PRX Remix Picks: In Touch with the Great Outdoors

Welcome to the fourth edition of Remix Features! If this is your first time reading, let me explain: PRX Remix is a curated, randomized, never-ending channel featuring the best stories from podcasts, radio shows, and independent producers. As the Remix curator, I’m constantly adding new work to the mix, which is now more than 3,000 stories strong. This blog series brings you some of my new favorites.

This month, I’m sharing three stories about humans interacting with the natural world. They range from a love story between a man and his donkey as they walk across a continent, to the profile of a photographer who specializes in capturing dilapidated farmhouses, to a story of human navigation before the advent of GPS technology.

“Hoofprints On The Heart” from HumaNature

PRX Remix
Donkeys are the best

The backstory here is that Jon Dunham walked from Oregon to the tip of South America. An impressive feat? Absolutely. But I wasn’t convinced that his long walk would make for a great story.

I was wrong. The talented producers of HumaNature, a podcast from Wyoming Public Radio, expertly carved a story out of Jon’s experience. It became a love story between the unlikeliest duo: Jon and a donkey he named Judas. Before joining forces with Judas, no one would approach Jon, a lone gringo walking through foreign land. Once Judas was in the picture, though, everyone was excited to meet Jon and his unusual traveling companion. Judas also served as Jon’s guardian angel, showing him which plants were safe to eat and even protecting him from jaguars encroaching on their campsite at night.

The duo trekked together from Mexico to Brazil and, along the way, even managed to cause a widely reported international incident between Panama and Colombia due to a border crossing snafu. Jon and Judas became inseparable, their remarkable relationship the heart of this story.

Alternatingly funny, profound, and heartbreaking, “Hoofprints On The Heart” delivers a road trip tale unlike any you’ve heard before.

“Farm Noir” from KFAI’s 10,000 Fresh Voices

PRX Remix
I spy a ghost

In “Farm Noir,” we join KFAI reporter Britta Greene as she follows Patrick Judd on a unique photoprahy expedition. Judd photographs dilapidated farms with an infrared filter—a peculiar hobby, for sure. He’s a big fan of the film noir aesthetic, so he loves the look of the crumbling farms, the beauty of the manmade structures returning to the earth. He’s also motivated by a profound belief in ghosts.

With each camera snap, feeling equal parts excitement and apprehension, he hopes to catch a glimpse of the farmhouses’ former inhabitants.

Greene does a great job channeling the skepticism a listener might feel by pushing Judd to describe his pursuit of the paranormal in terms everyone can understand, even those who don’t believe in ghosts. We learn that he toils away at his day job during the week, and his extracurricular ghost hunting expeditions give his weekends a sense of purpose.

This is a great example of a short arts feature done well—natural sound, an interesting character, and the added element of mystery.

“Look Toward The Dawn” from Outside/In

PRX Remix
The original GPS

In today’s world, we take navigation for granted. Roads and trails are marked with extensive signage, GPS spits out directions with the push of a button, and even physical maps and compasses are now ultra-modern. This story from New Hampshire Public Radio’s Outside/In podcast explores the fascinating, and once essential, skill of navigation using nothing but the natural world.

Host Sam Evans-Brown takes us on a serious journey in under 25 minutes. First we go back thousands of years to when the Polynesians first developed the ingenious navigation system at the heart of the story. Then we jump to the 1970s, when the Polynesian’s navigation tradition had almost been lost with time. But, as Evans-Brown puts it, a “hodgepodge of Hawaiian anthropologists and adventurers” banded together to revive the practice. We then take a deep dive into the actual practice of becoming a master navigator using only the natural world. Among many other tactics, it involves learning the position of over 100 stars and measuring your hands against the horizon.

The piece closes by connecting natural navigation to our own lives and the way we think about the world today. Trying to figure out which direction you’re facing at any given moment—without modern tools—is incredibly hard to do in our technology-dominated society. But Evans-Brown asks us to consider what’s lost when we don’t even try.

This is a complicated but well-told story. It feels effortless to listen to, even though there’s many different threads woven in to build the narrative arc. It’s a truly engrossing tale of adventure, tradition, and lessons we can learn from the natural world, if only we paid closer attention. A highly-recommended listen.

 

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 remix@prx.org with questions and suggestions.

Your Podquest Winner: Ear Hustle!

In March, Radiotopia launched Podquest, an open call for new podcast ideas, aiming to grow and diversify the network, nurture fresh talent, and reach new audiences. 1,537 people from 53 countries submitted ideas about every topic under the sun.

Radiotopia executive producer Julie Shapiro led a committee of 11 PRX staff and Radiotopia producers in reviewing the entries. 99 Radiotopia donors also reviewed the top 50 entries. Ultimately, the field was narrowed to 10 impressive semifinalists, and later four finalists in June. For the past five months, the finalists have been working on pilot episodes, which were judged by our esteemed committee.

