a show made by Iranians who missed the former Shah of Iran. And then another show with Iranians who hated the former Shah of Iran.

There was a call-in poetry show. Listeners would call in and read their own poems and it was daily. This was a daily call-in poetry show, that in my memory anyway, never seemed to have any kind of trouble getting callers. That's community radio.

Well, this next story is about somebody setting up a station like that-- a community station-- only they're doing it in a war zone, in Syria, in a small town called Kafrenbel. That's Kafrenbel, it's spelled with a K-- in the Northwest part of the country, not far from the Turkish border, rural town, surrounded by olive trees and fig trees, 30,000 people live there.

And for almost eight years now, Kafrenbel's been in a kind of no-man's-land where different factions have fought. And now militant Islamists are in charge. Reporter Dana Ballout heard about the station years before she ever listened to it.

Dana Ballout

I crossed paths with the founder of the station back when I was covering the war in Syria for the Wall Street Journal. His name is Raed. Raed Fares. He lives in Kafrenbel.

We never met in person. I was based across the border in Lebanon, because American press was mostly not allowed in Syria. But when the regime struck a town near Kafrenbel or ISIS was advancing and I needed to know the details from the ground, me and my colleagues would pull out our giant spreadsheet of contacts and go through them. Raed's was one of those names. I'd Skype him to confirm a death count or verify a location, then move on.

Raed was an activist. Before the radio station, he was sort of famous for these banners, these homemade signs written in big block letters on white sheets. He would bring them to protests, post pictures of them on Facebook and Twitter. I always saw them in my feeds. They were witty, like this one from Thanksgiving, a holiday Syria does not celebrate.

Black Friday special offer-- whoever, wherever you are, bring your enemy and come to fight in Syria for free. Limited time offer.

One of the most viral of these was after Caitlyn Jenner announced her new name Caitlyn, spelled with a C and not a K like the other women's names in her family. Raed gave her this shout-out. Caitlyn, he writes spelling it with a C, we would write Kafrenbel with a C, if it meant, like you, we could be free.

I knew Raed had his own radio station, Radio Fresh, though I never tuned in back then. But around Thanksgiving last year, I heard Raed had been killed. It hit me harder than I expected.

Saddened by the news, I listened for the first time. You can stream Radio Fresh on SoundCloud. There's hours and hours of programming. Listening through was like reliving the war from the inside. Seeing it in a totally different way from deep in the small town.

It was incredibly alive, hyper-local, sometimes utterly ordinary, people complaining about their neighbors. But other times, so radical I couldn't believe they got away with it. Here's an example of that. One of the first things I heard-- this satire program called [ARABIC] backstage with the president, where an actor impersonating president Bashar al Assad has made up conversations with an officer in his army.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

That's the actor making fun of the president's lisp, which is very pronounced. He's pretty spot-on.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

I was shocked when I first heard this impression. My knee jerk reaction was oh my god, how did you not go to jail for this? Because in the past, that's what would have happened.

Before listening to Radio Fresh, I had literally heard of two other places in the whole Arab world where anyone had tried to do political satire-- one was Lebanon, where I'm from, and the other Egypt, where for a while til the government ran him out of the country, they had their own version of Jon Stewart. And now there were these guys out of a small town in northern Syria. It completely blew my mind.

I talked to a bunch of Raed's friends in Kafrenbel. They told me he was always a rebel. Before the uprising against the Syrian regime, he would curse the president in a way no one else dared. He mocked religious figures too.

His cousin told me this always made people super nervous. Everyone in town knew him as the guy who got kicked out of med school. Raed was a burly guy in his mid 40s, clean shaven, warm eyes, mischievous face. He was sharp, taught himself English, ran a thriving small business.

One of his best friends, Hadi Abdullah, told me how Raed started the radio station.

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

In our mosques, they have loudspeakers.

Dana Ballout

These are the speakers for the call to prayer five times a day. At one point, early in the war, the Syrian military showed up in Kafrenbel and started shooting protesters. Raed wanted to get those soldiers to defect.

