What do U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, 2019 National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, and Richmond hip-hop radio mainstay, DJ Lonnie B, have in common? Those luminaries, and many more, have stopped by the Cheats Movement podcast founded in 2015 by community conversation catalyst, Marc Cheatham, a graduate of the VCU School of Social Work.
And the conversation is about to get even more illuminating. In January, Cheatham and fellow Richmonders Zak Young, who produces hip-hop beats as DJ Mentos, and Tyrel Murdaugh, founder of the Capsoul Collective craft beer community and the Nerd Black Podcast Network, will launch a new network called the Family.
From the outset, the Family will band together a handful of established shows with local followings including: “The Cheats Movement” podcast, the long-running “Booze & Grooves” show, the Capsoul Collective podcast, Tyrel Murdaugh’s “Ty &” interview series, and Richmond’s premiere destination for turnbuckle talk, “Wrestling Chat With Friends.”
But the Family is fundamentally forward-facing, with two new shows expected in January and as many as 10 more in development. Making the tools and techniques of podcasting accessible to new voices is a stated goal. “We want to bring up the next show [to] do the thing that we do,” Cheatham says.
Greener podcasters will benefit from the founders’ experience. From Cheatham’s gift for bringing people together to Tyrel Murdaugh’s audio engineering expertise, they will give the network a cohesive sound and give new producers a leg up.
“We do want it to be a successful business,” Murdaugh says, “but first and foremost, for me, is just helping people.” Cheatham affirms that they want the community to feel like family, adding, “we want people to feel like they’re supported.”
A weekly newsletter
Central to that familial feel will be a weekly newsletter.
“We’ll have a website and we’ll have social media,” confirms Zak Young, who is overseeing web, design and branding. “But my feeling is that this email newsletter is going to be the real heart of it.” Cheatham says the newsletter will not only talk about the shows they have, but it’s going to profile some of the show creators “[and] do a little bit of what the Cheats Movement blog has done, which is try to pose some provocative questions.”
Launched in 2011, the Cheats Movement blog originally served as an outlet for Cheatham’s photography. “Nobody read it,” he recalls, laughing. “My parents didn’t even read the Cheats Movement blog when it was a photo blog.”
But that changed overnight when hip-hop artist BlackLiq encouraged Cheatham to cover a rap showcase at Strange Matter. Performers immediately took notice of the images he posted.
“You would have thought Rolling Stone [magazine] was at that concert,” Cheatham says. “I went from being an obscure photography blogger that no one cared about, to probably being the leading Richmond-based hip-hop photographer, because no one else was doing it.”
In 2015, the Movement broke into podcasting with the “Family Hip-Hop Podcast.” Within a year, Cheatham was hosting special episodes on community issues and the podcast quickly became a destination for dialogue, with a guest list including local and national political figures. Key to its momentum is the host’s knack for leading discussions that steer clear of contentiousness. “I think I treat people fairly,” he says, “and I treat people with respect. It doesn’t necessarily matter what [your] position is, because I’m going to let you say it.”
“It doesn’t hurt that my entire professional career I’ve followed around Tim Kaine,” he continues. “I’ve had a front row seat to one of the, I think, best examples of how to dialogue and have conversations with people for 15, 16 years now.”
Cheatham’s position as Senator Kaine’s director of constituent services and casework took priority at the pandemic’s onset, resulting in a hiatus for the Cheats Movement. Yet the national reckoning around race and protests over Confederate monuments in Richmond created an urgent need for his platform in 2020.
“It was the first time ever that people were hitting me up and saying ‘Hey man, what are you doing to cover this? What are you doing to be part of this?’” he remembers.
The Voices project
As he has so many times, Cheatham filled the void by helping others to be heard, this time through the Voices project – a series of essays from community members published twice a week on the Cheats Movement blog, starting in June of 2020.
“It could be the rapper down the street, [or] Dr. Julian Hayter from University of Richmond, and we did that on purpose,” Cheatham explains. “We put all of these folks in the essay series and we married them with these street photographers.”
Selected Voices essays are now part of a special 38-page, PDF-edition of Grid Magazine produced with publisher and Editor-in-Chief Paul Spicer.
Cheatham knew that producing a coffee table book with that much color was going to be expensive, but they didn't want to wait to release it, he says. "The way that we presented the ‘Voices’ project, and the magazine, really resonated with a wider spread of folks," he says. "It resonated with [the] grassroots all the way up to the highest of academia.”
Connecting across interests and audiences has also been a focus of Murdaugh’s Nerd Black Podcast Network – branding that will endure in the form of audio production credited to Nerd Black. He says they saw that a space was empty. “Being nerdy about anything, whether that be comic books, NASCAR, sports – you can really be nerdy about any and everything. What I learned [is] that there is a space for that type of network to exist.”
Murdaugh is looking forward to being part of a larger team after editing, engineering, and producing shows himself: “That burns you out, really quickly.” Still he’s passionate about giving showrunners control over their work.
“People get to keep their show,” he says of the Family network. “We don’t own their show. They get to keep it. They worked hard on it – it’s their baby.”
Established pods will continue publishing to current platforms to avoid upsetting listening routines. It’s all part of an effort to balance diversity of content and opportunities for cross-promotion. “There’s plenty of room for all of these different podcasts to be successful,” Zak Young says. “It’s not a competition. It’s about sharing. It’s about exposing your listeners to other good stuff.”
“We’re doing it because we want to support creatives that have something to say,” Cheatham notes. “We want to be a part of their journey, and we want them to be part of our journey.”
To sign up to receive the Family podcast network’s weekly newsletter, visit thecheatsmovementpodcastnetwork.com.