Childhood friendship and an obsession with crime – a combo that has a happy ending. Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat met as children and through the years both developed a fascination for crime stories. Enough of a passion to start their own podcast. “Crime Junkie” now has 8 million monthly downloads and a substantial following on Patreon, where fans pony up cash for extra content beyond what they hear in the weekly podcast. Inside Radio got Extra Close Up with “Crime Junkie” co-host Ashley Flowers to find out how they turned a hobby into a podcast business.
Fans of your podcast know you've been friends since you were young. How'd you meet?
Our story begins at birth and is one of our favorite stories to tell. Our moms were very good friends before we were born. Brit's parents had struggled with having biological children and tried for 11 years before they decided they should start the adoption process. About this time my (Ashley's) mom was pregnant with me. Brit's parent waited for a baby and when I was born on Dec. 19, Brit's mom went to visit the hospital and it was a very bittersweet feeling. She was happy for my mom but also a little sad because she had wanted a baby of her own for so long.
As they sat together my mom wanted to give her words of encouragement and she said, "For all you know, your baby could be being born right now." It was a nice thought, but seemed unlikely. A little over 2 months later Brit's parents were notified they were going to get a baby—one that was born Dec. 19. We have been best friends ever since. There is something special about our story and we share a bond different than any other best friend or sister. We really believe we are soul mates in a way.
How did you become a “crime junkie?”
We both have been Crime Junkies for as long as we can remember. I (Ashley) can probably thank my mom for that, because I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie and watching shows like “Columbo” and “Perry Mason.” It didn't take long for me to figure out those fictional stories spawned from a real world place and I've been invested in true crime ever since.
When did you decide to turn your obsession into a podcast?
After spending years volunteering with Crime Stoppers and listening to other podcasts, I felt that I could help spread the word about the non-profit through that platform to a young audience. It really started as a way to get the Crime Stoppers name out there, and it has grown into so much more and allowed for the platform to bring attention to a lot of really amazing non-profits. So though it has changed a little since the beginning, we really are serving the same mission and purpose as when we started.
When did you first realize the show was a hit, and how many downloads do you now have each month?
I think the first time Brit and I looked at each other and were like "omg... I think people like what we are doing," was at our first local meet-up here in Indianapolis. We were just three months in and we had 65 people show up, which to us was wild, because until then we had just been doing our thing kind of in a bubble. But actually meeting fans of the show and hearing their feedback was so cool and inspiring.
We are now at 8 million downloads a month and still growing exponentially week over week. I still get surprised when I go to new cities and find out people have traveled just to come meet us. We are still the same two Midwest girls podcasting from our little bubble, so it is so flattering that people are relating to and loving what we are doing.
For anyone who's never heard the “Crime Junkie” podcast, how would you describe it?
“Crime Junkie” is a true crime podcast that tells a different story every Monday. We aim to bring attention to underreported or misreported cases and our ultimate goal is to show our audience ways they can be proactive about their own safety or get involved to actually contribute and assist in cases whether that is by signing petitions or engaging with non-profits who are working to solve cold cases.
How do you explain the popularity of podcasts?
There is a general fascination in our culture right now with true crime. It can be seen in TV, streaming services, movies and obviously podcasting. So in addition to talking about a topic people love, I think we tell the story in a way they love to hear it and we give them ways to interact and get involved in the cases they get invested in.
How many hours does it take to research, write, and finally record each full-length podcast?
On average it takes 20-30 hours for us to research, write and record one of our episodes. That doesn't account for the time it takes to edit, review and do all the things around an episode, like blog posts. We get so many fans asking for multiple episodes a week but there just aren't enough hours in the day. We never want to sacrifice quality for quantity.
How important is social media in the success of your podcast?
About 25% of our listeners engage with us on at least one social media platform. I think social media is incredibly important because not only does it give fans a way to feel engaged and invested in the show but it also allows us a way to connect with and better understand our audience.
Besides your own, what's your favorite podcast?
“Serial” was the show that got me into podcasts and as a storyteller I will always admire Sarah Koenig's ability to engage her audience. If I need something a little lighter, I love listening to “True Crime Obsessed.”
What do you guys do between 9-5 each day?
Up until about a week ago it was work! For over a year Brit, Ashley and David our editor, worked or went to school full-time while launching/growing the show. It was a crazy schedule because I would wake up early, work about 3 hours on “Crime Junkie,” go to my day job, come home and work on “Crime Junkie” until about 10pm and then put in another 12 hours on Saturday and 12 hours on Sunday. I had to give up a lot but I really believed in the show. I put every dime we made year-one back into the show in hopes of growing a sustainable business and it worked.
I was able to go full in 2019 and now my 9-5 is filled with the daily duties of running a small business. My old boss (who is a small business owner) warned me that when you start a business, you'll spend 60% of your time doing business stuff so you can spend 40% of your time actually doing the thing you loved and he was right. I still have to work nights and weekends to keep the show going but I've never been happier.
Are there plans to expand what you do? TV, radio or new podcasts?
Yes. We are working on a second podcast this year and we have just begun discussions to move “Crime Junkie” into other mediums. Year one was all about growing the show as a podcast and now in year two we want to explore how our show can translate into other types of media.
Do you have any advice for people who want to create their own podcast?
Don't wait! The podcast space is getting more competitive and it is going to be harder and harder for independent shows (like us) to get noticed and gain traction.