In our latest post, Dr Tamson Pietsch, UTS historian and producer of the brilliant new History Lab podcast, offers advice on how to produce a history podcast.
Podcasting is a growing phenomenon in Australia. The 2018 Infinite Dial Australia study shows that 13% of Australians have listened to a podcast in the last week, up from 10% in 2017. According to Sharon Taylor, CEO of Omny Studio, Australian downloads are now in the tens of millions per month.
In this industry, people no longer talk about radio – instead they talk about audio. And all the stats show, if you listen to one podcast, you are likely to listen to more.
Podcasting is a particularly good medium for historians. It allows for intimate and informal conversation and offers a way to capture the complexities of discussion and analysis. In the US and the UK there are some hugely popular history podcasts – the BBC’s In Our Time with Melvin Bragg (a show that, despite having an ambition to be “never knowingly relevant”) receives 3 million downloads per week! And in Australia the ABC makes some fantastic offerings such as The History Listen, Shooting the Past and Little Tiny, and there are also emerging some brilliant independent offerings (see for example, My Marvellous Melbourne, Last Stop to Nowhere and the new To the Island).
And of course they all sound a little bit different. History Lab is a highly-produced show with rich, layered sound that aims to immerse listeners in the process of meaning-making. But many of these other history podcasts are much simpler in design, consisting of recordings of interviews or conversations.
Perhaps you have an idea for a podcast? Here’s a few pointers to get you started.
Find a Theme
Think carefully about what your niche is and where your audience might be. Recording and editing can take up a lot of time and it can be frustrating to pour huge amounts of energy into making something that gets lost on the back end of the internet. One way to help with this is to consider partnering with an organisation that might enable you to reach an existing audience. Does your university have a podcasting programme? Is there a community constituency you could work with? Think also about your own involvement and the nature of the time and work you want to do. Are you acting as the expert? Or are you going to curate and interview others? It can be a really good idea to team up with a small group of other people. Not only will that help spread the work around, it will also help you maintain your enthusiasm and momentum.
When was the last time you listened to a podcast? If it’s been a while, or even if it hasn’t, return to your podcasting app and spend some time listening to what’s out there. Venture widely. A format that works in an unrelated field might be adapted to your area of interest.
Get the Tech
You can make a podcast just using your phone, but it’s not going to generate the best kind of sound. Microphones, headphones and recording and editing software can help with that. Garageband from Apple can do the job, but have a look also at Audacity – an open-source programme that works with most operating systems. It has an interface that is a bit clunky but you can record audio directly into it, or import files and use it for all your editing. A ZOOM mic, best friend of the oral historians, will work well for your podcast too, but also consider USB mics such as the CAD 37 and Fifine USB Plug & Play as options that you can plug directly into your computer.
Scripting and editing
So you’ve got a great idea and great content, but making sense of all the material you collect is a real challenge. It pays to think carefully about story telling techniques and that means scripting your episode. Even if your podcast consists of an off-the-cuff conversation it will work much better for the listener if you have a sense of the shape and key points structuring the exchange. And if you envisage a show with several segments, a script will help make the transition between them smooth and – of course – help ensure you stick within your time limit.
Publish on a host site
Submit your podcast to Apple podcasts. Over half of our History Lab listeners access the podcast through iTunes so it’s good to get it listed there. But there are also other platforms you should consider that work for Android users such as the Australian-owned whooshkaa. When you post to either of these platforms, you’ll need to follow their specifications for artwork and programme description so it’s worth finding out about the process before you begin.
Pitch to History Lab
With the launch of History Lab as a national engagement platform, there’s another option as well. Series 1 launched with four episodes investigating the questions that have made us scratch our heads, but for Series 2 we want to hear from you. Pitch us an episode and find out more about what being a collaborating historian involves.
*You are all invited to the History Lab social event at the AHA Conference, 5.30pm Wednesday 4th July at Monster Bar, 25 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra.
Tamson Pietsch is Director of the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. Her research focuses on the politics of knowledge and the history of universities. She is the host of the History Lab podcast and blogs at capandgown.wordpress.com.