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Earlonne, Nigel and Antwan

Today, the journey, which started seven months ago, is complete as Radiotopia announces the winner of Podquest: Ear Hustle. Ear Hustle is a unique partnership between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Nigel Poor, a collaborator and artist living on the outside. The show unveils the hidden stories of life inside prison, told and produced from the perspective of those who live it. Ear Hustle dives into true, compelling first-person narratives that are difficult, honest, funny, poignant and real, while revealing a more nuanced view of the people serving time in American prisons.

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Antwan in the media lab

The show is produced in San Quentin’s media lab, where work is done for video and audio projects at the prison, and includes computers, microphones, keyboard for sound design and scoring, Pro Tools licenses, headsets, and more. There are about 12 men who work there, filming various events that happen in the prison and producing radio stories about life inside that air on Crosscurrents on KALW 91.7. Ear Hustle evolved from the work done on Crosscurrent in conjunction with the San Quentin Prison Report, which is a multi-media project started by Troy Williams, a man formerly incarcerated at San Quentin.

Ear Hustle aims to tell stories about life inside prison, including the good and the bad. The stories will look at the daily experience of life behind bars, and also dig deep into the reasons people commit crimes and end up in prison. Episode topics will range from pets, fashion and cooking in prison, to stories about restorative justice programs, correctional officers, and profiles of people who work for victim’s rights organizations. Earlonne Woods is a co-creator, co-host and co-producer of Ear Hustle. Earlonne is 45 years old, from LA, and is serving a 31-years-to-life sentence for attempted second degree robbery. Before starting his current sentence he was a struggling parolee but dreamt of going to film school.

Antwan Williams is the co-creator and sound designer for Ear Hustle, and also creates original hand-drawn artwork for each episode. He’s 28 years old, also from LA, and serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery with a gun enhancement. Antwan has always been creative and dreamt of having a life in the arts: he’s a dancer, musician, artist, and designs his clothes by altering the official prison blues.

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Nigel interviewing Earlonne

Nigel Poor is the co-creator, c-ohost, and co-producer for Ear Hustle. She is also an artist and professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. In 2011, Nigel got involved with the prison as a volunteer teacher for the Prison University Project. The project runs a college preparatory program and an Associate of Arts degree program at San Quentin, and in 2015 it received a National Humanit ies Medal from President Obama. Ear Hustle plans to donate a percentage of all of their proceeds to the Prison University Project.

“We are beyond excited to be Podquest winners. My hope is that Ear Hustle can help show that people inside and outside the prison system can work together as colleagues,” said Nigel Poor. “We want to lead by example, and demonstrate that people with different backgrounds and experiences can actually come together and produce important work. Ear Hustle is not just a creative project. It is actually teaching men viable skills and showing the world the effect of rehabilitation, and that change is possible. I hope our project shows the potential for a different story about people who are incarcerated.”

Radiotopia will pick up the first 10-episode season of Ear Hustle, debuting later in 2017. Ear Hustle will use the proceeds from their prize to create their show, and to significantly upgrade the equipment at the San Quentin media lab.

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Ear Hustle’s Radiotopia interview

“I was beyond impressed with the range of creative ideas submitted to Podquest from so many talented entrants,” said Julie Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia. “Narrowing down to just four finalists was nearly impossible, and then deciding one winner amongst them even harder. The heart and passion that Ear Hustle brought to their pilot episodes, combined with the unique and important stories they aim to share, ultimately moved us to choose them as the Podquest winner. What they accomplished under difficult circumstances is really quite amazingworking inside a prison with no internet, limited working hours, and limited team communication. We’re excited to help bring Ear Hustle into the world, and for listeners to hear stories and perspectives they’ve never heard before.”

Listen to Ear Hustle’s audio trailer here, and visit the Third Coast Festival in Chicago, Nov 11-13, where Nigel will be available at the Radiotopia booth for interviews and to discuss the show.

About Radiotopia
Radiotopia, from PRX, is a curated network of extraordinary, talent-driven shows. Radiotopia empowers independent producers to do their best work, grow audience and increase revenue. At its core, Radiotopia cultivates community — for both listeners and makers alike.

Radiotopia is a partnership between PRX and Roman Mars, creator of 99% Invisible, supported by the Knight Foundation, and led by Executive Producer Julie Shapiro. In 2015, the network was named one of Fast Company’s World’s 10 Most Innovative Companies Backed by Kickstarter. Since launch, the network has quickly grown to over 13 million downloads per month.

Podquest is one of a series of initiatives funded by a $1 million grant received in May 2015 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Podquest is additionally supported by Hindenburg Systems, the media talent network AIRmedia.org, and Blue Microphones.

PRX Podcast Garage: Roman Mars Five Things

Roman Mars’ Favorite Things

Greatness is inspired by greatness. Five Things is an ongoing live event series at the PRX Podcast Garage hosted by Julie Shapiro (EP, Radiotopia).

Five Things 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 their work now.

To kick off the series, Julie welcomed Roman Mars (host and creator, 99% Invisible) to share his five.

