Video may have killed the radio, but podcasts are more popular than ever.
While the web-based audio programs have been around for years, listenership has surged recently thanks to podcast apps, smartphones, and internet-connected speakers. According to a January 2019 poll, performed by CBS News, more than two-thirds of Americans listen to podcasts at least once a week. That figure is up from 53% in December 2017.
The convenient, downloadable format is uniquely suited to our busy, multitasked lives. Listeners can catch up on their favorite program when and where they want — while walking the dog, cleaning house or driving home from work.
Voice of community
Local podcasters are also embracing the medium, and their motives are as diverse as the subject matter — whether it’s sharing a great story, creating a forum for fellow hobbyists or filling an information void in the community.
“We saw that there wasn’t a lot of resources to find out about Apex, other than the town of Apex website and a couple Facebook pages,” said Alexis Jenssen, co-host of Peak City Podcast, a general interest program about the people, issues and events in Apex.
She and her husband Leif moved to the Triangle two years ago and were looking for ways to get more involved in the community. When Peak City founder Shane Reese asked the Jenssens to join the podcast he launched in 2016, they readily agreed.
“The podcast is a voice of the community, for the community,” said Jenssen, who also volunteers with the Apex Farmers Market. “It’s a news source, but it’s topical. We decide who we’re going to talk to because we hear conversations, or people are asking the same questions.”
Peak City Podcast has between 200 and 400 regular listeners, depending on the guest and topic of the program, Reese says. And thanks to social media feedback and in-person conversations, he knows that town leaders are among those listeners.
“I would call this less ‘broadcast’ and more ‘narrowcast,’” he said.
But audience-size is less important in podcasting than in other media, because talk is cheap. Anyone with a voice recorder and some sound-editing software can create a podcast. If a host wants to upgrade from his or her smartphone, a decent microphone can be had for less than $150.
“The only investment we have is our effort and time. This is an electronic format that requires equipment we already had,” said Reese, who has a background in radio. “We put it out on the internet, and it costs us $135 a year for a SoundCloud account.”
Peak City doesn’t carry advertising and doesn’t plan to start. That allows the hosts to interview who they want and to cover the topics they’re interested in.
“It’s easy because we don’t have to worry about income, meeting quarterly financial goals, because that’s not the motive or objective,” Reese said.
“Hearing someone talk in an intimate conversation, in a discussion, the same way as we would talk over a cup of coffee, offers incredible value, especially to the people who are just moving to town.”
Find your niche
Podcast listeners also tend to be faithful, whether that’s because they are deeply interested in the subject matter or they just like the host.
After the 2016 election, Gary Pearce wanted to establish a platform for thought-leaders and activists in the community, so they could present an unfiltered message. The Cary retiree had worked in television and had been a freelance video editor and audio engineer, so he already had the equipment and the expertise.
His Triangle Talk Show, available on his website and YouTube channel, is hyper-local, vaguely political and highly personal.
“I don’t have to seek advertising, and I don’t have to ask for money,” Pearce said. “It is purely a vanity operation.”
His audience is in the dozens, with some shows getting close to a hundred listens, depending on the guest. He admits that many of his fans tune in because they like him and his soothing voice.
“I focus on what’s going on here and purely stuff I’m interested in,” he said. “The topics aren’t totally relevant; they’re not the driver. Personality is the driver.”
Telling local stories
Joe Woolworth, co-host of the weekly podcast Guys Who Do Stuff, says there’s an intimacy to the podcast format. Once you’ve had someone murmur in your ears for a few weeks or months, they feel more like an old friend.
“People want that conversational tone of a podcast. It’s what they’re using in their car or in their house as background noise,” he said. “I think that we’re getting so bad at having long conversations with people, that we crave it. We just want to listen in on it.”
Woolworth and his co-host, Josh Manning, interview Triangle entrepreneurs, business leaders and visionaries of all sorts. Their audience is a lot like themselves: entrepreneurs, business owners and people who are thinking about starting a business.
In his day job, Woolworth owns Relevant Media Solutions, which helps companies use storytelling to create better websites and more cohesive branding. Manning owns Jericho7, a photography and video production company.
“We’ll interview great guests who have the quintessential success story, but their story sounds similar,” Woolworth said. “We wanted to share the side you don’t often hear — the mistakes. We like to ask people, ‘What do you wish you had done differently?’
“Part of it is selfish, because we’re business owners, and we get great advice out of it.”
Since January, when they launched the podcast, the two friends have created nearly 30 episodes, and 100 to 200 listeners tune in for the weekly Cary-based program.
They’ve learned a lot along the way, but Woolworth says it’s important to remember that everyone is an expert about something.
“You don’t have to be a celebrity to run a successful podcast,” he said.
The 919 Podcast: With a focus on those new to the Triangle, host John Carter covers a variety of topics. the919.podbean.com
Criminal: Former WUNC journalist Phoebe Judge and her team travel the country, recounting true crime stories for this award-winning show based in Durham. thisiscriminal.com
Futility Closet: Raleigh writer Gregg Ross and his wife, Sharon, host a weekly podcast spotlighting curious tales and forgotten stories from history. futilitycloset.com/podcast
Guys Who Do Stuff: Josh Manning and Joe Woolworth interview Triangle entrepreneurs, business leaders and visionaries. The Cary-based podcast comes out weekly. guyswhodostuff.com
Inbound Raleigh: Jennifer Suarez discusses traffic, parking, bicycles and other transportation issues in Raleigh and the Triangle. inboundraleigh.com
Peak City Podcast: Shane Reese, Leif Jenssen and Alexis Jenssen host this general interest program about life in Apex. soundcloud.com/peakcitypodcast
Pretend: Apex resident Javier Leiva is the creator and host of this documentary-style podcast about real people pretending to be someone else. pretendradio.org
SparkDialog: Astronomer and science writer Elizabeth Fernandez, from Cary, discusses the intersection of science and society in this wide-ranging podcast. sparkdialog.com
Triangle Talk Show: Cary resident Gary Pearce invites guests of all sorts to have a conversation in his bonus room. triangletalkshow.com
Twisted: Raleigh resident John W. Taylor, a licensed private investigator and former U.S. Secret Service agent, hosts this true crime podcast. twistedpodcast.com