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10 Things We Learned Producing a Podcast at a University

reel to reel tape

This is a guest post by Carol Jackson, the digital content strategist at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and lead producer, with Alison Jones and Karen Kemp, of the school's podcast_ Ways & Means Show. She also produces the podcast Policy 360 .

In the last two years, we launched two podcasts at our school, the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. We've had terrific successes and made some mistakes. What we've learned may help others who are considering making podcasts at a university.

1. Decide what kind of podcast you are making.

Before jumping into podcast production we sat down with Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer of the hit podcast Criminal. We discussed our strengths and what we hoped to accomplish.

We decided we'd make two different podcasts:

  • A bi-monthly series of hosted conversations. This show, called Policy 360, allows us to interview faculty members and others whose research is in the news.

  • A scripted podcast hosted by a journalist. The Ways & Means Show lets us take a deeper dive into the content and deliver a more polished product. The episodes are more labor intensive – each includes multiple voices and is musically scored and professionally mixed – but the extra effort pays off in listenership.

2. Find the Right Tools.

Invest in a quality microphone, recorder and headphones, and find a good place to record. There are several recording spaces on our campus, including a little booth in the library staffed with trained students, but we primarily record in a room in our building. Designed for teleconferencing, the space has padded walls, and is conveniently close to our host's office.

3. Good Podcasts Take Planning.

Simply sharing the results of a study is not enough. You need to know the story behind the work, and you need to get your faculty member to tell that story to you with energy and emotion.

When did it seem like the study was failing? Why does it matter to her? Faculty often won't want to answer these questions at first (they will want to keep the focus on the results) but this kind of storytelling is key to making a good podcast.

We conduct a short pre-interview to decide what we should focus on in the recording. We learn things that give our "real" interview focus and heart. Take it from us: you don't want to skip this step!

4. It's Easy to Record People Far Away

When you start your podcast, you will probably record people on campus. But recording someone far away is possible too. We recently hired a reporter to walk with a professor through a slum in Bangalore. The reporter conducted interviews we had outlined and sent us the tape.

You can find reporters through the Association of Independents in Radio (membership required) or a service like Storyhunter.

Also, NPR member stations rent studios for around $150 per hour (less in a smaller market). Find studios using this list.

You can also record a Skype call through your computer, or ask your guest to download an app like Ringr.

5. Diversify Your Distribution

The advantages of iTunes U are that it is free, and it associates your podcast with your university's brand. But there's a downside: the podcast won't show up in the podcast section of iTunes or the podcast app on your phone. So, if you want to reach audiences who aren't looking for content within the university sphere, you may want to list with iTunes.

We also pay $7 per month to feed our podcasts through Libsyn, which makes them available through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher and more. We also distribute through NPR's curated app, NPR One.

We use SoundCloud as well because we like the way the audio embeds on our website and the social features.

6. Involve Students

Students transcribe, conduct research, collect sound, create original art, and reach out to people who may want to listen to the podcasts.

7. Use Music

We had a custom theme song created for one podcast. It's also easy to find no-cost or low-cost music to add to your episodes.

Sound of Picture bases their prices on your budget. For our budget, we get five songs per episode for $40. Some companies offer music in exchange for credit. Ben Sound and Blue Dot Sessionsare our favorites.

8. Find a Community

At Duke University we have a monthly Audio Working Group. Group members helped us get our project off the ground, cheer us on, share our shows, and brainstorm with us.

You can also look for Facebook groups like Radio Women Rule the World and professional organizations like the Association of Independents in Radio.

9. Marketing

In addition to sharing your podcast with groups on campus, reach out to podcasts with similar audiences. A mention on another podcast can help your potential audience find you. So far, we have been featured on Decode DC and Sampler from Gimlet Media.

Create a Twitter presence. It reinforces your brand when you re-tweet from your main school or university channel.

Create an audiogram – a clip of a podcast that is shared in video form. Audiograms have been especially successful for us on Facebook.

10. Don't wait

Podcasting is hot now. The number of people listening to podcasts is growing, and we've been pleased to see our audience expanding, too. We hope you join us and share the work of your faculty members in this new way.

What lessons have you learned starting a podcast on campus? Please share in comments!

Photo “Tape reel to reel” by Flickr user Jorn van Maanen / Creative Commons licensed BY-SA-2.0

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