We have officially moved our blog presence over to Medium. Follow us there to get all the latest news about PRX, the Podcast Garage, Radiotopia and much more. See you there!
Radiotopia is headed out on our first West Coast tour! Radiotopia Live brings extraordinary, cutting-edge podcasts out of your headphones and onto the stage.
Join us in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and LA for live radio, conversations, stories and music from your favorite Radiotopia podcasts including 99% Invisible with Jon Mooallem and the Brink Players, Criminal, The Allusionist, The Memory Palace, Mortified and more. Plus a performance of The West Wing Weekly in LA only.
Full tour schedule:
Monday, May 8 – Aladdin Theater in Portland, OR
Tuesday, May 9 – Moore Theatre in Seattle
Thursday, May 11 – Nourse Theater in San Francisco
Friday, May 12 – Theatre at the Ace Hotel in LA
Get all the info, including tickets, at Radiotopia.fm/live. Enter code “RTLIVE” to get the best seats before the public; our exclusive pre-sale runs through 11:59 p.m. on March 2rd. Hope to see you there!
Radiotopia turns three this month, and to celebrate we launched a fancy new website! We also commissioned our first-ever original ad music from DJ, producer and musician JD Samson, who leads the band MEN and is one-third of the electronic-punk-feminist performance project, Le Tigre. Besides writing some fantastic music for us, JD kindly answered a few questions about working on the project.
Hi JD Samson! What appealed to you about working with Radiotopia to create original ad music?
I love Radiotopia’s programming, and felt really excited to be seen as an articulation of their aesthetic. Creating this kind of accompaniment was extremely meditative and exploratory for me, which is something I like to challenge myself with often.
How did the process compare with your usual song-writing approach?
The process was really interesting to me because there were so many aspects of the music that needed to make sense for ALL the producers. Some people wanted happier tunes, some people sad, so I had to really make sure the music was atmospheric, but not a “song”. I had to ensure the tone was kind of dull. Not too extreme in either direction, and make sure there weren’t a lot of melodies crowding the space. It was fun for me to break down my compositions after I made them and often heard the comment “make it more boring.” I honestly loved this direction because it forced me to see aspects of my production that were unnecessary in this case.
What are some of your favorite podcasts?
Is there anything on your horizon we can share with Radiotopia fans?
Five Things is an ongoing live series at the PRX Podcast Garage hosted by Julie Shapiro (EP, Radiotopia). The series invites some of today’s most talented and successful producers, artists, writers and thinkers to share five things —audio, visuals, books, objects or something else entirely — that have shaped their creative practice over time, and inform how they approach work today. In short: interesting people share cool stuff they love.
For the second installment of Five Things, we welcomed Jody Avirgan, host of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast, producer of the upcoming Thirty for Thirty documentary podcast from ESPN, ultimate frisbee enthusiast and champion of sesame sticks and dried mango. Watch a video of the conversation and recap Jody’s Five Things below.
#1: Video for Dress Sexy at My Funeral, by Smog
“This is my favorite YouTube video of all time. It happens to include one of my favorite songs of all time, but more than anything it’s a random captured moment of peace that gives a window into a stranger’s life. If you read the comments you learn a tragic coda. I’ve never really brought myself to look into the life of Calab, but I’m grateful for this moment.”
#2: “On Leadership”, a book by legendary basketball player and coach, John Wooden
“This book sometimes slips into corporate-CEO speak, but there’s a lot of wisdom here. I’ve learned more from sports than almost anything. Two ideas in particular stick with me. One is the idea of “competitive greatness,” which is basically another name for “grace under pressure.” I think that your capacity to learn and perform under pressure is far more important than talent or skillset. The other thing I love about Wooden is his focus on process over outcomes. Winning/success is almost a byproduct, and afterthought, of doing all the steps along the way with attention and enthusiasm.”
#3: Lord God Bird, by Long Haul Productions and Sufjan Stevens
“A beautiful radio piece that listens as much as it talks. I love how it just goes to a place and sits. It’s un-narrated, which I don’t think people do enough, and it’s full of great moments. It’s also incredibly indulgent! Take an indie rock singer, have them write a song about a bird, make it over 10 minutes? Why not! But there’s a valuable lesson here, if someone’s going to let you get away with a piece like this, go for it.”
