A Trio of Podcasts

A Trio of Podcasts

Intro from Jay Allison: To complement Curtis Fox's Manifesto on Podcasts, we feature here a few interesting examples of the genre submitted to Transom.

1. Frickin Circus

Frickin Circus logoProduced by Frick

Part audio blog, part travel show, and part behind-the-scenes at the circus.

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2. Dial-A-Stranger

Dial A Stranger- telephone logoProduced by Zachary Kent & Mercedes Martinez

Dial-A-Stranger takes questions from random strangers (like you), and poses them to other strangers (like you) on the telephone. It’s a source of communication, assistance and entertainment. It is a community project, an anthology, and a hobby.

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3. Love & Radio

Love and Radio logoProduced by Nick van der Kolk

Somewhere between NPR and a shockumentary special on Fox is alt.NPR’s Love & Radio–a surreal journey into a confusing world of ex-lovers, ex-cult members, and fruit. Lots of fruit. Love & Radio is what Ira Glass might make if he showed up to work drunk.

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  • Hammad Ahmed

    10.16.08

    Reply
    Secrets of the Kolk

    I never really knew what those strange cymbal noises were until now. Fade-up! genius.

    I should say that the first Love and Radio episode I listened to was "Strip" and the effect was visceral. My heart had never beaten so fast as a result of listening to the radio. NvdK always chooses the right music, and the right pacing.

    BUT I’ve wondered, Nick—how do your interviewees respond when they hear their own "ums" and coughs and disfluencies repeated, and do they ever get weirded out by your creative edits?

  • sarah reynolds

    10.17.08

    Reply
    a trio of questions for the trio

    Frick: You are lovely to listen to. I feel like I am in your head in this podcast. After listening to some other casts on your website, I’m wondering why you chose to feature the particular episode you did. It has less other sound and sense of place than many of the others. What I find most compelling about your podcast is just that – the place you’re in and your sense of it – the circus.

    Mercedes and Zak: How do you make editing decisions in your phone calls with people? What has been most surprising to you since you started this project? This project is interesting because you are acting as liaisons for the rest of us – for the questions we have and the stories we want to tell. So, thanks for that!

    Nick: This story is really unbelievable. I like what you did with breath, hard edits, silence, repitition. Did you acquire this tape from someone or did you seek it out? How do you usually gather tape – and with that in mind, at what point does your sketch or plan of the piece start to come together?

  • Peter Bufano

    10.20.08

    Reply
    Why I picked that episode.

    "Our Boo Radley" is me at my best telling a story. But of course, it really lacks circus atmosphere. There is little tie-in at the end about the circus.
    One of the reasons I love podcasting over other media is the RSS feed; the subscription. I hoped people who heard "Our Boo Radly" heard it in a sequence with the other episodes.
    But the whole topic brings up an interesting problem about the podcast which is that other people in the circus world (people in the stories) discovered the podcast and recognized my voice. And it has become hard to talk about them without thinking that i might be talking to them.
    Any way, I just produced an episode about the 40th reunion of clown college. You might like it.

  • Nick van der Kolk

    10.20.08

    Reply
    Re: Secrets of the Kolk

    Thanks, Hammad!

    I’ve never gotten any negative feedback from my interview subjects, beyond a couple of instances along the lines of "wow, that was… uh… different," or "I wish you had included what I said about X." I think they generally understand I’m not repeating their nonsemantic speech as a way to make them look stupid–it has way more to with the rhythm and tone of the piece.

  • Nick van der Kolk

    10.20.08

    Reply
    Re: a trio of questions for the trio

    Thanks, Sarah!

    The interview came from Laura Kwerel, an awesome producer who does another project worth checking out: The Voicemail Project. She had been sitting on the raw tape for a while, but didn’t have a chance to do anything with it before I got my hands on it.

    I love using tape gathered by other people, because it forces me to think more creatively about the structure of the story. If I’m working with tape I’ve gathered myself, it’s easy to get stuck in a particular narrative framework. This may sound needlessly obsessive, but I can’t shake the feeling I’ve lost an opportunity when the basic structure stays the same from raw tape to final edit.

    That’s why I occasionally try to intentionally make my life difficult technically during an interview to shake things up. One time, for example, I left out a cable that made it impossible for my subject (a urine therapy advocate) to hear me and be recorded at the same time. The upshot was that I had to turn my telephone hybrid on and off like a walky talky. I really liked the effect of her voice being bracketed by these loud *SHKOPP!* sounds, and I hope it added to the surreality of the piece.