So he loaded up a bunch of recordings on a USB stick and had some friends at the mosque blast them over those speakers. Anti- regime slogans like--

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

The regime is tricking you. The regime is using you. Regime is killing your family. There are no terrorists here, everybody is civilian here.

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

And the idea started from here. And I was like, why am I limiting myself to the mosque only. Why don't I start a radio station, where I could to just talk to people?

Dana Ballout

So shortly after, when Raed found himself meeting with international groups, including the US State Department, he pitched them his idea for a radio station. There are always opportunities in war, and this one would be an unusual chance to push back on the rules, make fun of people they could have never made fun of before, an opportunity to blast out ideas like free speech and democracy to whoever tuned in to 90.0 FM.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

This is a clip from the station's first few weeks on air, August 2013. Radio Fresh was based out of an old government building in Kafrenbel. The studio was done up with shiny purple curtains for soundproofing. There was an ashtray on the table and lots of smoking while they were on the mic.

The host, who's talking about how to form neighborhood councils, has a thick local accent. One of my favorite things about Radio Fresh-- it sounds rural, slangy, homegrown.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

While I was charmed by the station from the very first clip I heard, the people it was actually made for-- the citizens of Kafrenbel-- many of them were against it in the beginning. Here's Raed himself, on the second anniversary of Radio Fresh, one of the rare times he actually went on air.

Raed Fares

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

He's saying, in the beginning, there was a lot of talk about how the money for the radio would have been better spent on aid for families in need. People were hungry. They didn't have clean water or electricity.

It seemed extravagant and frivolous to spend money on a radio show, but pretty early on, the station came up with a program that became indispensable throughout the village. It was called The Observatory. Radio Fresh put 24/7 watchmen in tall buildings to keep an eye out for air strikes.

As soon as they saw one, they radioed into the station, which would interrupt programming on, say, the nutritional benefits of lettuce--

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

[SIREN]

Dana Ballout

--with an air raid siren.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

They're saying, planes are circling over Kafrenbel. Raed's response to the doubters was the radio isn't frivolous. It's about saving lives.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

He's saying, if these airstrike warnings saved even one life, that would be worth the whole cost of the station. Before the observatory, people used to jerry-rig their own version of this alert system-- buying a walkie talkie and eavesdropping on the regime's frequencies.

It was expensive-- over $100. And parents hated how much the regime thugs would swear and cuss on the frequency. They didn't like that the kids overheard. The Observatory was a clean version for the cost of a basic radio-- $5.

The air raid warnings-- they were just one of a slew of super practical, you live in a war zone and here's how to survive of programs. There was a medical show that teaches people how to administer first aid. That show has episodes on chemical burns, meningitis in kids, how to treat head injuries--

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

Here the host is saying when you think your skull is broken or when you see blood or a clear fluid coming from your ears or nose, get medical help immediately. Radio Fresh had language learning programs in case you had to flee the country.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

They're doing the alphabet in this episode of Teach Me Turkish. More than 3.5 million Syrian refugees have landed in Turkey the last eight years. They also taught French, English. And what I love about these programs is how the people teaching the language are actually not at all fluent in the language they're teaching, but you can hear how hard they're trying.

Man

Dear listeners, welcome to the 11th episode of Teach Me English.

Dana Ballout

Everyone I talked to about Radio Fresh brought up this one program, called the Complaints Show. It was Radio Fresh's version of a call-in show, except they couldn't actually have a call-in show, because the regime had cut off all the phone lines. So they put up a bunch of little black boxes with a Radio Fresh sticker on them, all around town. People would drop in slips of paper with their answers to quiz shows, their comments and complaints. The host would choose one complaint each week to talk about.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

Often, it's very specific stuff. At one point early on, a faction set up shop inside a school building, using it as a police station. Parents were worried about sending their kids to school in a building shared with criminals and thieves. Plus, the police station made the school an easy target for the regime.

Parents told the rebels their concerns, but nothing happened. So they turned to Radio Fresh.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

Today, we have a complaint that there is a police station in the same building as a school, and that, the broadcaster says, defies logic. Again, here's Raed's friend, Hadi.

