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When Erica Heilman learned of the suicide death of 17-year-old Finn Rooney, she was initially hesitant to tell the story. It was too raw. But Heilman, independent podcaster and creator of Rumble Band, lives by the creed, “a good conversation takes its time.” So she patiently waited and continued to talk with Rooney’s mother.
The story that evolved was not about the suicide. It was about how the Hardwick family and community mourned and healed together. The podcast she created is called “finn and the bell.” It is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of love and loss.
Last week, Heilman won a Peabody Award for the podcastthe highest honor in broadcast journalism.
“A Peabody is like an Oscar packed into an Emmy inside a Pulitzer,” said multiple Peabody Award winner Stephen Colbert.
Heilman’s award is notable because she’s an independent producer who, as she likes to say, makes podcasts out of her closet. Rumble Strip, which she founded in 2013, is a one-woman operation. It’s not the typical profile of his fellow Peabody winners this year, who include longtime NPR “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, former CBS anchor Dan Rather and other personalities and institutions. well-known media.
Heilman has a history of punching above his weight. Rumble Strip has been named The Atlantic’s #1 Podcast of 2020ahead of podcasts produced by The Washington Post and The New Yorker, to name a few.
Heilman is a self-taught podcaster. She was born in Vermont but left to study musical theater at the University of Michigan. She then landed an entry-level job at PBS’s “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” and went on to work as a freelance television producer in New York City. It didn’t pay the bills, so she moved back to Vermont and took a job as a private detective. She began producing her signature Rumble Strip podcasts on the side, relying on listener donations to support it. Rumble Strip podcasts now air on Vermont Public Radio and on rumblestripvermont.com.
The Peabody Awards hailed Heilman’s work on “Finn and the Bell” as “subtle, thoughtful and beautiful”.
“Heilman’s important work serves as a reminder of what we stand to lose with the current local news crisis,” the Peabody Award announcement said. “Local media institutions are not only tasked with holding the powerful accountable and shedding light on injustice; they are also there simply to document life around them, to serve as institutional memory for the people they serve. They reflect communities back to themselves, forging the shared bond felt with each other through joys as well as tragedies.
Heilman is continually looking for ways to build community. Alongside his podcasting, his new project is to help create a “mobile cultural center” in Hardwick called The civic norm.
Heilman wants his work to dignify the lives of ordinary people.
“My hope is that… the people I spoke to felt seen,” she said.
“It makes me very happy to introduce Vermonters who might never meet, where you can see yourself in that person,” Heilman said on The Vermont Conversation. “If I succeed, I feel like I may have done something useful.”