  • ZacharyDAS

    10.21.08

    Reply
    Re: a trio of questions for the trio

    Hi Sarah, thanks for the questions, sorry I took so long to answer. Because of the nature of the conversations and the format of the show the editing is probably easier than what Frick or Nick have to do in order to produce a show. Mercedes and I don’t know the end of the story when we’re recording the show, so we end up asking the follow up questions and diving deep into the aspects that are most interesting to us, this lays out the story and the reveal (if there is one) on its own. Because of this conversation flow it’s often times impossible to re-arrange things. In some ways this makes editing options easy and the typical call with the exception of removed pauses and umms is probably 80% of the original call in the original order, this number changes as I get better at editing and feel more comfortable making more intrusive edits.

    Of course we ask people at the end of the show if it’s ok if we use it and occasionally there are specific requests to remove names, places or activities that they don’t want to have out there.

    There are exceptions, In Episode 8 there is the same story told by both Jeff and Eric who each brought so much to the story that it didn’t make sense to scrap either one but it didn’t make sense to tell the same story twice. I was able to combine them into one interview as though all four of us were on the phone and that was undoubtedly the most technically difficult show I’ve done to date.

    Dahlia from the featured episode was one of the most surprising things that ever happened to us. We called someone we’d never talked to before in our lives and she opened up and shared something deeply personal with us that she hadn’t shared with anyone else outside of her family before.

  • Samantha Broun

    10.23.08

    Reply
    Who’s listening?

    Unlike the podcasts Curtis Fox wrote about in his manifesto, your podcasts are not sponsored by a publication or an organization. They are not housed on a website with heavy traffic. You don’t have the benefit of a PR department. So, how did you first get the word out about what you’re doing? When and how did word of your podcast spread beyond friends and family? Does that matter to you?

    I’m also curious about your relationship with your audience. Do you know who’s listening? Are listeners in touch with you?

    My questions are for all of you. Thanks!

  • Frick

    10.24.08

    Reply
    Who’s listening

    It’s a really good question. Mostly it’s people who I don’t know at all. At one point there were 60 subscribers and they were all people who found the frickin circus on directories like iTunes or Blubrry. I didn’t tell anyone to listen to my podcast.
    There have always been a lot of downloads too from people who don’t subscribe and I know less about them.
    Once in a while I get fan mail. A guy sent email because he wanted to meet Melissa, the girl in the "Dwarf Love" episode.
    I did a guest podcast at feedburner and that attracted a lot of new audience for me.
    But I try not to think of the audience as a group of people, I tend to think of them as one person. So the numbers don’t matter too much.
    Geographically I have listeners all over the world. This week my listeners are from Boston, Waltham, Falmouth, Newark, Hyannis, Hillside, Purchase, Monponsett, San Leandro, Nederweert(NL).
    -Frick

  • Sydney Lewis

    10.24.08

    Reply
    this and that

    Frick,

    I heard some of your podcasts a while back when you first submitted them to transom. Glad we finally got one up. Really like your voice/delivery and way with music. I instantly relax, sit down, settle in to hear a story. Like Sarah, I feel like I’m seeing what you’re seeing. Your philosophy is felt through the work. Love the end on this one.

    What all did you do in the ring? And when you switched over to composing music for the circus, how’d you get familiar with audio work to begin with? Was that something you were always doing on the side through your interest in music?

    Finally: what was the name of that show about circuses that was on TV when I was a kid, back in the late 50s, early 60s? I used to watch it, but the brain cells that hold the name have keeled over. I figure you’ve gotta know.

  • Frick

    10.27.08

    Reply
    What all I did in the ring etc.

    First, the TV show you might be thinking about is "Circus of The Stars". That was the one where they put a celebrity in a circus act like flying on the trapeze. It was an annual special.
    Here’s the story behind what I did in the ring: In 1986 I attended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College (it wasn’t really a college; more of a circus boot camp). From Dec 1986 until December 1988 I was a clown on the Greatest Show on Earth. It was all standard clown stuff; pies in the face, 20 clown in the car, falling down, pants drops, juggling, stilts, whatever.
    There were 26 clowns in the circus at that time. 4 of them were women. We were a strange bunch of people. Many of them I still know today.
    It gave me a great basis to understand circus format and the disciplines of circus. This has also given me a lot of credibility with directors and performers. It also gave me a lot of friends all over the world in circuses.
    Here’s the story on how I got familiar with audio: When I was around 10 years old I got a tape recorder. I did document things with it: conversations, scripts, ideas, natural sounds from the neighborhood.
    I think my favorite was a montage of audio from television commercials. It was all jump-cut. You’d hear 20 or 30 seconds of "Polmolive softens hands while you do dishes.." and then "…tonight on ABC…". But I heard the whole thing as being one large piece like a song. And I would listen to the tape, memorize it and recite along with it.
    I left the circus for a few years and studied filmscoring at Berklee College of Music. I worked for a few years in Hollywood assisting big-shot composers in creating soundtracks for feature films and TV shows. I got a lot of production experience there.
    At one point I was a production engineer for WBUR in Boston. I got really fast cutting tape and cutting in pro-tools.
    I’ve produced and engineered on all of my circus music CDs. check out http://www.cirkestra.com for those.
    I’ve learned a lot from watching other people work and from studying their work. I listen to NPR a lot and the production style on my podcast is influenced by "This American Life" a lot.