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Some when the people inside the police station heard the episode on the radio, they came right away to us, and they told us, "we're willing to leave the school. Please, tell the families we're going to leave the place. We don't want any trouble against us." And they did. They emptied the police station from all the militants that were there.

Dana Ballout

People complained about the price and quality of their bread. Someone brought up their neighbor using a hole in the front yard as a bathroom, while his actual bathroom was broken. The neighbor heard the episode and fixed his toilet. When I first heard the Complaints Show, it felt pretty familiar. We had a similar program in Lebanon, although not quite as small towny as the neighbor's toilet.

But listening hour after hour, what I realized was that this Complaints Show was doing something besides solving practical local problems. It was also spreading a revolutionary idea, that you could voice your concerns, and hold people accountable, and get results. The guys at the station confirmed this was Raed's original mission for the show. This, in a place where the rules were so recently non-negotiable and you just had to keep your head down and deal with it. The Complaints Show was just one of the many programs, debates, kids shows, series on Islam doing this kind of work.

One problem people had with the station from the beginning was that it was funded by the Americans, which, in the middle of a war where the US was not being particularly helpful, was not a good look.

It's true. Almost all the money for the station has come from the US State Department. It's around $40,000 a month these days, which covers the salaries of 53 people. It's a pretty big operation. When listeners accuse the station of being a mouthpiece for the Americans, Raed was happy to address it head on. This is him on the air.

Raed Fares

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

He says the response is very simple. Have you heard anything on Radio Fresh that sounds like we're supporting the Americans? We're always trying to prod them on the radio, with our banners. We have opinions about them, and we don't hide them. Raed's vision of democracy meant everyone in Kafrenbel had an equal say in what was happening, including women.

He wanted their voices on the radio too. Although that was such a daring idea for Kafrenbel, even his friend Hadi wondered whether it was possible.

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

And I was like, how? He was like, "Easy. You find women, we hire them, we train them."

Dana Ballout

This was bold, because almost no women in the village worked outside the home. They took care of the kids and the homes. That was it. And it was bold because of who was running Kafrenbel at the time. Raed was always offending the local leaders, including just about everyone who was in charge of Kafrenbel over the last eight years.

First, the Free Syrian Army was offended by a banner, so they came to the radio station and kidnapped two guys. Next, ISIS attacked the station in 2013. A couple weeks later, they shot Raed multiple times, almost killing him. But when Raed was deciding to put women on the air in 2015, two years after Radio Fresh had started, Kafrenbel was run by a new extremist Islamist group, Nusra, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria. Raed knew they wouldn't like this, but he went for it anyway.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

That's Hiba Abboud introducing the afternoon newscast. She's now the director of the women's division of Radio Fresh. She talked to me from the women's office over Skype.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I never imagined that I would hear my own voice, or that I would be a reporter. Never.

Dana Ballout

Hiba was a young newlywed who had just moved to town when she heard that Radio Fresh was recruiting women to go on air. She'd been listening to the radio and was curious what it was like to make it. So she, along with 20 other women, went to the first training. They did icebreakers, spent three days on voice technique.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I don't know if you know this one, but when you put your pen in your mouth, this is a way to open up your voice.

Dana Ballout

I did not know this one. Neither did most of the people at This American Life.

Interpreter

And how to be as a presenter, and how to take breaths from your belly.

Dana Ballout

Hiba passed the training and began working at the station, made news shows, programs about women's rights, interviews with local women who had lost their husbands in the war. By the time Raed put Hiba and the other women on the air in 2015, the Islamists in charge of Kafrenbel, Nusra, already hated Radio Fresh.

The station poked fun at them in all sorts of ways. For being illiterate, hypocritical. One satire depicted their religious police rushing people to the mosque without actually understanding the rules of prayer. Nusra assigned people to listen to Radio Fresh in shifts. They issued regular warnings and threats to the station whenever they heard something they didn't like.

