If you want to learn about radio-controlled airplanes, mar-keting techniques or classical music, try listening to the podcasts created by some local folks.
A number of people in southwestern Michigan are recording and posting podcasts on topics that run the gamut from business to music to religion and beyond.
Podcasts are audio programs that can be downloaded from or listened to on the internet. Pick a subject, and there’s likely someone talking about it on a podcast, with new episodes released monthly, weekly or even daily. Listeners can hear podcasts at any time, even old episodes. Some shows even invite contributors to join in.
“If you have something to say, other people will want to hear it,” says Tom Stolz, who turns the weekly Sunday service at the LightHouse of Prayer in Comstock, where he is a speaker and parishioner, into a podcast.
Apparently, that goes for radio-controlled airplanes as well. “We try to make it like you’re hanging out in your buddy’s workshop,” says Tim Walker, one of the voices on Angle of Attack, a podcast about the radio-controlled-airplane hobby.
Walker, who now lives in North Carolina, lived in Richland until 2013. He was originally a guest and later the host of an earlier podcast on radio-controlled planes, The Crashcast. In 2016, he revised the show into Angle of Attack, where he talks with three friends about new RC airplane technology, ideas for improving planes, and more. One co-host, Tim King, also lives in North Carolina, about 30 miles from Walker. The other two are farther away: Chris McElveen lives in Georgia, and Karl Kethler lives in British Columbia, Canada.
Angle of Attack is recorded live on YouTube nearly every Wednesday evening (except holidays). Immediately after the show, the producers mark it as a “private” show so it can be edited into a podcast that’s available for download on their website (angleofattackpodcast.com).
Walker says more than a dozen people call in with comments and questions during each live show, but he says he would still be part of the podcast even if no one were listening.
“It’s a way for me to express myself without being in front of people,” he says. “If it was just the four of us talking, that would be OK.”
What you need
A podcast is simple to put together — all that’s needed is a computer and an internet connection. Many computers and phones have microphones that can record audio. Free editing software like Audacity can be used to remove pauses in the conversation and “bleep” objectionable words for a family-friendly show. Once a podcast is ready, it can be uploaded to a podcast hosting service like Podbean or Libsyn, and from there listeners can download it to their computers or phones.
There’s no single list of the most popular podcasts, although several podcasts have become well known in popular culture. One of these, Serial, followed the investigation of a murder in Baltimore. On The Nerdist podcast, comedian Chris Hardwick interviews movie stars. Twenty Thousand Hertz explains the background behind sounds, discussing how talking dolls are made, for example, and guessing at the sounds of other planets.
Most podcasts involve original content, although National Public Radio releases not only most of its own shows, but shows from other public radio organizations like American Public Media and Public Radio International, as podcasts.
WMUK, the NPR station at Western Michigan University, makes its locally produced shows available as podcasts as well. These include Listening to Ladies, a podcast hosted by WMU graduate student Elisabeth Blair in which she interviews female classical music composers. Blair is a composer herself, and each episode of her podcast blends the voices of contemporary female composers talking about their work and their background with samples of their music. Blair created a blog about modern female classical composers when she couldn’t find much information about them. The blog, which is still active, led to the podcast series, which first aired on Sept. 26, 2016. A discussion Blair had about the show with WMUK’s Cara Lieurance opened a space for Listening to Ladies to be replayed on WMUK.
Blair says time limitations will keep the number of her podcast episodes to about 30. She says it’s too time-consuming to record and edit each episode to the level of quality she wants to hear, but she’ll continue to write about women composers online.
Across campus, Maddy Day, director of outreach and training at Fostering Success Michigan, is collecting interviews with teens raised in foster care in the form of podcasts (fosteringsuccessmichigan.com/library). Fostering Success Michigan is a program that boosts the rate of college attendance and graduation for children and teens raised in foster care. The podcast was originally a way for Day to introduce her colleagues to their audience; one early episode discusses ways for adults to support foster care kids, while another is an interview with a Michigan Department of Treasury official about financial aid. More recent podcast episodes feature university students talking about their experiences. Day says the podcast is released about once a month. She expects to talk to about seven students each school year.
Business and fun
Podcasting about airplanes is fun, and podcasting about foster care is educational. But some podcasters say a really successful podcast is one that promotes a business.
“It’s like you’re going into a conference room to talk to 100 people who are all your ideal customers,” says Tom Schwab of Interview Valet, an online business connecting potential podcast guests with shows that will bring them closer to their audiences. Schwab, who lives in Kalamazoo, and his business partner, Aaron Walker of Nashville, Tennessee, have compiled a list of 400,000 podcasts, divided into subjects like health and wellness, business, and Christianity. They can reach out to the producers of these podcasts to place their clients as interview guests.
Interview Valet now has about 75 clients, including author Siphiwe Baleka, a former truck driver who wrote 4-Minute Fit, a workout and diet book for people who, like truckers, spend their workdays sitting. Baleka was interviewed on Good Morning America in March, and Interview Valet got him guest spots on about two dozen fitness-related podcasts at the same time.
Schwab says that putting a client on a podcast with just a handful of listeners can generate better results than doing a direct-mail campaign to a neighborhood. Only a few people may be listening, but they’re all interested enough in the topic to find the podcast in the first place. Sometimes listeners will find a podcast long after it was first put online. Schwab said clients have told him that friends call them thinking they’re in town because the friends heard the client’s voice on a podcast, even one recorded months before.
Consistency — having a show ready for download the same time each week or each month — is key to a successful show, podcasters say. Walker and his partners meet nearly every week, except holidays, to talk about model airplanes. They prepare a rough outline of what they’re going to talk about but let the conversation go where it will; no two shows are exactly the same length. Blair has used social media platforms such as Twitter to promote her podcast whenever a new episode becomes available. She says the show, meant to introduce the public to women composers, has had an unexpected side effect.
“The more I do this, the more I get thought of as an expert,” she says. Listeners and readers have suggested other women for her to interview, and she has been hired to write music simply because she’s been recognized from Listening to Ladies.
Matt Halloran, of Portage, hosts a podcast called Top Advisor Marketing (topadvisormarketing.podbean.com), which offers coaching by financial advisors. He says the prerecorded nature of podcasts means they’re a great way for advisors not to have to “sell” themselves. Listeners — potential clients of an advisor — get to hear the advisor talk with the podcast host instead of feeling any pressure to buy a product or use a service. And because podcasts are always available to download, listeners can learn something from the advisor at a time that’s convenient for them.
Podcasts also give advisors on Top Advisor Marketing a chance to perfect their message.
“It’s not live — you can take a pause and try again,” Halloran says. “My job is to make you sound great.”