  • ZacharyDAS

    10.27.08

    Reply
    Who’s listening?

    Hi Sam,

    How did we get the word out:
    I have a letterpress and the first thing we did was make business cards
    that we handed out to people we knew, placed them on coffee shop
    counters, and hid them in random places for people to find.

    We tried a few other things, some web advertising, printing up posters and
    putting them up on community boards.

    When and how did word spread beyond friends and family:
    Each thing we did helped to a degree, but I would say it was the word of
    mouth that really made the difference.
    Within the first couple episodes we were talking to people who were three
    or four degrees of separation and at first we would ask people how they
    heard about the show and trace it back through which friend of a friend of
    a friend. By the end of the first month we quit asking because we could no
    longer figure out who "Doug" was that told someone about the show.

    In the last year we’ve called people in over 20 states and four foreign
    countries and we have listeners all around the world.

    Does it matter to us:
    Yes! Without the people participating the show literally wouldn’t exist,
    and while there have been hurdles trying to call people on the other side
    of the planet when we’re both awake, it’s always great talking to people
    we don’t know.

  • ZacharyDAS

    10.27.08

    Reply
    How long?

    Hi Frick and Nick,

    For my own curiosity, how long does it usually take you to put a completed show together and how do you know when it’s done?

    Thanks,
    Zachary

  • Frick

    10.28.08

    Reply
    How Long

    The ideas cook in the notebook for a few days or weeks.
    The actual production takes only a few hours. Maybe an hour to track and 3 hours to edit.
    The music is music that I wrote for circuses and represents many weeks of work for each song.
    Most episodes felt not quite done but rather "done enough". The hardest thing is to listen to an episode from beginning to end and really focus on it and hear it. I get distracted. If I don’t finish an episode pretty quickly and post it I’ll get sick of it and never finish.

  • Frick

    10.28.08

    Reply
    What do you listen to?

    Nick, Zachary, Mercedes,
    What podcasts do you listen to?
    -Frick

  • Sydney Lewis

    10.28.08

    Reply
    so many questions, so little time

    Mercedes and Zachary:

    I love this idea. It blows my mind how the people in this episode so easily offer themselves to two mystery voices on the other end of the line. The power of sound over sight. Reminds me of that wonderful Third Coast Gold winner last year: Don’t Hang Up 2. You’ve heard that?

    Is your process when picking places to call random? Hm, Saudi Arabia sounds good today. Likewise questions. You must have a stockpile to pick from. Always like to hear process details.

    Thanks, I really enjoyed listening.

  • Sydney Lewis

    10.28.08

    Reply
    yikes

    Nick!

    I didn’t read anything about this before pressing play. Started listening while making lunch. THAT was a bad idea.

    Great tape, sassy production. I’ve got a pretty of old-school set of ears and a linear brain, but I loved the unpredictable musicality of the edit and that’s all I wanted to say. Now I’m gonna finish making lunch.

  • ZacharyDAS

    10.28.08

    Reply
    Some answers, some questions.

    Frick,

    We both listen Love & Radio, This American Life and Radio Lab (I list the latter as podcasts since that’s how I choose to listen to them and because Radio Lab has awesome extras in their rss).
    I listen to a few others like Over The Edge from Negativland and Verge of the Fringe which was actually the first podcast I listened to and he has told some great stories.

    Today I subscribed to Frickin Circus and listened to the 21st, 22nd and 23rd shows and I’m looking forward to more tomorrow. (Where can I listen to the first year?)

    Thinking about this I’m reminding myself again to subscribe to The Moth podcast.

    What about you?

    Sydney,

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. To give some idea of what happens, we have a database on our website where people can add themselves (or others) and submit questions. When we sit down to do a show it matches up a stranger with a question at random and we call them and ask it. This typically takes the decision out of our hands (unless we like a question so much we carry it over to multiple calls). We do make a note of the telephone numbers outside of North America and try to get together on weekends during the morning to call them when it’s probably more convenient for them.

    I hadn’t heard of Don’t Hang Up, but it sounds awesome. I really liked the excerpt from Third Coast but I can’t seem to find it anywhere online or for purchase, did I miss it?

