By Stefan Radtke
Whether it’s sensational true-crime stories, real estate, or spirituality, podcasts have found a home in Westchester County.
Nefarious New York
Alison Arcuri McCormack & Meredith Buono DaGrossa
True crime is hotter than ever, but Alison Arcuri McCormack and Meredith Buono DaGrossa make it local. The duo’s podcast, Nefarious New York, focuses on lesser-known crimes committed in the Empire State. DaGrossa, who is based in Somers, has been a companion to McCormack, who calls Bronxville home, since their earliest days growing up in New Rochelle. “We met in kindergarten, and I remember saying to Alison, ‘Do you want to be my friend?’” says DaGrossa. Their natural interest in crime soon followed.
“Alison and I used to talk on the phone, and for some reason, we were addicted to different crimes when we were growing up, but the podcast was 100 percent Alison’s idea,” says DaGrossa. “As we came up with the idea of doing a podcast, we were thinking, How can we set ourselves apart from other podcasts and do something a little differently than other people were doing? It evolved from there when Alison said, ‘Lets just do crimes in New York only’ — hence the name — ‘and maybe crimes that aren’t as well known.’”
The duo developed a system in which McCormack does the case research while DaGrossa goes in blind. “I’m almost like one of the listeners, so my responses and the questions I am asking Alison are things people are thinking as they are listening to it,” says DaGrossa. McCormack explains that the podcast is “a thoroughly researched, mostly chronological recounting of New York crimes. We try to keep it focused on interesting cases where there is a lot of information.”
As for why true crime is so incredibly popular right now, McCormack and DaGrossa have their opinions. “I think for some people it’s an interest in hearing about the crimes, and for others, it’s hearing how people do this stuff,” says McCormack. “It’s more informational, knowing what kind of people are out there.”
“It’s the same concept as if you are driving on the road and there is an accident,” adds DaGrossa. “You don’t want to look, but there is something within you that says, I have to look. It’s also a situation where there is a detective in everybody, and they want to solve the puzzle. In your head, you are trying to make sense of the madness. What happened to this person that made them go this way? You are trying to understand what could make somebody do something so horrible.”
With so many crimes to explore, McCormack and DaGrossa see a bright future for Nefarious New York. “Unfortunately, in this world, we will never run out of material,” says DaGrossa. “So, going forward, I think we want to pick the cases that make you think but also the cases that raise awareness.”
Your Real Estate Connection in Westchester
Throughout her 20-plus-year career in real estate, Armonk’s Harriet Libov has looked for ways to stand out from the crowd. In 2009, she was one of the first agents in her area to ply her services on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on a blog. “Fast-forward to 2020, when everyone is on social media. I wanted to do something to set myself apart,” says Libov, a longtime real estate agent at Houlihan Lawrence in Armonk. The answer was a podcast.
According to Libov, Your Real Estate Connection in Westchester is “an opportunity to learn about me, the areas I cover in real estate, how I work, how to practice responsible real estate in my opinion, and for buyers and sellers to understand what is happening in various areas of the market while highlighting where I live in Northern Westchester. I specifically refer to it as Northern Westchester because that’s really what I know, and I strongly believe you should sell what you know.”
After launching her podcast in January of 2021, Libov was surprised by its considerable reach. “The unexpected part was I found that buyers were listening to it to learn about the different towns, as well as the way I work, so it was a really good intro to them before we met,” she says. “So, when we had our initial conversation, I would send [clients] the podcast and say, ‘Listen and then send me questions.’ That was not something I planned, but people really latched on to it and enjoyed it.”
Ahead, Libov hopes to bring more voices into her podcast. “I really want to highlight what’s next in real estate and highlight local people,” says Libov. “I’d like to do more interviews with locals who love where they live, as well as listeners who are up to date with this ever-changing real estate market.”
Yet no matter what the future holds, the heart of Libov’s work is the county she loves. “Right now, I think the challenge is speaking to people who want to talk to me and want to share what they love about their lives and businesses,” she says, “because I think we live in a very special place, and this county is so unique and amazingly beautiful. Each part of Westchester county is so different.”
Awaken Westchester Church
The Awaken Westchester Church podcast was born from his namesake church and is the brainchild of Armonk resident Dave Stradling. After working as a youth pastor and attending the Nyack Theological Seminary, Stradling was inspired to create a spiritual space for people his age. “I was in my late 20s at that time, and some of the structure of the church wasn’t working,” says Stradling, “but people were interested in exploring spirituality, and that was the reason that I started Awaken all the way back in the fall of 2010, in my apartment.”
By 2012, Awaken had regular weekly services but not a stable home. After losing a base in White Plains, the services moved from hotel to hotel for seven months. “We did not lose a single person and actually grew during that time, which is amazing,” says Stradling. The congregation ultimately landed at Dobbs Ferry’s LOOK Dine-In Cinemas in 2022.
The podcast, which began in 2014, was a natural extension of Stradling’s preaching.