#4: “The punctum”, from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida
“The basic idea here is that some art is full of all the perfect elements of content, composition, execution… but still somehow lack that thing that “shoots out of it like an arrow.” Thinking about this taught me to be strategic about trying to create these moments in my work. When you have something that you think can be a punctum, make sure you’re getting out of the way and letting it do its thing.”
#5: Picture on the Wall, by Phyllis Dillon
“Just one of my favorite songs from what I think is the best moment in musical history: 1960s Jamaica. I love that many of the early reggae songs were soul covers, which is a reminder that every artist, even the ones we think of as sui generis, starts out as a deep fan. Fandom is a perfectly good place to start – it’s kind of the only place to start. So, copy the stuff you love.”
Prompted by Julie, Jody also shared responses to a call out on the What’s the Point podcast for listeners to track, visualize and illustrate a week’s worth of podcast listening via postcard.
Next Up for Five Things
March 22nd: Jenna Weiss-Berman (podcast producer, co-founder of Pineapple Street Media, former director of audio for BuzzFeed).
About Jody Avirgan
Jody is the host of the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast. His next venture is a series of sports-related audio docs under the “30 for 30” umbrella, coming spring 2017. Before ESPN, he was at WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, did reporting for the WNYC newsroom, and went on air and asked you for money during the pledge drive. He’s worked with On The Media, Radiolab, 99% Invisible, Marketplace, Studio 360 and many more. On the side, he hosts the comedy and storytelling show Ask Roulette, where strangers ask each other questions live on stage. He lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Find him online at @jodyavirgan and www.jodyavirgan.com.
About Julie Shapiro
Julie Shapiro is the executive producer of Radiotopia. From 2014–15, she was the executive producer of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Creative Audio Unit. In 2000 she co-founded the Third Coast International Audio Festival, where as artistic director, she prioritized innovative audio and a cross-pollinating international listening culture. Shapiro has taught radio to university students, presented at conferences all over the globe, and produced stories for the airwaves and podcasts in the US and beyond. You can find her on twitter @jatomic.
2016 was a banner year for Radiotopia. We performed our first live show, ran an hugely successful Podquest competition (look for Ear Hustle this summer!), added three new podcasts, and much more. We are so grateful to our fans for the love and support this year. To give 2016 a proper send-off, we gathered up the ‘Best of 2016’ podcast episode articles published this month, many included Radiotopia episodes. Check out our roundup below and take a listen, or load up our playlist. More audio goodness to come in 2017!
The Memory Palace
From Wired– Money Tree
Theory of Everything
Love + Radio
From The Atlantic– Totally Juvenile Election Special
From The Guardian– Mojave Phone Booth
From The Guardian– MGMT’s Time to Pretend
From New Statesman– Getting Toasty
From Thrillist– Majd’s Diary
From Thrillist– The Truth
From IndieWire– Commentary Track
Check out our playlist with (almost) all the episodes here.
PRX is excited to announce the first cohort of Project Catapult, an innovative podcast training project for public media stations, made possible by a $1 million grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
The project initially intended to include five stations, but will now total seven. “The final pool of applicants was so strong, we found a way to expand the first Catapult class to seven station teams,” said PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman.
The stations are located across the US, have varying market sizes and represent diverse production teams and topics. They’ll kick things off at the PRX Podcast Garage in Cambridge, MA in January with a podcast bootcamp, and will continue an intensive production sprint for 20 weeks.
The Catapult process will create a professional network of diverse talent across the country, and help the podcasters hone skills in digital content development, audience engagement and monetization. At the end of the curriculum each station, in co-production with PRX, will launch a new, or re-launch an existing, podcast.
PRX has hired Enrico Benjamin as Catapult’s project director. Benjamin is an Emmy award-winning producer with a background in video and digital production, most recently KING-TV in Seattle. During his time at Stanford University, Benjamin was exposed to design thinking, a method that will guide Project Catapult.