Now Radio Fresh got a lot of warnings for having women on air. Nusra considered their voices shameful, a form of nakedness. Finally, in January 2016, Nusra had had enough. They burst in one morning to shut the station down, broke down the door, faces covered, carrying machine guns. They took everything-- laptops, the transmitter, Hadi's hookah, flash drives. Hiba and the other women watched the Nusra guys ransack the main station from another building, the women's office just up the hill.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

And we looked out the window when we heard a lot of noise. So us girls, we just started gathering everything and hiding it. Because we said, you know, they were going to come to us next.

Dana Ballout

They quickly rearranged the office to make it look more like a home.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

So we were preparing lies, you know, just in case that came in and they started questioning us. And you know, we were going to say like, "Oh, we're just girls here hanging out at her house, and we're just having breakfast together. A morning coffee or a mate.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

But they just took the stuff and they left. They didn't even come to us.

Dana Ballout

Nusra blindfolded Raed and took him to the infamous al-Uqab Prison. They left two armed men at the station to keep anyone from coming in. Every day, Hiba would finish her housework and get dressed to go in for her usual shift, but there wasn't anywhere to go anymore. People started spreading rumors that Radio Fresh was over.

Days passed. Nusra finally reached an agreement with Radio Fresh. They'd let Raed go and return the equipment, under a few conditions. First, that the radio station wouldn't play music. Here's Raed talking about the agreement. In English, actually, in an interview with the CBC.

Raed Fares

They started to say it's forbidden because it's haram in Islam shariah law. In their opinion, it's haram.

Dana Ballout

Haram, sinful. Nusra had been on Raed's case about playing music for a while. He's cheerfully defiant.

Raed Fares

It was like two years they're asking me to stop playing music, but I refused. Finally, because they attacked the radio station more than three times and kidnapped me like three times--

Dana Ballout

Kidnapped me like three times, he's saying.

Raed Fares

Then I stopped playing the music, but I started to play sarcastic thing instead of that. Like animal sounds, like sheep, like birds, hogs, dogs, chicken, and everything.

[ANIMAL SOUNDS]

Dana Ballout

Animal sounds. Radio Fresh replaced the jingles leading into each segment with animal noises.

[ROOSTER CROWING]

There was a rooster in the morning.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

[BIRDS CHIRPING]

Dana Ballout

Birds during the day.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

And after dark, of course--

[CRICKETS CHIRPING]

--crickets. The CBC interviewer asked Raed.

Interviewer

What's the point of that? Why are you doing that?

Raed Fares

When the people hear animal voices, they will ask, "what's going on with Radio Fresh?" And the answer will be, the Islamic armed groups banned the music from Radio Fresh because it's haram. I want them just to think, to use their minds. Is it really haram? You can move the minds. You can move the ideas.

Dana Ballout

Nusra's other big demand was for Radio Fresh to take women off the air completely. Raed had a creative fix for this one too. Again, here's Hiba.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

So we were having a meeting, and he came and he told us that they wanted to transform our voices. You know, now we were going to use something to change our voices from female voices to male, and that you wouldn't be able to tell that it was a female in the first place.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

So when we first heard what our voices sounded like, we were laughing. And it was so strange, because we were like, really? This is what people are going to listen to? But after a while, it just became normal, and it literally got to the point where I could tell you which girl was which voice.

[CHUCKLING]

Dana Ballout

But these days, Hiba just feels annoyed at the voice. And because the voice is so hard to listen to, Radio Fresh reduced how long women speak on the air to a fraction of what it was. By this past fall, the Assad regime had retaken swaths of the country. And in many other places, including Kafrenbel, extremists like Nusra were gaining power. People like Raed, people who didn't want Assad or the extremists, they barely held any ground.

And finally, around Thanksgiving, Raed was assassinated. I read the news in a tweet, and later heard the whole story. He was in a car with two colleagues from the radio station. It was around noon. A van pulled up next to them and shot and killed Raed and his friend Hamoud Junaid, then drove off.

While Nusra never claimed responsibility for the assassination, the whole town blamed them. Everyone I knew who had reported on Syria was talking about Raed that day, posting pictures of him, writing that his death was the end of the Syrian Revolution. Because Raed was one of a handful of people in Syria who was still living by the principles of the revolution.