Number One: Murder Can Be Fun, a zine by John Marr

“[John Marr] wrote these long, really well researched stories about death and crime and mayhem in very cool ways, and I was really impressed by them. When I was devising my first show in 2002 (it was called Invisible Ink) I wanted to create a punk rock This American Life. I wanted a zine-based This American Life. So I called it Invisible Ink: a Radio Zine, and John Marr was on my first episode. Zines crafted who I am and how I told stories.”

Number Two: Your Radio Nightlight, a radio show by Benjamen Walker

“After I got into the idea of making radio, it was at a time whenThis American Life was really going gangbusters and everyone I knew wanted to go work for Ira. But Benjamen and I wanted to run our own shows, and we found each other through Julie [Shapiro]. This is the weirdest story but [Benjamen] found my website, I called him the next day because I got his number from Julie, and he thought I could tell he was on my website. Which explains a lot about Benjamen Walker…

I just loved the way he was, he was so weird. I was also a really big fan of Joe Frank, but he was Joe Frank for my generation. I actually related to him more than I related to Joe.”

Number Three: Chicago Architecture Boat Tour

“It made me think, you can do architecture on the radio if you tell the right story. In fact, you might even be able to do it better.

My visceral reaction to [the Montgomery Ward tower], which has sort of a ho-hum modernism… it didn’t really do it for me. But the story does it for me, and therefore the building does it for me. That was hugely instrumental.”

Number Four: POTUS Challenge Coin

“It’s nice to have a thing. I need it for my nervous disposition.”

Number Five: Dischord Records

“When Hrishi [Hirway] was independent and started Song Exploder, he had just left another group and was figuring out what to do and everyone was courting him. I said to him, ‘But our label is the Dischord label’, and that’s what put him over the edge. He actually said yes to another network and then backed out. I knew the way to his heart! For people who know, Dischord is really meaningful to us, and luckily Hrishi is one of the people who knew.”

About Roman Mars

Roman Mars is the host and creator of 99% Invisible, a short radio show about design and architecture. With over 120 million downloads, the 99% Invisible podcast is one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Fast Company named Roman one of the 100 Most Creative People in 2013. He was a TED main stage speaker in 2015, currently the most popular TED Talk about design, with over 3.5 million views. His crowd funding campaigns have raised over $2 million and he’s the highest-funded journalist in Kickstarter history. He is also a co-founder of Radiotopia, a collective of ground-breaking story-driven podcasts.

“99% Invisible…is completely wonderful and entertaining and beautifully produced…”
— Ira Glass, This American Life

About Julie Shapiro

Julie Shapiro is the executive producer of Radiotopia from PRX — a curated network of extraordinary, cutting-edge podcasts. 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.

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Inside the Podcast Studio with Love + Radio

On this edition of Inside the Podcast Studio, we get some time with Nick van der Kolk, creator of the Love + Radio podcast. The show recently returned from a hiatus to drop its fifth season, with an opening episode plot twist that caused a flurry of reactions from fans on social media. Learn how Nick, based in Richmond, VA, both conceptualizes and creates the show.

On the PodcastLove + Radio

Tell us about how the podcast came to be. What makes it unique?
I felt like there was a vacuum in the public radio universe for a non-didactic show that invited the audience to interpret things for themselves. I started Love + Radio because no one else seemed to want to make that type of show.

Where do you find stories for the show? How do you typically find the characters presented in each episode?
All over the place. Sometimes we feature stories that have been covered before in the media, but we feel we can offer our own unique spin on them (like A Girl of Ivory).
Love + Radio
Nick working on A Girl of Ivory with his daughter
Sometimes it’s complete serendipity, like when I met magician Eva Julia Christiie while stomping through an abandoned circus building in Moldova. Increasingly, we’ve relied on outside pitches from the very vibrant international community of radio producers.

What is your philosophy on presenting edgy material? Have you ever gotten backlash or excitement around an episode?

I don’t really have a philosophy of edginess: I just make the stories that I’m interested in. If people want to interpret them as edgy, then they’re free to do that. But people who think that’s the defining characteristic of the show are mistaken. I turn down a lot of pitches that have sensationalist elements because there isn’t much more to the story besides those elements. I think A Red Dot, produced by Steven Jackson and Chloe Prasinos, divided a lot of people; I can’t think of another episode that was praised and critiqued on so many different levels. I consider that a good thing.

Love + Radio
Nick interviewing Jay Thunderbolt
You have a pretty minimal presence in the show itself, is that by design?
Yes. I want to remind people that there is a guiding hand behind what they’re hearing, but I want all attention on the subject, not me.

What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
As much as I’ve always considered myself a ‘radio guy’, I really cut my teeth in audio production through podcasts. The slow narrative builds, the subtler sound design elements that require headphones, the honest conversation about adult topics, are all things that are made possible (or at least much, much easier) through podcasts.
Moreover, I think audio generally has one big advantage over visual media: by stripping the visual element, I believe the audience isn’t as prone to come to a snap judgment of someone. It invites them in.
Love + Radio
Nick interviewing Takeshi Yamada for Animal Parts

On the Space

Where do you literally do your work? Can you walk us through that space?

