I’m going outside of my comfort zone and learning about marketing this week as I introduce Pods Up North, a one day event to celebrate, educate and support podcast makers.
I have become obsessed with the moon landing this summer. With 2019 being the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s epic history making, it’s been hard to avoid it. Three of the five main UK terrestrial TV channels dedicated time to documentaries on the day. Channel 4 even replayed the original broadcast from 1969. While the TV shows were great, the thing that really grabbed my attention was the podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon.
‘We choose to go’
From the BBC World Service, the 12 part series delves deep into the final 13 minutes of Apollo 11’s descent to the moon’s surface. The content itself isn’t all new of course. Presenter Kevin Fong does add his own interviews with people who were involved at the time. But a lot of the content, as you’d expect, is from the archives.
Each episode is dedicated to a different part of the story.
Ep.01 ‘We choose to go’ starts at the beginning, focussing on President John F. Kennedy’s rousing speech from 1962. Attempting to persuade the American public to support the Apollo program, JFK uttered the words - “We choose to go to the moon.”
Other episodes delve deep into the story of the moon landing. The scientists in the control room and how they were all so young. The first digital portable computer which powered the space rocket. The forgotten astronaut, Michael Collins, who remained in orbit around the moon whilst Armstrong made that giant leap for mankind.
Every episode is a fascinating insight into one of the most amazing achievements accomplished by the human race.
13 minutes to the moon
It isn’t just the story of the moon landing that captured my attention though.
13 Minutes To The Moon is perhaps one of the most complete podcasts ever. The BBC have spared no expense. The production values are through the roof with an original score by Hans Zimmer interlaced with archive recordings provided by NASA. There are new interviews to add a new dimension to the archives. And whilst you never hear from Armstrong or Aldrin, you never feel like they’re missing.
‘We’re go for powered decent’
Even before the podcast was originally released it caused a stir. Trailers for the podcast were released throughout April 2019. Applying the same tactics as they would a new series of Peaky Blinders, the BBC pulled out all the stops. 4 trailers were released in total. All counting down to the launch of the series.
Trailers are a hugely important to a podcast but not every series has one, let alone four! Most podcasters use a trailer as a marker. Something to tell Apple Podcasts et al that a podcast lives on that RSS Feed. They’re practical but once a series begins, forgotten about.
The trailers for 13 Minutes To The Moon are a part of the series. They aren’t just there as an online bookmark. They aren’t even just about advertising the series. They are introductions to every element that make up 13 Minutes To The Moon. Without them, you don’t get the full experience of the show. Every detail immerses you into what is to come. They named them ‘T-minus #’ for goodness sake! For me, they are the perfect way in to the series.
The Eagle has landed
What’s the first thing someone sees when they find your podcast? The artwork, right. 13 Minutes To The Moon yet again doesn’t disappoint.
Standing out amongst the 700,000 podcasts on the internet is tough. The space provided for logos is minimal and often viewed on a tiny phone screen. Remember that old saying ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’? It’s rubbish. A podcasts logo is the first thing that people see about a series. In some cases it’s the last.
The artwork for 13 Minutes To The Moon is brilliant. Not only does it stand out amongst the masses (how many podcasts use monochrome as their go to colour?) it also gives all the information you need to know. Perhaps most importantly it teases you and makes you want to find out more.
It’s not just the work done outside of the episodes which caught my eye, or ear. The format of the episodes themselves are a wonderful piece of engineering. Every episode sets the scene and informs the listener of what they’ve missed in previous ones. It’s the classic ‘Last time on Lost…’ beginning. When the series was originally released, it was a weekly affair and so this reminder of the previous episode worked well. Now, with the entire series available to binge on, it works in a slightly different way. There are parts which relate to previous episodes more than others and this catch up acts as a link to what is to come.
As you’d probably expect, there is also a preview of what is to come at the end of the episodes. What I like about it though is the way it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. There is no "Next time on…” sting. Rather, Kevin Fong stays with his usual narrative and simply informs the listener that we’ll hear more on that next time.
