Listen to Your Neighbors: Mercer Island’s Best Podcasts

August 12, 2022 | by Adam Willems

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In July, the New York Times named an original podcast episode by Mercer Island High School student Hayley Nguyen one of 10 winners in the student category of its annual podcast contest. A record-breaking 1,600+ contestants submitted their work for the competition, and the islander’s work ranked among the best – a fitting feat for a teen from a town brimming with podcast talent.

Nguyen’s five-minute digital broadcast, “When the Water Is Calm,” recounts her father’s harrowing escape from Vietnam at just 13 years old. “Open water has a dual meaning, a coin per se,” Hayley Nguyen reflects. “One side a spark of hope, [but] when flipped, it’s a warning of the unknown.” 

In 1986, a decade after the official end of the Vietnam War, Nguyen’s father joined the hundreds of thousands dubbed “Vietnamese boat people,” fleeing to the open water. Free from state oppression but beholden to other dangers, especially the elements, the episode tells his story of getting on a boat with an engine that stopped working a few days into the trip.

Nguyen’s superlative work joins a burgeoning community of Mercer Island podcasters that includes fellow high school students, disability advocates, and intrepid reporters. Get ready to listen to your neighbors with this round-up of the best islander podcasts.

KMIH – Mercer Island High School

Mercer Island High School boasts the world’s largest high school podcast network on KMIH, the school’s student-run radio station, with 36 shows on the air. 

Rice and Shine, co-hosted by Lauren Suzuki, Sophie Hill, Ava Yeh, and Grace Go, dives into the four Asian-American students’ perspectives on pop culture, the news, and local experiences. Their October 2021 episode “What’s Up With Mercer Island” affirms and dispels Mercer Island stereotypes, sharing experiences on the island according to race, class, clique, and more. 

Miles Avilez and Creed Finifrock co-host That’s Debatable, in which they approach and unpack two sides to every argument, such as debates over public-education funding or the design of the electoral college. Avilez and Finifrock deftly hone in on local issues as well, interviewing politicians such as Mercer Island City Councilmember Craig Reynolds about municipal governance. Reynolds’s joint career as an actuary and Councilmember dovetails with Avilez’s own interests in statistics and politics, making for an impassioned and interdisciplinary discussion.

The Week in Review – KUOW

Mercer Island resident Bill Radke, an NPR and Seattle P-I veteran, brings on local journalists to make sense of the week’s news on KUOW’s weekly podcast, The Week in Review. Radke leverages the expertise of people such as PubliCola’s Erica Barnett, the Seattle Times’s Elise Takahama, and GeekWire’s Mike Lewis to decode local and national developments. He highlights how burning topics like homelessness and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic are overlooked as regional issues in need of intervention – not just on federal and municipal levels. Radke also previously hosted a Seattle-specific news program, The Record.

Once Upon A Gene

Mercer Island resident Effie Parks, whose son, Ford, has a rare genetic mutation of the CTNNB1 gene, has been an advocate for her son and others facing rare diseases since learning of Ford’s diagnosis. CTNNB1 is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder that affects all aspects of growth and development, including global developmental delay, intellectual disability, and speech delay. With 146 episodes under its belt, Parks’s Once Upon A Gene tells the stories of parents raising children with rare diseases and profiles expert advocates and researchers in the field. The podcast raises awareness of rare diseases while offering a community for parents facing similar experiences and questions. 

Parks’s story may sound familiar – her heartwarming encounter with a mother and her three boys in Mercerdale Park went viral on, and raised awareness locally for how people with disabilities are often overlooked and ignored in public, even in communities making efforts to be more inclusive. Effie was recognized by Podcast Magazine’s 40 Under 40 award, and has been nominated for two Champion of Hope awards by Global Genes. 

What Fuels You

Shauna Swerland, a Mercer Island local and CEO of Fuel Talent, a boutique recruiting firm, has interviewed more than 160 entrepreneurs and leaders on her podcast, digging into their paths to success and the values that got them there. The show has attracted over 60,000 listeners, covering topics as diverse as the region’s industries—from biosciences, to streaming platforms, to food production – What Fuels You subtly showcases Puget Sound’s superlative talent pool, acting as both a voice of inspiration and an invitation for others to contribute to Western Washington’s entrepreneurial visions.