Love + Radio
Nick’s office

I have a studio downstairs from my apartment that I share with my wife, who’s an artist and animator. My work primarily involves moving pixels around on a glowing rectangle, so her side is far more interesting to look at. I record my host tracks in a soundproof closet, which, considering I used to do it under my duvet, feels obscenely professional.

Do you have a thinking of reflection space? Somewhere you go outside the studio to gather creative inspiration?
I go for walks around Richmond’s Belle Island, just down the hill from me, or I get cocktails at L’Oppossum (depending on how badly my day went).

On Podcasting

How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
People say we’re in a golden age of podcasting, which I think is more accurate than a lot of folks realize. The golden age of Hollywood (1930-1960) was a period when the basics of narrative film had been established. There are obviously lots of great movies from that era, but I’ve always personally gravitated toward what came later in the 60s and 70s, when major studios began supporting unconventional structure with a more comfortable relationship with moral ambiguity (à la Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, etc). I’m looking forward to when we reach that period in podcasting.

Subscribe to Love + Radio in iTunes, and check out the latest episode, out today, called Upper Left.

Radiotopia Welcomes The Bugle (and The West Wing Weekly)!

Radiotopia is proud to announce The Bugle as our 16th show. The podcast is the ultimate pan-global audio home of international satire. It’s a weekly eruption of comedic comment about the world’s most, and least, important news stories.

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The Bugle will relaunch with it’s new season today. Since 2007, the show has been co-hosted transatlantically by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman to well over a million monthly downloads. John Oliver (The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight), has reluctantly retired after almost 300 episodes. The new season will instead see Andy Zaltzman joined by a rotating cast of the world’s leading satirists and comedians, including Wyatt Cenac and Hari Kondabolu from the US, Anuvab Pal from India, and, from the UK, Nish Kumar and Andy’s multi-podcast-award-winning sister Helen from The Allusionist.

westwingweeklyThis comes on the heels of adding The West Wing Weekly to our network just last month. Co-hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway (of Song Exploder) and acclaimed actor Joshua Malina, the podcast is an episode-by-episode discussion of the beloved serial political TV drama, The West Wing. These two new shows are amazing additions to the network. They align closely with our mission to support the best independent and entrepreneurial-driven talent in podcasting, and uphold top quality content across our shows. They also allow us to explore a new content direction, evolve as a network, and expand our global audience.

Listen in iTunes to The Bugle and The West Wing Weekly, and read all the details in the press release below:

Radiotopia Welcomes the West Wing Weekly and The Bugle to its Award-Winning Podcast Lineup

Cambridge, MA (October 24, 2016) PRX, the award-winning public media company, is excited to announce the addition of two new shows to Radiotopia’s podcast network lineup: The West Wing Weekly, co-hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway (of Radiotopia’s Song Exploder) and acclaimed actor Joshua Malina; and The Bugle, a satirical comedy podcast, founded by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. The West Wing Weekly and The Bugle join Radiotopia favorites like 99% Invisible, Criminal and Millennial to bring the total number of podcasts in the network to 16.

The West Wing Weekly is an episode-by-episode discussion of the beloved serial political TV drama, The West Wing. Launched earlier this year, The West Wing Weekly podcast quickly built a vibrant and active fanbase as it covered season one of the television show. Season two launched on September 28th with a double episode, featuring special guest series director/exec producer Tommy Schlamme and actor Bradley Whitford, who played Josh Lyman on the show. Going far beyond television recaps, The West Wing Weekly takes a deep dive into the real-life issues explored in the television series, from gun control to veterans’ health. Guests have included West Wing stars Richard Schiff, Dulé Hill and Janel Maloney as well as real-life Washington D.C. politicians including Press Secretary Jay Carney and Senator Chris Coons, among others.

Approaching politics and news from another angle altogether is the second new Radiotopia podcast, The Bugle, whose new season launches today, October 24th. Describing itself as “the ultimate pan-global audio home of international satire,” The Bugle’s weekly podcast casts a keen eye on the most—and least—important news stories worldwide through its unique comedic lens. Launched as a podcast in October 2007, The Bugle, co-hosted transatlantically by long-term collaborators John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, boasts over a million monthly downloads. Co-founder John Oliver (The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight), the American-based half of The Bugle, has reluctantly retired from Bugle duty after almost 300 episodes. This season, Andy Zaltzman will remain host and be joined by a rotating cast of co-hosts from the world’s leading satirists and comedians, including Wyatt Cenac and Hari Kondabolu from the US, Anuvab Pal from India, and, from the UK, Nish Kumar and Andy’s multi-podcast-award-winning sister Helen Zaltzman of Radiotopia’s The Allusionist.

“Bringing on The West Wing Weekly and The Bugle is an exciting development for Radiotopia,” said Julie Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia. “The decision is in keeping with our mission to support the best independent and entrepreneurial talent in podcasting, and to uphold top quality content across our shows. These shows help us expand into new areas of entertainment, political news and satire, which will ultimately help strengthen the Radiotopia brand and bring new audiences to all shows within the network.”

