July 14, 2020
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Herbie Dittersdorf ’19 picks the brains of Kenyon’s dead through his new podcast, “The Pinnacle.” With a name referencing Old Kenyon’s iconic spire, the podcast investigates Kenyon’s rich past in short episodes that dig into the lives of key people in College history, the stories behind beloved campus buildings and more.
Dittersdorf hopes his broadcast will interest students in the College’s history. “My real goal is to get everybody talking about this and to have critical conversations about different points in Kenyon’s past and what those mean to us now,” he said.
An American studies class taught by Professor Peter Rutkoff, “August Wilson and Black Pittsburgh,” sparked Dittersdorf’s fascination with local history and storytelling. Dittersdorf and his peers studied Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, which depicts African-American life in the 20th century through the lens of the same neighborhood.
Already a casual fan of podcasts, Dittersdorf began paying closer attention to their details once he committed to his “Pinnacle” project. He is particularly influenced by “99% Invisible,” a program that examines design’s impact on history. “That was really inspiring to me because it’s a lot about subtle things that are in the air,” he said. “In Kenyon’s case, the name John Crowe Ransom on a building. Subtle things like that are in the air that you maybe don’t notice in your everyday life, and we are creating a narrative with them.”
Since December, Dittersdorf has been poring over various materials to prepare his podcast. So far, he has devoured two tomes of Kenyon’s institutional history and has spent a summer mastering audio-editing software. Dittersdorf writes, produces and edits all the content for the podcast using free software online. and He recorded the first episode in a study room in Olin Library.
Alumni also have helped Dittersdorf research his project. In April 2015, Dittersdorf approached Kip Clark ’16 for podcasting advice. Clark, who runs a podcast he began his junior year at Kenyon called “Stride and Saunter,” advised Dittersdorf on the time commitment as well as the technical aspects. “It’s a lot of time to put in,” said Clark, who was impressed with Dittersdorf’s enthusiasm for the project.
Additionally, Dittersdorf credits his growing knowledge about Kenyon’s history to College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Tom Stamp ’73, who helped him research his topics. “I will emphasize again and again he has been so helpful and wonderful,” Dittersdorf said. Stamp praised Dittersdorf’s clear vision and hard work.“If it had been a paper for me, it would’ve been an A-plus.” Stamp said of the podcast’s debut episode.
The first episode of “The Pinnacle” explores the graveyard behind Rosse Hall. Dittersdorf strived to include as many voices as possible, including detailed stories of each headstone as well as a Walt Whitman poem. In preparation for the pilot, Dittersdorf and Stamp walked through the cemetery for an hour and a half while Stamp pointed out and told the stories of various graves. “All of us here in the President’s Office who listened to the podcast were really thrilled with it,” Stamp said. “He has such a perfect NPR voice,” he added.
Sarah Lehr ’15 promoted the podcast on social media, tweeting: “I was moved by the first episode of @thepinnaclepod. I recommend that other @KenyonCollege alumni give it a listen.” Lehr mentioned how the thoughtful debut spoke well of Kenyon students’ creativity and desire to learn. “I think that Kenyon people in general are nerds, and I think nerds will enjoy the podcast,” she said.
Looking to the future, Dittersdorf plans to explore Kenyon’s architecture, prominent members of the College and buildings no longer at Kenyon. Dittersdorf, Lehr and Clark all mentioned their particular interest in Kenyon’s becoming coeducational in 1969, especially since some alumni of the first coed class are still on campus. “There are a lot of people on campus who remember that time very clearly, so it’ll be nice to bottle that knowledge up,” Dittersdorf said.
“The Pinnacle” can be found at thepinnaclepodcast.com.
By Elana Spivack ’17