“The podcast is my weekly sermons, and so, for anyone listening to it for the first time, they can expect that I’ll take Scripture and explore the historical setting of why that particular section was written,” says Stradling. “Some sermons will get more heavily involved in this historical element, but then it always has to be brought into the modern day. So, how is this ancient book relevant for us in our lives today? What is the timeless wisdom that was present back in the Bible but is also available and meaningful for us now?”
For Stradling, the sermons are largely about practicality. “I always try to make it really practical, asking: What does it mean for us? How do we put this into practice? How will this change our lives? How can we live out this wisdom that’s going to lead us forward into more meaning, more purpose, more joy, more life — all of the things … that every single one of us truly wants out of life? So, I try to make it something that’s relevant for every single person.”
It is during this time of war, sickness, and economic and political uncertainty that Stradling feels his podcast is particularly necessary. “I really feel like there’s a lot of anxiety right now. There are a lot of things we worry about and a lot of ways in which we move through life so fast that we are missing the beauty in each moment,” he says. “My podcast is a way for me to get some of my ideas out there. If it can help people experience this life with a little more peace, expend a little more grace, and live with a little more love and generosity, the world would begin to look different.”
TINW Torah Study
Tara Keiter & Jennifer Jaech
Based out of Croton-on-Hudson’s Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, TINW Torah Study is the product of Rabbi Jennifer Jaech’s teachings, summarized by temple member Tara Keiter. When Keiter moved to Cortlandt Manor in 1995, she soon began attending Temple Israel and was interested by the Torah study classes there. When Jaech later became the senior rabbi, Keiter was captivated. “Rabbi Jaech was different because she brought a little bit more of an academic approach to it, and I thought it was so fascinating,” says Keiter.
Inspired by her teachings, Keiter asked for a meeting with Jaech, to whom she pitched a blog based upon the class. One day, Keiter was on a hike with Rabbi Jaech and the then-president of their synagogue, Steve Rubenstein. “I mentioned something to [Rubenstein] about the blog, and he’s like, ‘Oh, Tara, we’re in the age of podcasts. You need to add a podcast.’” After a few months of trying out the medium, Keiter hit her stride.
According to Keiter, TINW Torah Study “is a Reform exploration of the Bible, including ancient wisdom and modern scholarship, but it also looks at what was happening to the Israelite people and the communities around them and how those communities impacted them and what came to be the Bible.” Keiter listens to Jaech’s teachings each Saturday, then formulates the podcasts based upon what she’s heard.
Keiter insists that the podcast is aimed at anyone searching for meaning in life. “If you believe that the Bible is the word of God, written directly by Moses, which some people do believe, then this is probably not the podcast for you,” she says. “But [the podcast] is for you if you are open to the Bible having been being written by people who were searching for meaning in life the same way we search every day for why we are here and what our purpose is. That’s what those people were doing, and that’s what we’re still doing today.”
Keiter is optimistic about the future of TINW Torah Study. “Each year we begin the cycle of reading the Torah anew, and each year, Rabbi Jaech finds something interesting to pull out of the text and focus on,” says Keiter. “Just as people have done for the last 2,000 years, we look at the text and try to find meaning for our lives today. I find it riveting.”
Energy Stoners Cafe
Toni Quest has an appropriate name, because she is a woman on a mission. Dedicated to highlighting artists, authors, community leaders, and generally interesting people, Quest’s Energy Stoners Cafe podcast offers a wealth of perspectives from worldwide voices that might not otherwise have their stories told.
A jeweler and artist herself, Quest’s podcast actually derives its name from the Peekskill resident’s background in jewelry. “Energy Stoners” is a reference to energy stones, also known as healing crystals, which Quest incorporates into her wearable creations. Her expansive painted murals are also displayed throughout the country. However, Quest has been interested in interviews for nearly as long as she has been interested in art.
“I really feel I’m living my dream, because when I graduated from high school, I wanted so much to be an interviewer like Dick Cavett,” says Quest. “I told people that I wanted to be the first female one.” Spurred by her desire to highlight compelling individuals, Energy Stoners Cafe began as a public-access TV show in 2012 but found new life as a podcast when it had to change format due to the pandemic.
The podcast has grown well beyond anything Quest could have imagined with her original TV show. “I just I feel so excited that I get to interview these fantastic people,” says Quest. “I’ve interviewed Ray Blue and Alexis Cole, who are both in the jazz field, and I’ve interviewed great artists, doctors, authors, and filmmakers. I am really excited about the people I’m interviewing and proud to say that the Energy Stoners podcast now reaches 14 million devices!”
Last April, Quest was asked to be a presenter at the Appalachian Arts & Entertainment Awards, in Prestonsburg, KY, “and they introduced me as a podcaster, which I thought was really interesting,” she shares. “So, I said to myself, I am going to keep doing this.”
Quest has certainly maintained the momentum, recently celebrating the 100th episode of Energy Stoners Cafe. Ahead, she hopes an outlet like NBC, CBS, or CNN might pick up the podcast for wider distribution. “Thanks to [podcast director] James H. Brooks, I walk into the studio, and I sit down and interview a person, and then it magically ends up everywhere,” says Quest. “One of the things I feel passionate about is bringing people into focus who might not normally get noticed and letting people speak who don’t have a voice and might otherwise never be heard.”