“Through this innovative program, we’re pleased to help more stations increase their multimedia production capacity and increase the diversity of voices heard in public media,” said Erika Pulley-Hayes, CPB vice president, radio. “We hope the new podcasts that these stations produce will lay the groundwork for more multimedia content that connects with a broad range of audiences.”
“Project Catapult is an ambitious first step,” said PRX CEO Hoffman. “We are investing in station capacity so they can make digital content that is sustainable and relevant, both locally and beyond.”
Project Catapult will culminate in an open listening session in Boston in May to show off the work and progress to date.
Project Catapult Stations
Inflection Point, KALW – San Francisco, CA
Extraordinary women are leading the change in our world join the KALW team to tell their stories–to help us understand a moment when women are embracing their power as never before, and to inspire a future generation of women leaders.
Versify, Nashville Public Radio – Nashville, TN
Versify is a podcast with a twist on storytelling: Nashville poets travel to neighborhoods across the city, hear stories from people they’ve never met, and then capture them in verse.
Us & Them, West Virginia Public Radio
Stories of people on either side of the fault lines that divide Americans, from culture wars, to education and religion, to the basic beliefs about what defines Americans in a troubled time. From DuPont Award-winning producer Trey Kay.
We Live Here, St. Louis Public Radio – St. Louis, MO
We Live Here empowers you by untangling policy and systems so you can better understand how race and class influence everything from what we learn to how long we live.
Que Pasa Midwest, WNIN – Evansville, IN
Whether you speak Spanish, English, or both, come along on a rich journey of discovering El Sueño Americano, the many definitions and faces of the American Dream with Que Pasa Midwest.
Out of Blocks, WYPR – Baltimore, MD
Each episode is a collage of life-stories from a single city block. The episodes are rich with the sounds of people in their own spaces, talking about life on their own terms. The soundscape is enhanced when the natural sounds of the block are fused with an original musical score. There is no host; rather, the people on the block are the hosts.
Second Wave, KUOW – Seattle, WA
Thanh Tan takes the listener along on a quest to better understand her Vietnamese American identity and to explore the heartbreak and triumph of refugees who fled Southeast Asia en masse 40 years ago after the Vietnam War to pursue new lives in the United States.
PRX is shaping the future of public media content, talent and technology. PRX is a leading creator and distributor, connecting audio producers with their most engaged, supportive audiences across broadcast, web and mobile. A fierce champion of new voices, new formats, and new business models, PRX advocates for the entrepreneurial producer. PRX is an award-winning media company, reaching millions of weekly listeners worldwide. For over a dozen years, PRX has operated public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of audio shows including This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour and Reveal. In 2015, PRX opened the Podcast Garage, a community recording studio and educational hub dedicated to the craft of audio storytelling. Follow us on Twitter at @prx.
This month, I’m featuring stories about dreams: the tale of a woman who dreams of a bigger apartment, the consequences of a jail system that puts dreams on hold, and a mother-daughter team helping each other to fulfill lifelong ambitions.
A young woman lives in a New York City apartment so cramped there’s no room for a couch. She doesn’t even need to get out of bed to open the door. So, why wouldn’t she participate in a bizarre science experiment to “biggerize” her digs? After all, as the story’s protagonist exclaims, “there’s nothing on the lease about ‘biggerization!’”
This is the situation in “Quadraturin,” a captivating piece of audio fiction from producer Jon Earle and actress Emma Wiseman, based on a short story by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. The piece won Best New Artist at the 2016 Sarah Awards.
Earle and Wiseman use scenes and natural sounds to great effect, turning the sonic apartment into an imaginary stage on which the story unfolds. In the booming audio fiction genre, it’s especially nice to hear a story that relies on smart staging and careful dialogue instead of the ‘found recording’ crutch, often used in other pieces, to drive narrative. To understand this crutch in the visual world, imagine a sudden plethora of TV shows with plots hinging on faux-archival videos.