    We tried this once with a little help from Nick (he sent us a payphone list in the U.S.), but unfortunately most of the U.S. payphones don’t receive calls so after about 3 hours and dozens of numbers we gave up without finding a single working number. I’m glad to hear someone succeeded before the opportunity slipped away.

  • Frick

    10.29.08

    Reply
    How to listen to the first year and what I listen to.

    Thanks Zachary.
    If you visit http://www.frickincircus.com/blog and click on the "previous entries" link at the bottom left of the page you can keep paging all the back to the first episode. (they’re not all in the rss feed that far back)
    There is a 20th episode retrospective episode which highlights the episodes from 2006. That one will give you an idea of which episodes you’ll like:
    http://frickincircus.com/blog/?p=34
    What I listen to:
    Alan Watts Podcast
    Love and Radio
    Garrison Keillor – Writer’s Almanac
    CD Baby DIY
    Make Magazine
    BBC Newspod
    Swinger Cast
    This American Life
    Destiny Land

  • Frick

    10.31.08

    Reply
    New Episode and a call for feedback

    I have a new episode up about the Clown College Reunion at http://www.frickincircus.com
    And I’m going to clean up the site and the feed. Here’s my idea: Put up 4 new episodes over the next 2 months, take down the older episodes, have only 4 episodes in the feed. And rotate in "re-run’s" of the best older episodes along with new material every 2 weeks. Clean up the links, remove comments all-together.
    The idea is to put my attention on quality, not quantity, motivate myself put new material up, and give the podcast a chance to move forward.
    Any feed back on these ideas?

  • Nick van der Kolk

    11.03.08

    Reply
    Re: How long?

    "For my own curiosity, how long does it usually take you to put a completed show together and how do you know when it’s done?"

    I’m afraid I don’t have an easy answer to this one. Some episodes, like Bedouin Love, require a very minimal amount of editing and have enough of a strange vibe that I don’t feel the need to add much editing trickery. Mostly, I’ll have to listen to something several times over, rip it apart, start over, play it for my girlfriend or unsuspecting friend, and finally post it without feeling like it’s done, knowing that if I don’t my brain will explode.

  • Nick van der Kolk

    11.03.08

    Reply
    Re: What do you listen to?

    "What podcasts do you listen to?"

    Besides many fine podcasts already mentioned here, some of my favorites include the Dusty Show, Savage Love, Seven Second Delay, the illegal Wiretap podcast, the Third Coast podcast, and the ABC’s Night Air. Music podcasts include Brainwashed, Funky16Corners, Iron Leg, Opsound, and XLR8R.

  • Nick van der Kolk

    11.03.08

    Reply
    Re: Who’s listening

    "So, how did you first get the word out about what you’re doing? When and how did word of your podcast spread beyond friends and family? Does that matter to you?"

    I’ve been lucky enough to be sponsored by NPR as part of their alt.NPR brand (which, unfortunately, just folded this month). Not surprisingly, the vast majority of traffic has come from them.

    While this may change in the future, I’ve considered Love & Radio a place for experimentation above all. Any listeners I get is just bonus. That said, I’ve found whenever I interview a blogger, they link to me and my numbers go up. Other than that, the usual social network stuff works for me: creating Facebook pages, Myspace, etc.

    "I’m also curious about your relationship with your audience. Do you know who’s listening? Are listeners in touch with you?"

    From looking at my Facebook fan page, I can see a ton of Love & Radio’s listeners are from Greece. I have no idea why this is.

    I do get emails, but I haven’t done a huge amount to cultivate a community around the show. Folks like Jesse Thorn have done a much better job with that kind of thing. Mostly, my assumption is that if someone actually likes my show, they’re probably a serial killer of some kind. For serious.

  • Christina Sanantonio

    2.20.11

    Reply
    Love and Radio

    I think everyone does a tremendous job at Transom and have listened for years. The Aftermath piece from Love and Radio was thought provoking and deeply disturbing; it kept me awake.

    I thought, however, the piece did not need the extra flashy edits: the background over voices, robotic noises, etc… those I found distracting and the content was profound and should have been framed with the silence that allowed it to stand alone.
    Although I understand that this work is needed and found the owner of Aftermath empathetic, it provoked some ethical questions. After doing a quick search, I was disturbed to find so many complaints and began to see this company in a new light. The average job to clean a suicide is around $20,000. I can’t imagine presenting a grief stricken family with a bill of $20,000 -or any bill for that matter. I understand that insurance companies will sometimes pay part of the this incredible fee, but often they don’t and I read numerous accounts of stricken families finding liens on their homes after inability to pay $30,000 for a 2 day clean up job. It is interesting to consider how many jobs like this that we used to do for one another as a community of human beings that have now been privatized to the detriment of all, perhaps.
    This is an example of the further consideration a story can pose…thank you for the great work.

    Christina

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