Subscribe in iTunes to The West Wing Weekly and The Bugle.

 

Announcing: Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio

PRX is excited to announce the launch of its latest partnership: Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio. The show forages the world to bring culinary insights and recipes to listeners, while telling interesting stories about the food we eat. It also shares simpler, more streamlined techniques for home-prepared meals.

Milk Street Radio

Kimball, the popular founder of Cook’s Illustrated will co-host the show with Sara Moulton, host of public television’s Sara’s Weeknight Meals. Other regular guests include The Sporkful host Dan Pashman, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, Upshot writer Aaron Caroll, and Stephen Muse, an expert on the history of food and wine.

The inaugural episode, Good Morning Vietnam, drops tomorrow. It takes listeners inside a Vietnamese kitchen, exploring breakfast banh mi and the practice of kheo, or cooking with intent. The episode also covers unscrambling eggs, visiting a thriving Syrian refugee camp bakery, and rethinking nonstick pans.

In addition to listening on the radio, you can also can experience the new Milk Street via podcast and their magazine. To get a taste of what’s coming, check out the show on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Milk Street Radio will launch on the following radio stations: WHYY (Philadelphia, PA), WGBH (Boston, MA), KJZZ (Phoenix, AZ), KOSU (Oklahoma City, OK), WXXI (Rochester, NY), WKSU (Kent, OH), Prairie Public Radio (Fargo, ND), KCHO (Chico, CA) and KAXE (Grand Rapids, MN).

Radiotopia Kicks Off its 2016 Fundraiser

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Radiotopia kicked off its annual fundraiser yesterday to a flurry of fan excitement. As of this post, we are up to nearly 900 donors and counting.

Radiotopia is like your podcast mix tape: all your favorite shows in one place. Back in the day, homemade mixtapes helped convey feelings words could not. Songs were meticulously arranged in a particular order, and each track told a different story. Decorating the tape case was as important as curating the content. Every detail counted, and sharing a mixtape with someone meant the world.

Radiotopia embodies the mixtape tradition. Our shows explore life, society and culture through illuminating and unforgettable stories. We focus on craft, value process, and champion good design—from the sounds in every episode, to each show’s logo and custom artwork. And we’re big fans of sharing what we love with you.

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Our ‘zag’ enamel pin

Head over to the Radiotopia website to check out the latest fundraiser and help the network hit its goals. We’ve designed a cool mix of gifts, sporting new branding and a fresh logo, including enamel pins, hoodie and t-shirt with fresh designs, and our first-ever Radiotopia challenge coin. Plus we’re offering a digital mixtape of our shows, hand-picked by producers.

An enormous thank you to our challenge sponsors. We had a terrific challenge to help us launch strong from Podster Magazine. If you have not heard about Podster Magazine yet, it’s a free bi-monthly magazine all about podcasts. Best of all it’s free. Head over to podstermagazine.com to subscribe.

We also have a new challenge from our friends at Freshbooks. FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting software for freelancers, self-employed professionals, and small business owners. They’re on a mission to make billing painless and just launched a totally new product, redesigned from the ground up. They love Radiotopia so much that they are willing to kick in a huge $40K if we can get reach 5,000 new donors by the end of the campaign. Consider supporting us with a donation today!

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What’s in My Buds? With Podcast Digest

On this edition of What’s in My Buds?, we chat with Dan Lizette, founder of The Podcast Digest. Dan is podcast-obsessed, and has been producing his show for three years… a long time in the life of the podcast industry. From Dan:

I feel as if I’ve always had a microphone in front of me. I began my career as a mobile DJ in 1999 when another DJ heard my voice making an announcement at a bowling alley.  He said I should consider becoming a DJ.  From that moment on, I fell in love with the microphone and for 17 years, I’ve worked hundreds of weddings and parties and truly love it!  

Sometime around 2007, I discovered podcasts. They’ve been my constant companion while at my day job, working out, or watching TV.  I fell in love with This American Life, Snap Judgment, and many of the technology shows from the 5by5 network. I was hooked! In 2013, after relocating to Pennsylvania from Virginia, I needed a hobby. Something to sink my creative teeth into, if you will. One evening in the summer of 2014, I popped an earbud out of my ear and said to my wife “You know what?  I think I want to start a podcast”, and I was off and running! The Podcast Digest was born. Debuting on September 1, 2014, the show began with the simple idea of recommending great shows to my listeners. After the first few months, it evolved to an interview-based, weekly show. I’ve been fortunate enough to feature some of the best independent and professional podcasters from across the world. I’ve spoken to some of my favorite hosts from shows I’ve listened to for years, trying to embody all the listeners out there and ask the questions we’ve all wondered about. Now, over two years and 100 episodes in, The Podcast Digest has been recognized as one of the premiere destinations for hosts to share ‘behind the scenes’ tales of their wonderful shows!
The Podcast Digest
Dan Lizette

What is your go-to podcast and why?
My go-to podcast would be one with a consistent release schedule, a rich back catalog, and one that rarely, if ever, disappoints! I love shows that both entertain and educate, so I’d have to award my go-to podcast to both Stuff You Should Know and 99% Invisible. I always come away from both shows feeling highly entertained and having learned something new. I constantly find myself hopping over to Google to dive deeper into episode topics. Both shows are great distractions from the day-to-day concerns of life, temporarily concentrating on a completely unique topic for 30-45 minutes.

