The coronavirus pandemic shut down more than shops and restaurants—it also paused a favorite weekly dose of cultural insight for Middleburg residents. That should change in the next few weeks.
Chris Stafford, a town resident and veteran sports journalist, started the Middleburg Podcast in January as a way to showcase the town’s community, history and culture. She recorded 10 weekly episodes of the podcast before the COVID-19 pandemic hit—episodes in which she met with some of the town’s most animated characters to ask them questions about who they are, what they do and how they fit into the community.
In those episodes, which last anywhere from 25 to 54 minutes in length, Stafford either walks alongside her guests down the streets of town with microphone in hand or visits them in their places of business.
To name a few of her guests, Stafford has spoken with Mayor Bridge Littleton; Punkin Lee, the president of the Middleburg Business & Professional Association and the owner of Journeyman Saddlers; National Sporting Library & Museum Curator Claudia Pfeiffer; and Mark Metzger, the owner of Highcliffe Clothiers.
Stafford said the most surprising thing she has learned while talking with guests is the mere existence of David Condon’s antique firearms shop on the east end of Washington Street. That shop, which features no sign out front to signify its presence, sells antique guns to customers across the world but gets little business from passersby, Condon said in the podcast.
Stafford has also spoken with Anthony Wells—an author of spy fiction and the only living person to have worked for British intelligence as a British citizen and American intelligence as an American citizen.
“It’s organic as it can be,” Stafford said about the podcast. “My job is just to turn on the microphone and let them tell their story in their own course.”
Stafford said she created the Middleburg Podcast to show the world how Middleburg is one of a kind, through interviews with the town’s well-known and hardly known inhabitants. As for the question of why she chose Middleburg, Stafford said the town has been on her mind for close to four decades. Stafford, a native of the United Kingdom, first set foot in Middleburg in the early 1980s when she began visiting a family in Upperville.
“Middleburg has an emotional connection for me,” she said. “It has such a wonderful community.”
Since the ‘80s, Stafford switched from an equestrian career path to one in broadcasting, earned her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Westminsterin London, covered four Olympic games, lived in seven countries and seven American states, worked as the vice president of production for HorseTV, and started her own media outlet called WiSP—the Women in Sports Podcast, which tells the stories of women in sports through articles, videos, blogs and podcasts.
Day-to-day, Stafford works to produce multiple shows on WiSP, like the WiSP Sports Desk, for which she interviewed Sandy Brondello, the coach of the Australian Women’s National Basketball Team and the Phoenix Mercury WNBA team.
By early October, Stafford’s weekly duties will shift a bit to also encompass producing the Middleburg Podcast once again, following a more than six-month hiatus. Already, she has a list of about 20 potential guests to feature.
But the format of the podcast will inevitably change to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Stafford said she’ll have to purchase a second microphone and longer cable so that her guests can speak freely, at a six-foot distance from Stafford, as they stroll past the many shops and restaurants on Washington Street.
Stafford said listeners should be on the lookout for an 11th episode as early as the first weekend in October. Looking farther out, she said she could at some point expand the podcast to include guests from across the entire county and not just in Middleburg, so long as she has the help to make that happen.
“It’s there for history,” she said about the Middleburg Podcast. “It’s an honor to do it.”