'S-Town' Isn't The Real Name Of The Podcast's Setting

This American Life

When you first hear the name of the new podcast that everyone's talking about, the title might put you in mind of a British pop group from years past. So other than it not having anything to do with S Club 7, where is S-Town? The podcast title actually refers to Woodstock, Alabama, where the show is recorded and the location of the alleged murder that anchors its plot. "S-Town" is a shortening of the term "S**ttown," which is what John McLemore, the compelling man at the center of the S-Town story calls his hometown.

It's a place that he loathes and loves in equal turns. The quirky horologist, dog rescuer, and amateur botanist has lived in Woodstock for his entire life and can't imagine leaving, but sees his world through the lens of an eternal outsider. In the words of the show's host, Brian Reed:

We don’t want to call it this just because it’s provocative. The reason that there’s nothing else to call this [is because] this is like a frame of mind [John] was in. It’s not just a word he used and it was funny. The dude ... this kind of took over his way of seeing the world. It’s a worldview, basically. And we hope that the title points you to that. That it’s a way that John saw the world and I think a lot of people see the world that way. I think it’s something worth interrogating.

Woodstock is a teensy tiny and oddly-shaped town in rural Alabama that extends into the neighboring counties of Bibb and Tuscaloosa, with an estimated population of around 1,500 in 2014. It's situated fairly centrally within Alabama and is considered part of the much larger and more metropolitan area of Birmingham.

According to City Data, the mean household income is $39,691, noticeably lower than the same figure statewide, which is $44,765.

From the start of the podcast, it's been driven home that this is a sparsely-populated, low-income area, with a stark class and racial divide. John McLemore claims that it's one of the poorest in the state, and references alleged police corruption on a massive scale, juxtaposed with an extremely religious and right-leaning populace.

Having just begun the podcast, which was released on Tuesday, it remains to be seen just how credible McLemore's assessment of the area is. But in case you're someone who's helped by having a mental picture of the region we're talking about, there it is. Whether you call it S-Town, S**ttown, or Woodstock, this rural location is the site of one of the most interesting stories to come along in quite awhile.