What is your favorite listening environment?
I am fortunate to have a day job where I’m able to listen for most hours of the work day; it certainly makes the hours fly by! I love to sit on the deck in my backyard with my dogs and Bluetooth headset, enjoying the weather with some of my favorite shows in my ears.

Who is your favorite podcast personality?
There are so many wonderful personalities in podcasting! It would be very difficult for me to narrow this down to one, so instead I’ll mention a few. I’m a huge fan of consumer technology-based podcasts, and have been for years.  One of my favorite commentators from the technology world is John Siracusa (Accidental Tech PodcastReconcilable Differences, The Incomparable). John offers up his opinions, takes, and input on a bevy of topics that are always eye-opening, intriguing and bound to get you to think more about the topic he’s covering. Next, there is a group of independent podcasters from a show called Couple Things Podcast from Cincinnati. Molly Mendenhall, Ben Mendenhall, Ray Lofflin and Michelle Von Hirschberg are the hosts, two couples in the late 20’s, who tackle four topics each episode in a ‘bar room’-style discussion. These are wonderfully honest, open, and hilarious people whom I challenge anyone to listen and not start counting as “friends”.

What do you think makes a great podcast host?The Podcast Digest
A great podcast host supports the goals of the show they are running. If it’s a comedy show, the host should be pretty good at making people laugh. If the show is interview-style, the host needs to bring out responses from their guests that are interesting to the listener and keep a conversation going. If a host is looking to shed light on a particular topic, they should be well-read and well-prepared for the subject matter. Generally speaking, a host should be entertaining to listen to, maintaining the audience’s attention throughout the episode.

What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcasts cannot?
Without a doubt, the podcast medium has several advantages over broadcast.  First and foremost, it’s an accessible delivery vehicle for almost anyone. If you have a message or topic you want to get out, for a minimal upfront investment, you can launch a podcast. That’s terrifically empowering for all of us. Also, there are no standards or limitations. There’s nobody who has to approve your content—it’s message, length, how often you release it, etc. Again, completely empowering! From a listener standpoint, it’s on-demand’ audio. We now live in a Netflix world, where the consumer has the power of choice. What they want to listen to, when they want to listen to it, and for how long. The iTunes (or Google Play, Spotify, etc.) catalog is a huge virtual audio buffet catering to every single taste and preference possible. Unlike a broadcast radio station, where a program director has made those choices for their audience, podcasts enable the listener to be their own program director for an audience of one. From both sides of the equation, podcaster and listener, the medium offers a sense of choice and freedom that simply cannot be found in broadcast.

How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
Growing! Soon, it seems that most media properties will have a presence in podcasting. We’re seeing anyone with a message to convey coming en mass to the medium, from political figures, to authors, to branded content from non-traditional media sources. I expect this trend to grow exponentially.  But we, the listeners and fans, will be all the better for it: more selection, more sustainability for the medium, and more high-quality audio entertainment, no matter what your preference.

Subscribe to The Podcast Digest in iTunes to hear more recommendations and interviews. Also! Hear Dan’s interview with Radiotopia EP Julie Shapiro in his latest episode.

PRX Remix Picks: Nostalgia in Wavelength Form

Fall is here. And even as we think back to the warm, carefree months of summer, shorter days and brisk mornings pull us back to reality. So for this month’s PRX Remix picks, I’ve got nostalgia in wavelength form: stories about summer as a kid, the closing of an iconic New York City studio, and fantasy adventures as told through maps.

PRX Remix
Just a couple kids from the neighborhood

“The Neighborhood” from Rumble Strip Vermont
Three purple houses. A shortcut through the woods to Dunkin’ Donuts. Three graveyards, only one of which is known as The Graveyard. These are the defining features of Hospital Hill, a neighborhood in Randolph, Vermont. At least for the kids featured in this 10-minute audio postcard from producer Erica Heilman’s Rumble Strip Vermont podcast.

The piece makes it fun to learn about the intricacies of a game of tag: “When you don’t know where they are, you wanna act like you do and say things that make them think you’re close to them.” It’s also funny and heartbreaking to learn about the social dynamics of children: “I’m friends with Elliott, but we’re always friends…I was friends with Abby and Riley last Monday. But I wouldn’t say we’re that great friends right now.” The real trick of this story though is that the kids’ insights into their world, while cute, are often deeply relevant for us adults. “You need to know where your good places are and your bad places are,” one boy says, while describing the territory in which his friend group roams free.