The Los Angeles jail system is the largest in the country, with 17,000 people incarcerated at any given given time. The consequences are explored in “Off The Block,” a six-part series from KCRW. Bail, mental health, and jailhouse weddings are some of the topics covered in the series, which explains that even a short stint in the system can have numerous lasting impacts.
The episodes are short—most well under 10 minutes—and not an exhaustive investigation into the issues presented. But the series does a good job finding characters whose experiences and perspectives provide an access point for listeners who aren’t directly impacted by the jail system themselves.
When I listened to this piece I felt like I’d emerged from diving underwater, when the world looks slightly different than it did before the plunge. It’s the mark of a good story, one that shifts your life experience by just a few degrees so everything feels a bit shinier and more surreal.
There are two main stories nestled into one here. First, producer Jessica Ripka tells the story of her mother, Penelope DeWitt, whose creative dreams fell dormant for decades due to fear and insecurity. A car crash renews her interest in pursuing those dreams. Ripka then uses her mother’s story to reflect her own life, how she quit her desk job to pursue a dream career in radio storytelling. This piece represents an important first step towards that dream.
It’s a joy to follow the mother and daughter pair along on their overlapping journey to fulfill lifelong ambitions. Ripka’s piece is funny, surprising, and, perhaps unsurprising given the relationship between producer and subject, very tenderly told.
This piece was produced at the Fall 2016 Transom Story Workshop.
How To Listen to PRX Remix:
Download the PRX Remix app or go to prx.mx and press ‘play’. If you’re a satellite radio kind of person, check out channel 123 on Sirius XM or XM radio. If you’re a traditionalist and stick to the radio dial, check these listings to find Remix on a station near you.
Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
We recently wrapped up our Radiotopia 2016 fall fundraiser, and were blown away by the love and support from our fans, both old and new. With every drive, we gain new and important insights into the podcast fundraising universe and our dedicated fanbase. We’re always keen to learn how to best engage with listeners, make a genuine appeal, and secure the funds our shows need to keep creating quality, independent content.
Our fans: Whether they’ve been with us since the beginning, or just started listening…they’re the best.
This campaign taught us just how dedicated, generous and committed our fans truly are. A whopping 80% of our recurring 2015 donors stayed on as part of our active donor community this year. We aimed to steward existing relationships while encouraging steadfast donors to expose friends, partners, siblings and co-workers to the quality craft producing within Radiotopia. It worked!
As a surprise, we rewarded active sustaining members with our second challenge coin, this time Radiotopia themed.
Interestingly, of the 6,300 donors who contributed to this campaign, 64% had never before donated to Radiotopia.
Partnerships: Work together to drive donations.
Last year, we began a tradition of bringing our sponsors into the fundraiser to help provide donor challenges. These partners have become important tools that generate fan excitement and showcase our important corporate sponsors.
This year, Podster Magazine—a digital magazine dedicated to podcasts—jump-started the fundraiser by offering to chip in $10,000 if we hit 1,000 donors in the first two days. When we missed our goal by a few hours, our fans sprang into action and helped us ultimately secure the challenge funds from Podster (by the way, you can still get a free subscription). A big thank you to Podster!
A few days later, our friends at FreshBooks—who offer cloud-based accounting software for small businesses—issued another key challenge: a $40,000 donation if we snagged another 5,000 donors by the end of the campaign. This helped energize our fans to spread the word to friends and family, allowing us to soar beyond that goal to finish with over 6,000 donors. Thanks again to FreshBooks!
Producer rewards: Engaging, unique and original premiums.
This year, our producers offered up their time and talent to create exclusive, custom reward items that were incredibly popular with donors. Some rewards showcased their creative talents, like the curated mixtape from Song Exploder’s Hrishikesh Hirway (which quickly sold out), and the custom recording from Criminal’s Phoebe Judge.
Others gave lucky fans the opportunity to engage on more a personal level. These included a VIP Dinner with the Kitchen Sisters, one-on-one phone calls with Megan Tan from Millennial, a virtual documentary viewing with team Mortified, a museum tour with Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace… oh, and a wedding ceremony officiated by Helen Zaltzman of The Allusionist. Overall, we found the personalized gifts were a great way to way to drive excitement and, sometimes, laughter.
