COLD creator speaks to BYU students on podcast’s creation, success

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Dave Cawley speaks to an auditorium of broadcast and journalism students in the HBLL auditorium on Feb. 25. (Rachel Halversen)

KSL Digital Content Executive Producer Dave Cawley addressed the history and making of his podcast COLD in a forum to BYU students Monday, Feb. 25.

Cawley’s podcast explores the cold case of missing person Susan Powell. According to the COLD podcast website, Susan went missing on Dec. 7, 2009 — the same day her husband and two sons took a surprise camping trip to Utah’s West Desert in a blizzard. 10 years later and her body has yet to be found. 

According to Cawley, Josh Powell became the likely subject for his wife’s murder because of their fractured marriage. Soon after her disappearance, Josh Powell left the state and later killed himself and their two sons.

Cawley said he found three themes during his investigation into the Powell case. The first was the fact that physical abuse isn’t the only form of spousal abuse.

Cawley noted Josh Powell was isolating Susan Powell and controlling all finances, even what she would eat. Because there was no physical abuse, Susan didn’t get out soon enough. In relation to abusive relationships, the podcast explores the question, “When should you leave?”

The second theme was that Josh Powell and his brothers were groomed to become monstrous. Josh Powell’s father, Steven Powell, did things which encouraged deviancy and domination in his sons. That caused Cawley to question what can be done when men like these become husbands and fathers and how can it be halted.

The third theme was the amount of information the police missed. Josh Powell managed to stay a step ahead of detectives, Cawley said, and the police were insistent on finding irrefutable evidence against him before filing charges against the man they believed killed his wife.

Josh’s interview showed that he didn’t feel much care for the fact that his wife was missing or if he’d ever see her again,” Cawley said. 

As for some of the newly available information, there were more than 30,000 pages of documentation, approximately 60 hours of audio reviewed, 15 interviews never heard before, two never-heard-before police interviews with Steven Powell and three police interviews with Josh Powell.

In addition, the COLD team uncovered one never-released wire recording, 2,250 pages of Steven Powell’s handwritten journals, 3,000 digital files of handwritten/typed journals of Josh Powell, 500 digital files of Josh Powell’s audio journals, 8,375 pages of emails written by Susan Powell. The team performed three years of additional investigation over the span of five states.

Cawley discussed how the podcast came to fruition, saying it wasn’t without hard work and commitment. He said when he approached his boss at the time, she thought the podcast was a great idea, but she couldn’t pay him for it or take him off his day job. That resulted in Cawley doing all the research during his free time.

Cawley explained the reason he chose to format the case in a podcast came from an annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference. Cawley attended a forum by a print reporter who had taken a long investigation, turned it into a podcast and discussed the transition from print to audio.

“I’m sitting in the back of the room thinking ‘I work in radio, I’ve worked in radio for ten years, I feel like I’d be able to tell a story using audio,’” Cawley said.

Cawley said he left the conference knowing he had a copy of the redacted case file and knowledge there were things that had not been previously reported in it.

“I told my boss, ‘We are sitting on a story that is made for podcasting,’” Cawley said. 

At the time, Cawley said KSL had been fairly aggressively moving toward digital platforms. The station had been taking stories that already existed and repurposing them for podcasting, but it wasn’t doing the audience any great service. Because of that, Cawley looked to things like the Serial podcast when moving forward with the COLD project.

The COLD project is set to wrap soon, and because of its success, the producers and Cawley are in talks to do a second season sometime in the future.

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