He was still talking about non-violent resistance and democracy, civil society and freedom. Raed was there from the very first protests in Syria, and stuck by his principles while so many others either died or fell off the train. Now, he too was gone. Hiba got the news over WhatsApp.

Hiba Abboud

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

At that point, I just wasn't aware of anything anymore. I never thought that moment was going to come. I never imagined that someone like Raed could die. Like, no, he would be-- he would be one of the ones that stayed.

Dana Ballout

The funeral lasted three days. Hundreds of people came. There were programs on Radio Fresh remembering Raed and Hamoud, their childhoods, talking to their friends, chatting about their legacy.

After Raed's death, you can still hear glimpses of Radio Fresh's classic dark humor. They continue to make fun of the president and the local factions. Here's a radio drama about a local guy partitioning his house in Kafrenbel to host refugees.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

But these refugees aren't displaced Syrian women and children. It turns out, no, he wants to host French people fleeing their own country after the Yellow Vest protests, in particular, beautiful French women.

Man

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

"Mary, Sonya, Emily sleeping in the streets? Not on my watch." I found the episode hilarious, a sign that Raed's spirit was well and alive at Radio Fresh. I wondered if Raed's friend, Hadi, felt the same way.

Do you still feel that? Do you still feel that at the radio station?

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

Yeah, I don't think things will be the same again. I mean, despite all my attempts. Meanwhile, we're trying to manufacture a laugh, but our hearts are not the same.

Hadi Abdullah

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Interpreter

I don't wanna be pessimistic, but this is the truth.

Dana Ballout

There's a talk that Raed gave two years ago at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Raed Fares

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

He opens with footage of the aftermath of a bombing, describing the smell of burned bodies, of guns. The audience is rapt and Raed is gripping. But he also looks very tired of trying to convince these Westerners in peaceful Norway to care about the more than 500,000 Syrians who have died in this conflict and the millions that remain. And yet, there he is. He hadn't given up.

Raed Fares

[SPEAKING ARABIC]

Dana Ballout

He ends his speech saying, "There is nothing prettier than a flower that defies death, chaos, and destruction, and instead blooms and radiates hope. Yeah, just like Radio Fresh.

Ira Glass

Dana Ballout. She's a filmmaker and a producer at the podcast Kerning Cultures. That's Kerning with a K, Kerning Cultures, which run stories like this one from the Middle East. Last year, Radio Fresh lost its main source of funding when the United States withdrew stabilization aid to Syria. The employees worked without pay for five months. I guess that's what the US government does these days, is just ask people to work without pay everywhere.

Anyway, then they found some temporary funding, but that runs out in March. They're looking for new ways to stay afloat.

[MUSIC - "WORLD WAR" BY NARCY]

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Sean Cole. The people who put our show together includes Elna Baker, Dana Chivvis, Aviva DeKornfeld, Jarrett Floyd, Damien Graef, Michelle Harris, Seth Lind, Stowe Nelson, Katherine Raimondo, Nadia Reiman, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, Julie Whitaker, and Diane Wu. Our managing editors-- Susan Burton and David Kestenbaum.

Special thanks today to our interpreters, Saphe Shamoun, Baraa Ktiri, and Hany Hawasly. Also thanks today Dr. Ajay Manhapra, Maia Szalavitz, Andrew Leland, Andy Lanset, Paul Wilson, Neil Verma, Jason Loviglio, Hugh Chignell, Dr. Brian Goldman, Rami Gares, Abdallah Salloum, Abdul wareth Al bakkour, John Jaeger, Isam Khatib, Raja Abdulrahim, and Blueprint Postproduction.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where you can listen to any of our archive of over 600 programs for absolutely free. This American Life is delivered to the public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, last weekend, he and I were up all night, talking in his kitchen. Morning comes, his wife came downstairs, and I don't know. Torey panicked. He just blurted--

Interpreter

Oh, we're just girls here hanging out. We're just having breakfast together, morning coffee or a mate.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC - "WORLD WAR" BY NARCY]