Benefit without the reward: The choice of no gift.
A whopping 40% of donors opted for no reward at all. Despite the long-time association of public media with t-shirts and tote bags, nearly half of our donors opted to support us directly. This ultimately allows our independent producers to keep more of the funds and for Radiotopia to save on fulfillment expenses and benefit more directly from the campaign’s success.
The result: The reach of Radiotopia’s message is impressive (if we do say so ourselves).
- We surpassed our original goal of 5,000 donations by over 1,000 people
- 64% of donors were brand new to our community
- The industry average is 20% new donors for any fundraising drive
- 80% of our sustaining members from last year maintained their monthly commitments
- 12% of donors who has previously cancelled their recurring donations came back in 2016
- We had donors from all 50 states and 73 countries/territories
Yesterday, RadioPublic released the first versions of its iOS and Android apps (available on Apple iTunes here and Google Play here). RadioPublic’s mission as a Public Benefit Corporation is to “help listeners discover, engage with, and reward the creators of podcasts and other audio.” This is also their strategy and roadmap. The team is starting with discovery, and will be layering in engagement next, followed by rewards — both for producers and listeners themselves. Discovery is at the heart of this first RadioPublic release, and is part of their vision for rethinking radio in the mobile world.
RadioPublic wants to give producers ways to enhance their presence in the RadioPublic app without having to invest in another custom publishing platform, or in one-off features that require real effort with dubious effect. The team has a variety of useful extensions in the works that drive discovery, engagement, and monetization, and a few that are ready for you to take advantage of right now, including gateway episodes, podcast playlists, show endorsements, and series play order. Read about how to get started here.
The app is focusing on curated playlists as one avenue for discovery. The curated episode playlists cover a myriad of topics, activities, moods, genres, artists, publishers, and networks. The team has assembled hundreds of their own, and has invited tastemakers everywhere to use their curatorial expertise and brand to help listeners get to the good stuff.
Each playlist is a feed you can follow, and acts both as a mixtape to listen through, and a collection of jump off points. The playlists live on the web as well, so they’re easy to share, link to, and soon to embed in publishers’ and podcasters’ sites.
In this edition of Inside the Podcast Studio, we chat with Honolulu Civil Beat, a team behind the new Offshore podcast. The show tells stories of Hawaii beyond the paradise it’s normally perceived as. Hear from Patti Epler, Offshore‘s editor, about how the show was conceived and what’s next.
On the Podcast
Tell us about Offshore and what makes it unique
Offshore strives to tell stories from Hawaii that will resonate with listeners not only locally but on the mainland too, and even globally. The idea is that Hawaii is not all paradise, not all beaches and waterfalls and rainbows. There’s a very complex cultural mix here, for one thing, and being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean presents many challenges. Residents are constantly trying to figure out how to get along in this small space. Other places can learn from what Hawaii is going through. The show is built around multi-episode seasons, so each season follows a single theme but is broken into 6-10 episodes that drop weekly. Each episode is about 30 minutes.
How did the podcast come to be?
Civil Beat is a small but ambitious nonprofit news website, and we are always looking to innovate and find creative ways to tells stories and engage readers. We are basically print reporters who have moved into the online space and have graduated to multimedia efforts like video and audio. We started podcasting a few years ago with a basic hosted interview show called Pod Squad. But we wanted to find a way to do in-depth, long-form storytelling in an audio format. So we started developing some ideas, eventually connected with PRX and formed this really cool partnership that has become Offshore.
How is the team at Civil Beat structured?
Our reporter/host/producer is Jessica Terrell. She was our education reporter but got drafted into podcasting after a big series in which she spent three months in a homeless village. We produced a 30-minute podcast to supplement the written package (which has now won numerous national and regional awards, by the way). She was the natural pick for this show, and has a great voice that everyone seems to love!
