Lesser Heard Voices
Chrissy Brand looks at how podcasts can strengthen values such as diversity and equality.
Chrissy Brand looks at how podcasts can strengthen values such as diversity and equality. She visits a community radio station in East Sussex – and she finally goes cuckoo…
Podcasts can be produced by well-known broadcasters or the humble journeyman individual. The technical quality can be top notch, as can the quality of the programme content. The main difference will be in audience figures.
While a BBC or other national broadcasters’ podcast audience can run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions, the lesser-known podcasters will invariably have to build an audience from scratch.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as a podcaster can soon develop a legion of dedicated followers and even achieve ‘cult’ status. Occasionally, a small podcast gets reviewed in the media or mentioned on the radio, and listenership figures increase. This can lead to advertising and sponsorship and even a career change, with a podcaster becoming full-time, rather than undertaking this as a passionate hobby.
I can see some similarities between some podcasts and some community radio and short wave radio broadcasters: They all have a small but loyal following and are driven by a desire to talk about local issues or subjects dear to their heart, rather than for financial gain.
For the community radio station, local events and news are what keeps an audience interested. In the world of international broadcasting, it is more likely to be facts, figures and entertainment about a particular country and its tourist attractions. For the podcaster, this could be a genre of music or a love of a topic, from astronomy to zoology and anything in between.
One example of an early adopter in the podcast world, who achieved great success, is Kaitlin Prest. Kaitlin is a Canadian artist and performer who created and hosts the award-winning podcast called The Heart.
It examines all kinds of personal stories, using rich prose and innovative soundscapes to enhance the experience, The Heart investigates the comedies and tragedies of the human condition. From starting on a small scale at home, the programme gained a wider audience when aired via Radiotopia.
At the Radiodays Europe Podcast Day in June, Kaitlin unveiled a new project, in collaboration with CBC: In a presentation with Leslie Merklinger (Senior Director of Audio Innovation at CBC, Canada), she spoke of the rewards and challenges of an independent and corporate collaboration (Fig. 1). The podcast, called The Shadows, began in September. It covers “the anatomy of a relationship: a crush, a choice, a resentment and an end.”
Small Is Beautiful
Over the summer, a couple of podcasts came to my attention that won’t have set the world alight. This is not because they are poorly made or undeserving but simply because, as with broadcast radio sometimes, the ‘small-is-beautiful’ tag applies. Unless you have a big broadcasting organisation’s marketing department or a sponsor behind you, your words will only ever reach a tiny audience.
However, that is also the key advantage of podcasting: Anyone with a minimum of technical knowledge but a maximum of desire to have something to say, a voice, an opinion or a passion, can try to make their voice heard.
Timie Charles is a young artist based in the south-east who I first met last year. He is also one of a team of three producing and presenting the Colour Me Chocolate podcast. Join Jada, Timie and Shay each week as they explore issues that young adults usually deal with, in a style that's often millennial and black.
On a walk along the Cuckoo Trail in Sussex, I encountered Jonathan Working, who produces features for a podcast called Queer Out Here. Jonathan prefers to call this an ‘audio zine’, rather than a podcast. As a lover of the countryside, he sometimes interviews people on his walks. He started last year making a few conventional audio segments of the standard question-and-answer type interview.
However, when he spoke with me and our fellow walker June (Fig. 2), Jonathan wanted to mix it up a bit. He played around with the 15 minutes of interview material so that the words echoed and mirrored the sounds of our footsteps. The first episode was uploaded late last year and the second (including the clever riffing and reworking of my interview) is in production for a release this autumn.
Two other podcasts that are slightly ‘off the beaten track’ are called Global Peace Radio and Outside the Box. They are presented by Jason Liosatos, an artist, author and peace advocate. Jason is aiming for a utopian world from his base in Totnes.
The programme content is not something that you would hear on a mainstream radio station. This emphasises how radio and audio have now become established firmly in a new age where the two intertwine. It’s a world where listeners can choose news and features from broadcasters such as Deutsche Welle or Al Jazeera and then find programmes tailored to their own individual interests as well.
The ‘youth of today’ view radio in a way that will be alien to many of us who grew up in an analogue age. My son Tim, a 20-year-old product design student, is probably fairly typical of his generation when he says, “Radio is just that thing in the car for when the AUX cable isn’t working. Radio feels slightly redundant when everyone has 35 to 40 million songs they can stream from their pocket anyway, through services like Spotify and Apple Music, without adverts or talk segments in between songs.”
When you add the thousands of independent podcasts to the millions of songs, it’s easy to see that today’s listener or consumer is spoiled for choice. Every radio station, from small community ones to large international broadcasters, is competing in a marketplace that has never been so crowded.
Hail to Hailsham FM
Halfway through the Cuckoo Trail walk, I nearly missed out on the lunch stop at a café in Hailsham. This was because I suddenly saw the building of Hailsham FM.
This station was awarded a community service licence in the spring, having first come on the air five years ago with an RSL (Restricted Service Licence) for coverage of annual local art and culture festival.
The station and its history embody all that is positive about community radio. There were enough local enthusiasm and engagement with local organisations to get the initial idea off the ground, something that proves too much of a challenge for many similar ventures. The annual RSLs led to the successful application, and now the station is heard 24 hours a day on 95.9MHz.
The Hailsham FM standalone building comprises all that a station needs, a small reception area packed with promotional literature and radio memorabilia, a fully equipped studio of a useful size, staffed by knowledgeable and professional locals (Fig.3). I listen online quite often and am impressed with the variety of programmes on offer.
It would be easy to dismiss listening to many radio stations and podcasts because you feel that the subject matter is neither appealing nor relevant to your own life. But I’ve always been an advocate of listening to other people’s stories and viewpoints. We all are all driven by different passions and interests and it’s fascinating to hear what motivates other people. It’s also enlightening to hear voices of under-represented sections of society, such as Timie and Jonathan’s.
Whether mainstream radio airs minority views or not (and currently it doesn’t do this enough), the future of radio and audio is in the hands of individuals and organisations who find their own voice. Some of them may go on to find wider success and host their own shows on the BBC or commercial radio.
Through podcasts, audiences can be built, and an increased awareness of alternate views, music and lifestyles can come to the fore. Isn’t this a model similar to the pirate and free radio days from the 1960s, to the underground eighties black music scene, and right through to the current day FM pirates in our cities?
The general public now has a wider choice than ever before. Just as the short wave listener back in the sixties, seventies and eighties could listen to countries all over the world, with hundreds of national broadcasters airing in many tongues, the shift to more listening options is permeating the mainstream.
Households are no longer tuned to the one station on the kitchen radio but can access a range of audio clips, event information, weather updates, local views, and traffic news via the smart speaker in their own family hub; often an open plan space incorporating kitchen and dining and lounge space.
Programme content was, is and always will be, king.
VOX 2018 Awards, London, October 13th, creative audio talent awards.
SEGUE, Leeds, October 17th and 18th, a new audio and radio expo.
International Radio Festival, Valetta, Malta, October 25th to November 4th.
This article was featured in the October 2018 issue of Radio User