As much as this piece is a vehicle for us to feel nostalgic about “a place we remember but can’t go anymore,” Heilman’s apt description of childhood, it also serves as a reminder of the immense capacity for humanity kids possess and the true complexity of their lives. It’s easy to hear the soft timbre of their voices and the happy sounds of a game of tag and conjure up an idealized version of childhood. But “The Neighborhood” digs deeper and portrays the kids as individuals with real struggles, relationships, and opinions that matter. Take the closing conversation, where Heilman asks one of the kids about growing up.

“Do you think you’re gonna grow out of the neighborhood?” asks Heilman.
“No.” says the kid.
“I mean eventually you’re gonna grow up,” Heilman pushes further.
“I mean I’m probably gonna come back and see what it looks like in 20 or 30 years and see how much it has changed.”

The boy acknowledges he will grow up, but not grow out of his neighborhood. The implication is that childhood, represented here by this neighborhood, is not something one grows out of. It’s not separate from the rest of life. The three purple houses of Hospital Hill and the fact that tag is called manhunt when it’s dark outside are defining features, rather than trivial details, in the lives of these young people. Thanks to Erica Heilman for introducing us to these kids with sensitivity and respect.

PRX Remix
David Bowie frequented The Magic Shop towards the end of his life

“A Magic Door” from Gianluca Tramontana
A half-hour audio documentary doesn’t have an obvious place in PRX Remix, which is mostly filled with short-form stories, but I couldn’t pass up this engrossing look from producer Gianluca Tramontana at the closing of one of New York City’s last iconic recording studios: The Magic Shop. You’ll find it in Remix broken into two stand-alone segments.

Lou Reed, Norah Jones, The Ramones, The Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire and, yes, David Bowie, are some of the recording artists that used the studio, which achieved legendary status due to its vintage recording gear: the crème-de-la-crème of vintage recording consoles, custom built in the ‘70s for the BBC. Tramontana explains how the console isn’t flat. Instead, it wraps around the producer “like a half-moon” and has buttons and knobs that click and turn, instead of a shiny digital interface. It has clocked in over tens of thousands of recording hours and feels “like a broken-in leather jacket.” That broken-in feel is the real magic of the studio. It’s dark and moody, warm and intimate—it feels like a place you’d want to hang out, like a living room. The vibe is a far cry from the glossy, sterile studios that dominate the modern recording landscape.

Rising SoHo rents over the past three decades left studio owner Steve Rosenthal with no choice but to close up shop. Lucky for us, Rosenthal gave Tramontana full access to the studio during the final 48 hours of its existence. The result is a must-hear story about a symbol of a bygone era and what it means to say goodbye.

PRX Remix
Fantasy maps have evolved a lot since the pages of Lord Of The Rings

“Fantasy Maps” from Imaginary Worlds
Like a lot of great audio stories, this is a piece about a niche topic with broad appeal. You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings fanatic or a fantasy cartographer to appreciate producer Eric Molinsky’s foray into the philosophical implications of fantasy mapmaking on his podcast, Imaginary Worlds. Molinsky starts by  establishing why J. R. R. Tolkein did what no other fantasy mapmaker had done before him—map a world from scratch. Gulliver’s Travels belongs to a recognizable Europe and The Wizard of Oz starts in Kansas. Tolkein, on the other hand, had to name and place everything. His maps were more serious, intricate, and artistic than previous fantasy maps had been. They also reflected the psychology of the characters of the story they accompanied, in this case the hobbits traveling from the Shire out into the rest of Middle Earth. In other words, Tolkein’s maps told a story.

Molinsky continues to trace the history of fantasy maps and the craft of fantasy mapmaking up to present day. It’s all interesting on the surface but it isn’t until the last two minutes that we learn why any of it matters. Regardless of whether a map depicts a fantasy world or the real world, all maps are acts of creation. All maps tell a particular story. So even the most accurate map, like Google’s, reveals biases if you pay close attention.

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.

Attend ‘Remix Live,’ a listening event at PRX’s Podcast Garage in Boston on October 27th. Details here.

Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at remix@prx.org with questions and suggestions.

Inside the Podcast Studio with The Truth

This month for Inside the Podcast Studio, we go behind the scenes of The Truth podcast with host Jonathan Mitchell to celebrate the show’s new season launch. Read about how Jonathan and his team captures authentic sound, his celebrity encounters, and learn more about the audio fiction landscape.

On the Podcast

Tell us about how The Truth came to be
the_truthI started The Truth in 2009, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I studied music composition at the University of Illinois. I took an experimental electronic music class and loved everything about it, especially editing tape and manipulating real-world sounds. Around the same time, I remember seeing “Sex Lies and Videotape” and being blown away—it made artful, thoughtful filmmaking seem so accessible and possible. Not long after that, I saw a book by the director Steven Soderbergh, a journal he kept while filming. I read it cover to cover twice. I loved it so much. It made me deeply want to make a film, but I didn’t have access to film equipment. But because of my music classes, I did have access to a recording studio, and I thought it would be interesting to make a film without pictures. I went to graduate school at Mills College, and my thesis was essentially a radio drama.  

