Aaron Dante has created a platform to highlight voices both in Baltimore and beyond. But while he is interested in reaching audiences elsewhere, his anchor and roots are here in the city, in Baltimore. He says his work is about making sure that misconceptions about this place are dispelled. Whether he’s broadcasting live from Ocean City and interviewing politicians or having scallops and a mezcal neat at Maggie’s Farm, Dante’s podcast blends Baltimore pride with an eye towards expansion. He hopes to secure more funding to keep the podcast going, and his dream is to eventually develop a nonprofit to teach kids to learn how to podcast. 

NoPixAfterDark was officially launched as an audio podcast in 2019. Fast forward to 2022, and the show is in its fourth season and has expanded to video, as well as other platforms like YouTube, and event hosting. Platforms can be places, physical or virtual, for the community, connection, and authentic question-asking. In a seemingly endless sea of podcasts, Dante has found a formula to engage listeners and subjects from a wide variety of backgrounds and occupations. 

In October, I spoke with Aaron Dante over Zoom to discuss the evolution of his platform from a party to a podcast, the focus of NoPixAfterDark, and what he and other podcasters need in order to keep their platforms sustainable. 

A man with brown skin is seated in front of an artwork, wearing a suit and holding a microphone.
NoPixAfterDark host Aaron Dante. Photo by Cameron Snell.

Teri Henderson: Where are you from? Where are your roots? Where are your people from?  

Aaron Dante: I was born in Baltimore. My roots are Ohio, Dallas, and Syracuse. I moved a lot as a child. My people are from Baltimore. I currently live in Waltherson, Northeast Baltimore. 

TH: What do you do and why do you do it? 

I’m the CEO/Founder/Host of NoPixAfterDark Podcast. I do it because I love meeting new and interesting people. I love storytelling. Not everybody can do it and connect with the audience.

TH: How did you get started with NoPixAfterDark? And what is your vision for it now? Because you don’t just feature folks from Baltimore on the show, correct?

AD: NoPix started off for my son. I wanted him to hear some amazing stories of his dad’s college friends. 

TH: That’s so cool.

AD:  My college friends lived in DC, Philly, New York, and LA. The first couple of episodes, I interviewed maybe three people from Baltimore, but everyone else was from everywhere else. I have a lot of reach out there in LA, San Diego, and San Francisco because of my friends who listen to the show. So that was my original vision, it was never only Baltimore-centered. Baltimore was a newer audience, and Northeast Baltimore embraced me first.

My first real Baltimore interview was Jacq [Jones] from Sugar [A now-closed sex toy store in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood]. After I did that interview with Jacq, I did a couple of interviews with anchors and producers from local TV stations. And they said, “Yo, you got something.” It is for Baltimore, but I’m expanding. I’ve been [branching out] to DC. You have to expand in this game, you can’t stay stagnant. You have to reinvent yourself. 

TH: How do you know when a season is done? Is it kind of an internal thing where you’re like, “Okay, this is enough. This feels complete”?

I take a break in between each season. A month and a half to two months break. And that’s just me recharging for the first month. I recharge, get my life together, but in the back of my mind, when I’m ending the old season, I’ve already got guests lined up in my head [for the next season]. So I might start recording for the next season then. Right now, I have episodes lined up until January.

TH: You’ve had a lot of success recently. In June you partnered with AFRAM. Then you broadcast live from the Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference in Ocean City in August, where you interviewed Governor-elect Wes Moore. I’m wondering if you have had a moment where you felt, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing and I am where I want to be.” Or do you feel as if you’re still striving for something? Do you recognize that your hard work is paying off? 

AD: I’m never going to stop being hungry. I keep it real. I don’t fake the funk, and I’m always going for the best. I was doing this thing with Visit Baltimore, they asked me to be a moderator for their annual meeting recently. And it made me nervous! Because this is the room I always talked about being in. When they asked me, it took me like a week to respond. I thought: Should I do this? Am I mentally ready for this? Have I been preparing enough to do this?

And I did it. I prayed on it. 

When [Visit Baltimore] announced my name, and they gave the background of what I’ve done, I teared up for a minute before I got on stage. Because when you hear all these things you’ve done, you think, “Damn, I’ve done some work out here.” But when you hear somebody else saying it, it makes it even more special. I worked with the US Navy and Fleet Week. I never would have thought I’d be riding around in a helicopter, or doing stuff like that. It blows my mind. 

