BROADCAST IN SEPTEMBER.
Radio is having a renaissance, thanks to the humble podcast.
Thanks to the internet and the iPhone, you can now record a half hour of content about anything in the world and transmit it directly into the ears of your listeners. Harry von Zell, actor and radio announcer, said that 'Radio is the most intimate and socially personal medium in the world', and that intimacy and directness has heralded a boom of programs clamouring to make you laugh, cry, think and feel, all at the click of a button. What an age!
This month is all about auditory content, whether it be reporting, storytelling, education or entertainment. And the best thing? You can likely start out with the technology you already own. There's a couple of set-up guides here and here.
If you've heard the word 'podcast' a heap of times, but have no idea where to start, head over to The Podcast Broadcast recommendation page. There's a manageable list of big, reliable shows to start you out. Fleur Kilpatrick also has a great list and episode recommendations to get you going.
Izzy Roberts-Orr has created a powerful and beautiful piece about women in public spaces called 'How to Behave.' It's designed to be listened to in Melbourne, but you can download it anywhere, head to your nearest park, and listen to stories, confession and creative fiction about what it is to be female and outside.
When Roman Mars mentioned The Podcast Broadcast on 99% Invisible earlier this year, we signed up immediately and became quickly addicted to its weekly recommendations for podcasts to listen to - old, new, tiny and huge. So we got in touch with Brittany Jezouit, who curates the newsletter, to chat about what makes a good podcast, making your own audio work, how radio and television influence each other, the extraordinary rise of Serial and the magic of being terrified by the voice in your ear as you walk to work. Dive on in!
THE ART OLYMPICS jumps on Skype to have a natter with curator of newsletter 'The Podcast Broadcast', BRITTANY JEZOUIT.
4:06 pm. Two laptops, one in San Francisco, California, the other in Portland, Maine.
Art Olympics: If you’d like to start out by just giving an introduction to who you are and what you’ve been doing with The Podcast Broadcast, that’d be awesome.
Brittany Jezouit: So I guess it started as just a newsletter. In January I was looking for another creative project to work on, and I was also really into podcasts and audio, and newsletters also, so I decided to combine them all into one and do a weekly newsletter. And then I turned it into a website with some interviews. And I want to do more with it. So yeah, that’s my side project that I’ve been working on. And in my day job, I work at an organisation called CIEE – the Council on International Educational Exchange. We do international exchange, Study Abroad, teaching grad programs.
AO: So you said you were looking for another creative project – what have you done in the past?
BJ: Last year, I did a project where I wanted to learn a lot more about design, and specifically Photoshop and InDesign, so I worked on a project where I did one tutorial every day.
BJ: Yeah, I know! I was a little ambitious.
AO: I only did it for 100 days. I was like, ‘I’m going to do a whole year!’ It didn’t go as planned, but I felt like 100 days was enough.
AO: That’s a substantial amount of training.
BJ: Yeah. But I really liked it, and I really liked having something to keep me occupied and work towards, to learn more about. So when the next year rolled around, I wanted to get something else to learn about, and I thought this would be a good idea. It’s been really fun!
AO: So getting down to the very basics of what we’re talking about, what is a podcast?
BJ: So I never really listened to podcasts – I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up on NPR. So I’m pretty new to the podcasting world. I’m kind of discovering it as I’m writing. But a podcast is basically an audio file that you can listen to, an audio show, that you can listen to on your phone. It’s a good way to fit in learning about different topics while you’re pretty much doing anything, because you can listen to it on the go. And it’s definitely had a big resurgence in the past few years. Audio, radio, broadcasting. Audio in general is definitely something that people have been focussing on more, so I think I caught it on the upswing.
AO: Definitely. And so you said you didn’t grow up listening to podcasts – what was the podcast that made you fall in love with them?
BJ: I have a few, but definitely the one that made me fall in love with the medium of audio specifically was Radiolab, which is kind of everyone’s gateway into podcasts, but they’re so good. Just the way that they craft stories. I remember, I listened to the ‘Colors’ one that my friend told me to listen to at college, and it was so incredible. I was walking around listening to it and just looking around, and I remember thinking that it was a whole new way of looking at things. At college, I spent a lot of time walking around or going on runs and listening to podcasts. And I love being able to use my time in a different way, learn more about things and hear about things that I would never have the time to listen to otherwise. And it can be so beautiful and cool.
So yeah, Radiolab for sure, and then, I mean, I love This American Life. I’m also really liking a lot of the indie podcasts lately. It’s really cool to see what people are trying to do now that it’s kind of a medium that people are focussing more on.
AO: And so what do you think makes a good podcast? What makes a show really work?