After graduating I worked in public radio for many years, and I always held onto the dream of making a radio show that would allow me to explore my interest in dramatic storytelling. Around 2009, I had an opportunity to pitch this idea to American Public Media, who gave me a little bit of money to make a pilot (which became our story Moon Graffiti). While spending a couple years trying to make that happen, I pitched a fiction story to This American Life, they said yes, so I started a podcast so that they would have a place to send listeners. After that piece aired, we had an audience big enough to justify continuing to produce the show, and about a year-and-a-half later, we joined the Radiotopia podcast network.

Tell us about your show and what makes it unique? Why are you so passionate about your subject matter?
I think fictional storytelling in audio is an under-developed field, there are just so many things that can be done with it. And it feels like we are only taking advantage of a very small part of an area that has boundless potential. I want to see what The Truth can do in this space, and hopefully inspire others to do the same. My lifelong goal is to help create a world where making audio drama is something normal and valued in mainstream culture. I would like to see people abandon the notion that audio drama is inherently old-fashioned or from bygone era of broadcasting. I would like people to see it for the relevant, contemporary, and highly versatile medium that it is.

The Truth podcast
Recording session for “Good Meeting”

Where do you find story ideas for the show?
We have a weekly writers meeting, where we pitch ideas and read each other’s scripts and offer feedback for episodes of The Truth. We can find story ideas anywhere. We tend to look for speculative fiction ideas, where there is one element that couldn’t happen in the real world.

Tell us more about what we can expect from your new season.  
Expect the unexpected! The Truth is like a Christmas stocking: you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always entertaining and fun. This fall we are planning to post a new story twice a month.  

How do you find actors? Any stories about famous people you’ve had on the show?
A lot of stories for The Truth are made with performers from Magnet Theater, an improv theatre and school in New York. Beyond that, we just think about who we know and who might be best based on the character.

The Truth Podcast
Rachel Dratch with Karl Rove in the background

For example, Rachel Dratch was in “Santa for President”. She had worked previously with the writer of that story, Mario Correa, on a play he wrote, so that’s why we thought of her. We ultimately base who we cast on the needs of the story. When we were recording with Rachel, she was playing a political consultant, and in the very next studio just 10 feet away on the other side of the glass was Karl Rove, recording an interview for another show. That was pretty surreal.

Your Songonauts series is so unique. Can you give us the backstory?
I got an email from co-creator Jonathan Mann saying he had an idea for a series, asking if I’d be willing to talk with him about it and give him feedback. Jonathan Mann has been writing a song a day for the past 7 years (you can hear them all on his website) and he’s a brilliant songwriter. He’s full of enthusiasm, and has a knack for writing a very catchy melody with a fun, positive vibe. So we met for lunch, he told me the idea and I thought it sounded really creative and unusual. It was very different from what we usually do, but it sounded like a fun challenge. I thought it would allow me to use more of my music background on The Truth.  ezgif-2662252328

On the Space

The Truth podcast
Jonathan in the field

Where do you literally record or do your work? Can you walk us through that space?
It depends on the story.  Sometimes we’ll record in my apartment, or outside, or if the story takes place in a car… then we’ll record in a car. Sometimes we’ll record in a studio if it makes more sense for the story, like the Songonauts series. I edit each story at home. I have a little editing studio in my apartment and I use Pro Tools to edit the audio. I have lots of cool plug-ins, my favorites are Omnisphere and Altiverb. I’m hoping the companies that make those plugins will read this and ask me for an endorsement or something, because I could go on and on about how much I love them.

The Truth podcast
Jonathan’s desk

Do you have a thinking or reflection space– somewhere you go outside the studio to gather creative inspiration?
I work best at my desk, where I put together the show.

What type of equipment do you use for recording your show?
I usually use a Shure VP88 stereo mic, which records in MS format. I often supplement that with AKG 414s. I just bought a Roland 4-channel recorder that I record to.

What soundproofing techniques do you use for narration?
I just record in my office. It’s pretty quiet in here, but then I put it through a denoiser made by Izotope. (Another plug for a plug-in maker! They rock!)

On Podcasting

What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcasts cannot?
Podcasting has made it possible for anyone to distribute their work all over the world at a very low cost. That’s revolutionary. Podcasting is a very accessible way to get our work out to a large audience. And in podcasting, fictional audio storytelling and other lesser-known or niche formats have the opportunity to build an audience because they’re available to the entire planet at once. What podcasts offer us is the opportunity to prove that there’s an audience for what we do.

The Truth podcast
Jonathan recording

What do you think makes a great podcast host? Tell us more about what makes you unique.  
I’m the guy who makes the thing you like, but I’m not the thing itself. Like Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock or Colonel Sanders. Each episode is me sharing this new thing we made, and hopefully you will like it. Sometimes you won’t, and that’s ok, because next time! We’re really good at this!

How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape? 
Hopefully it will stay accessible to anyone and not devolve into a typical media landscape with three big companies who rule us all. I would like it to be completely normal and common for there to be audio drama, and I hope all of it will be amazing.