The Smithsonian’s podcast “Sidedoor” returns Aug. 8 with an episode that takes listeners inside one of the most exclusive places in all of Washington, D.C.: the National Gem Collection vault. Once passing through multiple levels of security protocol, host Tony Cohn and Jeff Post, curator of gems and minerals, waste no time talking about the main attraction—the Hope Diamond. The blue diamond was forged billions of years ago from the tectonic pressure under the Indian subcontinent and has lived a legendary life. It was a curiosity for Louis XIV, a “cursed bauble” thanks to 18th-century English tabloid journalism and a toy for a pink-haired socialite who would throw it in her pool for her grandchildren to retrieve before it arrived at the Smithsonian in a plain, brown envelope via the U.S. Postal Service.
Sidedoor launched its first season Oct. 26, 2016, and cracked the top 10 of the Apple Podcasts charts in its first week. The podcast maintains a five-star rating from Apple Podcasts listeners and was named one of the top 50 podcasts of 2016 and 2017 by The Atlantic magazine, which called its stories “some of the best narratives this year.” Sidedoor has received more than 3 million listens to date, a metric that puts it in the top 1 percent of podcasts as measured by downloads.
Episodes in the new season of Sidedoor will take listeners to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama where scientists are fighting one of the world’s deadliest animals, the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Another episode centers on National Museum of African American History and Culture Director Lonnie Bunch’s quest to bring a slave cabin into the museum to help the country confront the realities of slavery. Listeners will also learn the story of a Smithsonian ornithologist who is responsible for keeping air travel safe from “bird strikes.”
“I live for the moments where people run up to me and say, ‘I had no idea the Smithsonian did that!’” Cohn said. “This is the best job on the planet, not only poking around the Smithsonian with some of the most accomplished experts, but also sharing these stories with the world in a way that reveals the fascinating work we do.”
Sidedoor is a collaboration between the Smithsonian and PRX, one of the leading podcast companies and the distributor of hits like Reveal, The Moth, Outside magazine’s podcast and the Radiotopia network.
Sidedoor is produced by Smithsonian Digital Studios, and new episodes will be available every other Wednesday. Listeners can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts or stream it on si.edu/sidedoor, where they will also find episode graphics and can sign up for the newsletter. Listeners can get an insider look at how episodes come together by following @SidedoorPod, on Twitter.