The week in radio: Reply All; High Rise

Reply All podcast: Gimlet Media
High Rise (R4) | iPlayer

Reply All is a podcast about the internet that I’ve reviewed before. It’s an upbeat show that aims to engage everyone, even the most un-techie, and it succeeds, mostly because of the enormous charm of its presenters, Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, whose rapport and general silliness make every show fizz. I especially recommend the most recent couple of episodes, Long Distance and Long Distance II. Not only are they laugh-out-loud funny, they’re also utterly compelling and a great example of how good journalism is often just a question of not giving up.

The story begins when Goldman happens to be cold-called by one of those phone scammers who tell you that they’re from Apple (they’re not) and there’s something wrong with your computer (there isn’t), and you should phone them back to find out what to do (you shouldn’t). Goldman calls back, even though he knows it’s a scam to sell useless anti-virus software. In fact, he calls back over and over again, and often ends up in conversation with the workers. Goldman knows what they’re up to, and confronts them with it. They don’t care. “You Americans are doing terrible things to your brothers, killing them and robbing them and you are saying you are honest,” says one.

The chattiest worker calls himself Alex Martin, and Goldman and his producer, Damiano Marchetti, do some online digging and, eventually, discover who they think Alex Martin really is (a chap called Kamal Verma) and where he’s based.

In India, it turns out, and in the second episode, Goldman and Marchetti go to Delhi to meet Verma to find out more about the scamming operation. You could call this trip pointless (what do they think is going to happen?) or reckless (the scammers are making a lot of money, they will want to continue doing so), but what it turns out to be is thoroughly entertaining. Goldman keeps messing up, in classic bumbling-bloke-abroad style. He tells the scammers where his hotel is. He’s too hot to leave Starbucks. At one point he almost falls into a sewer (“Ooohh wwoooah, I almost fell down a hole! Jesus Christ! (pause) I’m all right.”).

I have to say that Reply All’s assumption that Alex Martin is Kamal Verma seems wrong to me (they have completely different accents), but Goldman and Marchetti definitely meet the right bosses in India. And although they don’t manage to do much while they’re there – other than really irritate the bosses – since their visit, the phone scamming company (Accostings) appears to have shut down. Sadly it will no doubt pop up somewhere else, but at least Reply All has highlighted what it, and many other cold-call scammers, are up to. Plus, we’ve got two fantastic podcast episodes to enjoy. So… enjoy!

‘High hopes’: tower blocks in Birmingham. Photograph: Alamy

And when you’re done, try High Rise, Radio 4’s dreamy, contemplative radio-scape piece about high rises. Made by the ever-excellent Falling Tree, this took us from Edinburgh to Thanet, from high hopes (Le Corbusier) to the reality (mixed). Some beautiful interviews and imagery made for a captivating listen, and I loved the contributors’ name-checks at the end. “This is heaven to me,” said Francesca, as she moved with her daughter into her 13th-floor flat.

I note that, on Thursday, In Business told us what it’s like to manage a high rise building. Post-Grenfell, it seems that Radio 4 is worried that its listeners don’t know what tower blocks actually are.

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