Our assistant producer is April Estrellon. She’s also our exceptionally talented multimedia producer: she works with video, audio, online graphics, and more. She’s also the producer of Pod Squad and about the only person in the newsroom who knows what to do when something goes wrong with our computers or internet.
Our executive producer is Ben Adair who you probably already know. He’s a very talented, very experienced former NPR editor and producer. He’s working with us on the first couple of seasons and has been coming to Hawaii periodically for training. We essentially had little or no experience with audio storytelling, audio equipment or editing tools when we started this project. Ben has been a great teacher and coach.
I’m the editor so I get involved in the overall concept for the show, the seasons, and the episodes. I mainly give advice.
How did you choose the stories for season 1?
Season 1 is called “A Killing in Waikiki.” It looks at race and power through the lens of two killings, 80 years apart. In each case a Native Hawaiian man was shot and killed by a white person in a position of authority. One story is from 1932, about a Navy officer who killed a native Hawaiian man, at a time when the US military basically ran this place. The second story, from 2011, involves a federal State Department agent in town as diplomatic security, again killing a local man. There have been a lot of police killings of people of color on the mainland. The sense is that racial tensions are on the rise, and why can’t we all just get along? Let’s learn from Hawaii, the most multicultural state, which people view as some sort of post-racial paradise.
It’s where every other state is heading as minority populations grow and become dominant. Hawaii has never had a white majority. There is a lot of animosity between all races here, especially involving Native Hawaiians who have been kind of surpassed by other big ethnic groups—the Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese, Koreans, and whites. It’s very hard to just get along with each other.
What is your thought process behind presenting controversial topics like in season 1?
That’s actually just part of the job, right? As journalists we report on contentious issues and people with problems pretty much every day. And Civil Beat in particular is an investigative and watchdog news outlet. We are very respectful of Hawaiian culture because it is a big part of life here in the islands. We strive to be polite but persistent.
What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
In-depth audio storytelling works well here. There are so many different voices that you never actually hear—the melting pot is a very real thing with a mix of all sorts of ethnicities and values. The islands have a lot of great stories to tell, whether its the clash of science and culture (coming in Season 2), or being right in the middle of climate change, or trying to become sustainable both in food production and energy. A podcast can be very a powerful medium, especially when examining an issue in depth. It goes beyond what you can do with terrestrial radio or even online written stories.
On the Space
Where do you literally record your work? Can you walk us through the space?
We have a small-ish sound studio called a whisper room that we had shipped over from the mainland. You can never find this stuff in Hawaii so it always has to come from 2,500 miles away. Which is not cheap. Our whisper room arrived in 60 pallets and boxes and our staff put it together over a weekend. Beyond that we work at our desks in the middle of the newsroom.
How do you record your show? What type of equipment does your team use?
We use ProTools for recording and editing in studio, hooked up to an Mbox which hooks to an Apple computer.
We generally use a shotgun mic and a Zoom field recorder.
What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcast cannot?
I like the fact that people can listen to podcasts on their own time frame. You don’t have to tune in at a certain time, so the impact is greater. You have people who actually are trying to hear and concentrate on what you’re saying.
What do you think makes a great podcast host? Tell us more about Jessica and what makes her unique
Jessica has a great personality and a great voice for this kind of thing. First and foremost she is an excellent journalist. She has a great interview style and a great way with people, so as a host she comes across as informed friend, someone who is helping you understand what’s going on. Jess has a very interesting backstory too, which is probably what makes her such a good reporter and writer. You can read more about her in the series she did on the homeless called The Harbor. She grew up homeless herself, in a traveling family band. Her dad took them all over the country, all over the world really, in this sort of vagabond lifestyle. She learned a lot about a life that most of us never experience.
How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
I think podcasting will continue to grow as more people discover great shows. Like everything else, the finances will shake out and productions that are obviously putting in effort and energy (and thus resources) will float to the top of the rankings. I think it’s very cool that outfits like RadioPublic are developing the kinds of tools that will enhance the podcast experience for people and make it very useful. That should bring even more listeners and hopefully more revenue potential, so podcast producers can stay in business.
Subscribe to Offshore in iTunes and get a new episode every week.