TH: So what’s next for NoPixAfterDark

AD: United Way of Central Maryland is going to be sponsoring the show, and that is huge. I’m working on an upcoming TV project. What I’m looking forward to next year is [hopefully] more sponsors to back the show up. The reason I say that is because [NoPixAfterDark ] can only go so far at this point. I need the financial backing to move forward. 

TH: Why do you say that? 

AD: I need the financial backing to do it. I work 9-to-5. It’s getting harder. It’s getting harder for me to keep going. When the sponsorships end, could I leave this podcast game? I could, I could walk away. Would I feel complete about it? No. 

People love the content. They love what you’re giving out. But in that same token, it’s hard to maintain this. You’re dropping episodes every week, you’re doing videos. If anyone knows how much videographers cost, you know how expensive it is to do these videos every time. I’m fortunate enough to have sponsors partially pay for these opportunities for me right now. 

TH: When you’re thinking about guests you want on the show, and stories that you want to tell, what do you look for? 

AD: I don’t really highlight people that [I consider] are really overused in Baltimore or DC. 

When I see people on TV or on the news repeatedly, I don’t really want them on the show. At the end of the day, my podcast is for the voices of the unheard. The voices you hear all the time, I don’t really want to have them on the show. I try to make the interviews like conversations. Like this one we are having. I try to make them not feel forced. 

AD: I never want to be boxed in. That’s where the name “NoPix” comes from. There’s two different versions of the name. The PC version is “nothing good happens after dark.” I want to shine a positive light [on people] and tell stories. 

The real version is one of my boys got caught up one night while we were all living in New York City. We were all out at a party. And this before we had iPhones. You had to take your camera into Duane Reade to get the photos developed. And in one of the photos he was whispering in this young lady’s ear — that wasn’t his wife’s.

TH: Oh Jesus.

AD: When the photo came out, everyone was passing the photo around, like, “Oh, that was a good time.” And then they were like, “OHHHHHH.” And I was like, “NoPixAfterDark.” 

[Both laugh.]

AD: That’s where NoPixAfterDark first came from. An even bigger extension of the podcast. That was a party I did for 10 years, the NoPixAfterDark podcast. The audience was there, and I switched over to a podcast. We did the party for 10 years, in Manhattan, the Jersey shore, and then the last three years in Baltimore. 

TH: What are some of your favorite things about Baltimore? I know that you’ve lived in a lot of places. Why did you choose to stay here? 

AD: Something we have in common is that we both used to live in Texas. I used to live in Dallas. But I was born in Baltimore. My dad was working in the university system; he worked at Georgetown, Goucher, Youngstown State, Southern Methodist University, Syracuse — we moved around a lot. But I would always come back to Baltimore every summer, because my family was here. 

And it’s about the greatness of Baltimore, there’s something about the realness of Baltimore. They’ll tell you if your shit sucks.

I remember an episode came out, and someone said, “Yo, your sound gotta get better, bro.”

They [Baltimoreans] keep it real. They tell you what it was, and what it is. I love the people. People make Baltimore. And that’s what the spirit of Baltimore is — the people. I wish more people could see the positive side. That’s what I try to do with these stories. 

We’ll talk a little bit more about DC, we’ll talk a little bit about Philly, and some LA stuff. We got some things lined up in 2023. I kind of just want to make sure we get a good story and a picture of Baltimore. There’s so many negative things that we hear and we’re tired of it. Just like the Baltimore Beat is doing things. It’s the people for me.

TH: You’re highlighting voices of the unheard. 

AD: We have to be! Like, I had Eze Jackson on. A lot of people know him, but he was talking about some real stuff on that episode. Coming up soon we have Donaé Burston, [Owner & Founder of Le Fête Du Rosé]. People in the industry know who he is, but people like me and you might not. A Black man with a rose company, and he’s in Baltimore County?

I just really want people to understand that it’s hard, and we [podcasters] need your support. I need people to watch YouTube; companies judge you on YouTube now. Subscribe to the channel. It’s free. Those little things are big for podcasters to survive. I started as audio strictly, and then I had to evolve. You have to evolve to get where you gotta get. I also want to make sure I say thank you to all the listeners and the people that have supported me.

A man with brown skin wearing a suit is seated and smiling in front of a multicolored artwork.
NoPixAfterDark host Aaron Dante pictured in front of a painting by Dani Ritthaller. Photo by Cameron Snell.

Answers have been edited for clarity. For more on Aaron Dante’s work, visit: nopixafterdark.com.

Teri Henderson is the Arts and Culture Editor of Baltimore Beat. She is the author of the 2021 book Black Collagists. Previously, she was a staff writer for BmoreArt, gallery coordinator for Connect +...