BJ: I don’t know, I think about that a lot. I was listening to the new one by Jessica Abel – she wrote this really cool book called ‘Out on the Wire’, and it’s about what makes a good story, and what makes a good audio story. It’s been turned into a podcast, and the one she had today was all about that, about crafting a story. I think that having it all thought out, and having a good story arc and something that makes people pay attention and wonder what’s going to happen next – they talk about the ‘driveway moments’, where you’re sitting and waiting to hear what happens. But I also enjoy things that don’t have much of an arc, you know, that are just talking and conversations or interviews. So I think there’s not a hard rule, as long as it’s thoughtful and interesting and something that you would want to spend time listening to.
AO: Have you ever been involved in audio production? Is that a thing that you’re interested in doing?
BJ: It’s definitely something I’m interested in doing – I live in Portland, Maine right now, and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies is here, which is a sort of spinoff of Transom, which is an audio workshop. I took one of their audio storytelling courses, a week-long intensive. So that was my first foray into learning about what it takes to actually make a story, and walk around with a microphone and headphones, and stick a big microphone in peoples’ faces –
BJ: I had no idea – I’d never envisaged that the people in podcasts who are talking are standing there in the middle of the street with a microphone, trying to get room tone, which is so strange. But yeah, I guess this was my way of testing out whether it’s something that I was interested in. I read somewhere that the best way to get involved in something is to be a superfan of it –
BJ: So I thought the newsletter was a good way to test that! So maybe, maybe in the future. I’m not sure. For now, I’m pretty happy. I’m kind of expanding what I have here.
AO: So when you did that course, did you have to come up with a story that you completed?
BJ: Yeah, so I did it about a bar that was in my neighbourhood that was closing. It was this big story, the classic neighbourhood bar gets shut down because the rent is too high, and the community comes up and tries to save it. It was really fun. I went and interviewed at the bar during piano night, and interviewed the owner of the bar and her daughter. Other people sort of wandered around and found stories. One girl asked who the most interesting person was in Portland to a bunch of people, until she found one person. It was almost more interesting to see what people who weren’t from here, what they did when they descended into a city, trying to find an interesting story.
AO: That sounds awesome. Now, difficult question: if, in some fantasy world, you were to start a podcast, what would it be about, and who would be your ideal co-host?
BJ: Oh my gosh!
BJ: I don’t know! I’m looking at my podcast app, to think about who I would want as my co-host. I would love to do something – I’m really interested in international exchange and cross-cultural connections, and I’d love to do something that kind of focuses on that a little more, because I think that’s really important. Or, I want to say that maybe I’d do like an Invisibilia spinoff, where Lulu Miller would be my co-host because she’s so cool. I don’t know. Ira Glass is the obvious answer, but I won’t pick that one.
BJ: I love Starlee Kine’s style in Mystery Show. I think maybe I would do some sort of investigative thing, but nothing too serious. She would be a cool co-host, too. It would probably be a girl.
AO: Speaking of investigative things, it was really interested watching Serial just totally explode amongst people I knew. Because there was a handful of my friends who listened to podcasts regularly, and then all of a sudden, Serial came out, and then everyone I knew was obsessively listening to this show. It’s actually been really funny coming to America, because we don’t have Best Buy in Australia, and every time we’ve walked past one of them, it’s been like (gasps) ‘Best Buy! Where’s the pay phone?’
BJ: ‘Where’s Adnaan?’
AO: What do you think it is about that show that just captured everyone so completely?
BJ: I was fascinated by the Serial thing too, because I was the kind of person who would always try to get people to listen to podcasts, and no-one would listen to me. I’d be like, ‘No, really, there’s this really great thing, and here’s this specific episode you would like!’ and they’d be like ‘Whatever. I don’t know how to do that on my phone.’
BJ: And then all of a sudden, I get to work, and everyone’s like ‘Oh my god, did you hear what happened in Serial?’
BJ: But I think it does make sense, because Serial’s kind of one of the first ones that went back to – it’s in the name, serialised content. A story that’s more than just a one-off, because most podcasts, you listen to them, and they’re one contained package. You learn something, but you’re not continuously hooked. I imagine, in the 50s, when radio dramas were a thing and that’s what people did, they tuned in and sat around and waited to see what happened next. And Serial kind of got that started again. So I anticipate that more shows will be like that in the future. But I haven’t seen as many as I thought I would, recently, because Serial’s been gone for a while. But I think it got people paying attention to audio in general, and how it can be something to entertain and captivate you. And it can be the same as the way that you’d watch a TV show.
AO: Totally. It’s kind of interesting that the radio show that got people really hooked on radio functions in the same way as television does, and the reason television functions like that is because of radio. There’s this kind of series of loops that just influence each other, over and over.
AO: I wanted to talk to you as well about Lore, because I feel like that’s one of the shows that you recommend really frequently on the Podcast Broadcast. What is it about that show that really captivates you?
