Are you afraid of the dark? At some point in our lives, the answer to that question is an affirmative yet nervous nod. We have all feared a shadow or two, right? Even if you’re comfortable with dark spaces as an adult, you probably slept with a night light as a kid. That faint and comforting glow was a security blanket to cast away all trepidation… especially if you had just watched something super scary. This small light fixture inspired the name of NIGHTLIGHT, a podcast that’s a vital addition to the horror fiction landscape. Created by Tonia Ransom, NIGHTLIGHT features a hefty catalog of stories written and performed by Black creatives that will make you want to keep the lights on at night.
Following this unique creative path was Tonia’s destiny. She fell in love with horror as a kid, watching scary movies with her older brothers to connect with them. “I was about nine years old and really afraid of being afraid,” recalls Ransom. “I didn’t want to jump or do anything like that! If anybody has brothers, you know that they’re ruthless and they’ll never let you live anything down. So, I knew that I had to be brave.”
Tonia soon began penning her own frightening tales. She recalls one early—and hilarious—experience that got her hooked on the euphoria of emotionally moving others with her words.
“I fell in love with writing horror when I had this school assignment in second grade,” said Ransom. “We were tasked with writing a book and creating the book. We had to get a chipboard and contact paper to actually construct it and we had to write and illustrate the book. I wrote Michael Myers fanfiction, complete with bloody knives and corpses… and I was known as a really good kid in school. My teacher, of course, called my parents. I was thinking it was because she loved the story but, once I got to middle school, I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ She was probably worried about me and scared for a different reason.”
Like most of us, her fanfiction adventures didn’t translate into a career… at least, not initially. Tonia went into marketing and web development; however, she never lost her passion for storytelling. Internet radio stations helped her maintain her focus during long workdays. Her appreciation for audio stories sparked an idea that wouldn’t leave her alone, even though she kept putting it off.
“I was a web developer, not a writer at that point, and definitely not working in radio or anything like that,” she notes. “So, I knew that it was going to be almost impossible for me to go to anyone and be like, ‘Hey, let me write a show for you, and it’ll be super successful, and it’ll be great!’ …A couple of years later, podcasts became a thing and I thought, ‘Okay, wow. Well, now I can do this.’ But I kept putting it off… One day I was like, ‘You know what? I keep making excuses. And this is never going to happen if I keep waiting for the “right time” to do this.”
This is where NIGHTLIGHT’s story begins. Tonia didn’t have a platform on social media nor followers who were necessarily her niche market. So, she turned to crowdfunding and using her marketing prowess to get others on board. Obviously, the idea of a Black-led audio horror podcast resonated with people because she quickly raised thousands of dollars. And the rest, as they say, is history. NIGHTLIGHT launched in 2018 and has six seasons of sinister stories for your podcast listening pleasure.
Each episode may only run 30-40 minutes; however, it takes up to 20-30 hours—and hundreds of dollars—to produce them. Tonia initially estimated that an episode would take five hours to complete but that wasn’t the case. She begins with reading submissions or sourcing stories for consideration. Upon acceptance, there’s the business of negotiating contracts, finding the right narrator, and, of course, the recording process. Thankfully, Tonia now has a team to help her with all these working parts.
Then, it is on to quality control to see if there is a need for pickups, which are retakes if a person flubs a word or misses something else. Sometimes, the vocals need to be scarier… almost frightening enough that the listener will have nightmares. Finally, there are sound effects and music to amp up the tension. Once that’s complete, a new NIGHTLIGHT story is ready for the podcast masses to hear.
Every person involved, from the writers to the narrators, receives compensation for their talent and hard work. This is why NIGHTLIGHT continues to seek support from sponsors and Patreon memberships. The podcast provides fantastic entertainment for horror lovers as well as an established platform for new writers to break their material. Opening the door for marginalized creatives is something that we dig at Nerdist and is also close to Tonia’s heart.
“I think any marginalized group has to have the opportunity to tell their stories and have their stories heard,” Tonia states. “It creates this atmosphere where it’s really hard to hate a group of people once you’re exposed to their perspective. People don’t like being preached to. They don’t like being told, ‘Oh, well, Black people aren’t this, and you shouldn’t think that,’ and that sort of thing. But people do love listening to stories. You can weave in the things that you want to say in terms of acceptance and sharing your own struggles, challenges, and victories for your culture and the things that you love about your culture… stories are a great way to connect people and fight all forms of bigotry.”