BJ: I just love Lore. I actually interviewed him recently, which was really cool. I think there’s something that’s so kind of old-school about it, because it’s just him talking and narrating and that’s also something that I would never do. The idea of sitting in a recording booth and recording a story is terrifying to me.
BJ: So any time someone does that specifically like that – Anxious Machine as well does a lot of things like that, where you don’t have different voices to rely on, or sounds, or interviews. It’s something that I think is incredibly difficult to do. That might be just my personal preference, but I just love the way Lore kind of draws you into a story, and that it’s also historically accurate. It’s not fiction. He focuses on telling it the way that it happened, which is really cool.
AO: Something about it, I guess, is sort of like going on a camping trip and sitting around a fire and having someone tell you a scary story every week.
BJ: Yeah, but I’m scared of everything, so I can do that while walking to work on a bright sunny day at 11 am, and I’m still like ‘This is the scariest thing I’ve ever heard.’
AO: I’ve had a similar thing with Here Be Monsters. I was walking around listening to some of those episodes, and just being so transfixed and totally freaked out by the stuff that they were talking about, and then getting to my friend’s house where I was walking to, and being like ‘I’m just going to need to sit down for a bit and just process what I just heard.’
BJ: I think that’s why I like it. Because it can really put you into a whole different world, kind of in a way that music can’t, but just totally different. And it’s something that draws you in, and then you feel like you have to tell people about it. Hence why I started a newsletter about it.
AO: So what’s the most recent show that you’ve discovered?
BJ: Let’s see. Ooh, Question of the Day is the new show by Freakonomics’ Stephen Dubner, and they literally just ask a question that they find on the internet or that comes up, which I love. Because I used to play a game with my friends, where, if we came up with a question, we’d call it the ‘learning objective’, and then go and learn about it. It was really good for road trips. That was actually something I thought about – if I had a podcast, I would do that. And then Stephen Dubner made it into a podcast, so.
BJ: It’s really cool, because he’s just like ‘Why do people hate the sound of their own voices?’ and he just talks about it. I also really like How to be Amazing, with Michael Ian Black. That’s a new one that I hadn’t listened to, and it’s in interview format, long-form. And then there are a few that are more serialised. There’s this new one called Limetown that everyone’s really into. I’ve only listened to a little bit of it, but it’s a serialised one, so maybe there will be more of those. I get so many recommendations from my readers, which is really cool, but it’s also really overwhelming. I want to be able to give them the attention, if someone writes in to be like ‘You would like this!’, I want to listen to it, but I’m always drowning in audio. So I usually get through my standard favourites, must-listens, and then fit in what I have left.
AO: So how many subscribers does The Podcast Broadcast have currently?
BJ: I think we’ve got about 1000 or so subscribers. Which is cool. I didn’t really set off with the idea of promoting it, so that’s pretty good that’s it’s grassroots. I don’t know – I’m just doing it for fun. But it’s neat because there are also maybe four or five other podcast newsletter type things, and I talk to them and send them emails, like ‘I like your newsletter!’ ‘I like yours too!’ It’s a weird community of people who are really into this one specific thing.
AO: Do you know what your next creative project’s going to be after this year?
BJ: I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. I would like to grow the Podcast Broadcast. I recently added features, and in-depth reviews, which is why I added the website side of it. And I’d like to grow that more, and maybe look into collaborating with other people. I have a few articles I’m working on that are more collaborative pieces, so I think doing that more, and then maybe trying to venture more into creating my own audio pieces, if I invest in a recorder. That might be my next thing. I’m sort of testing this out to see if I like it, and I think it’s something that I’d like to pursue in some way – maybe incorporated into my other life, my day job life.
AO: And finally, did you have a chance to think of a challenge or exercise that people could do?
BJ: I did! I really like that. I really like that you do that. That’s super cool. I was reading through and reading all the other ones – they had awesome challenges. I think if it’s BROADCAST as a theme, I’m going to go with this. I feel like everyone has a recording device of some sort – iPhones have pretty good recording. So my challenge would be to record two minutes of interesting tape from your day. Whatever people find interesting, and a continuous two minute piece. So maybe setting it down in the lunchroom, or recording the sound of the Metro, or a conversation or a place – kind of doing an audio postcard of a location. I think that would be a good project to think about where you are, and your surroundings, and how you can best capture that in audio format, in a small piece.
AO: That’s perfect. I love the idea of an audio postcard. Awesome. Thanks so much for your time!
BJ: Thank you!
You can sign up to The Podcast Broadcast here, and see more about the project, read long-form interviews and behind-the-scenes features at the Podcast Broadcast website here.
You can follow Brittany on Twitter here.
All photos courtesy of Brittany Jezouit.