The self promotion doesn’t end there. Throughout every episode the listener is reminded of previous episodes or future ones are promoted. It is a lesson in keeping your audience hooked that every podcaster should learn. The relaxed nature of the plugs blend in in such a way that they are almost unnoticeable. I’d suggest that they are almost subliminal.
‘One giant leap’
A lot of people, myself included, have been critical of the BBC in the past when it comes to their podcast output. On this occasion though I simply cannot fault them. 13 Minutes To The Moon is a marvellous telling of a story that we already know quite well. The way it delves into parts of the story that the TV documentaries don’t have time for. The decision to focus on the people (and machines) who aren’t lauded over as heroes. The calm yet excitable narrative delivered by Fong that hooks you in and keeps you there. All of it adds up to a podcast which will rightly go down as one of the greats.
Whichever genre and style of podcast you might be making or thinking of creating, 13 Minutes To The Moon has lessons for us all.
You can listen to all 12 episodes of 13 Minutes To The Moon on BBC Sounds, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
As I get in my car it’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon. The weather encapsulates my mood perfectly. I’m about to earn myself some money. I’ve got a job.
Most of the podcasts I have produced to date have been recorded in my home or a professional recording studio. I’ve done some event recording too but today is different. Today I’m heading to a stranger’s house.
I’m nervous. I think that’s allowed. I am going to meet someone I’ve never met before.
I’m also nervous about the job itself. I have to sit perfectly still for around an hour. I must be silent and fully focussed on the sound coming through my headphones. This job is not my interview. I am not the presenter, journalist or episode producer. My role is to record just one person. This is the person I am on my way to meet for the first time.
As the sat nav brings me off of the comfort of the M62 I’m steeling myself. I’ve already double, triple checked that my equipment is with me. It’s fully charged and the memory is empty. If anything goes wrong on this job, I’ve made sure it won’t be because of me. I’m still nervous though.
The person I’m going to meet is being interviewed for a podcast about female killers. When I accepted the job, 24 hours earlier, I joked with my friends that I may not come back alive. I don’t know who the person is and I’m beginning to think I should have Googled her name.
Too late now.
I’m driving high up over the Pennines. All my focus has to be on the road. I turn down the podcast I’m listening to. The crest of the hill is breached, revealing the most stunning view. No wonder they call Yorkshire, God’s Country.
As I arrive at my destination the nerves return. The sat nav says I should be here. I’m quite clearly not. I park up on the side of the road to check Google Maps on my phone. A small bus pulls up right behind me and beeps it’s horn. To say it made me jump is an understatement.
After moving out the way for the bus, I find the house I have been looking for. I gather my equipment in my bag. Checking it one last time for charge. When I knock on the door, my host answers immediately. She doesn’t look like a killer. Does anyone though??
Dr Helen Gavin is the Subject Lead for the Department of Psychology at the University of Huddersfield. She has written several books about criminal psychology including one about female killers. Not a killer herself then… hopefully.
Inside Helen’s house, I set up in her study. I take a 30 second sample of the room noise. This will allow the editor to remove any background noise during the post-production. Then my fear is realised.
No, Helen doesn’t come at me with a kitchen knife. The link I’ve been provided to chat with the podcast producer doesn’t seem to work. A quick email reveals the mistake was at their end, not mine and we are up and running.
As I press record I must look so uncomfortable. Actually, I know I do. I’m in shot on the video chat!
I’m sat, hunched, on a solid wood chair. A cushion giving my bottom slight comfort. Two pairs of headphones adorn my head. One is plugged into my laptop, ensuring I can hear the questions Helen is answering. The second pair is plugged into my Zoom recorder. I’m listening to Helen’s voice more than her words. Making sure the sound quality is what is needed. My left elbow rests on the arm of Helen’s chair. My arm is pointing up and in my hand is my microphone.
Before we sat down I warned Helen that I was about to get up close and personal with her. If she had thought I was joking, she know knew I hadn’t been.
I had positioned the microphone just under Helen’s chin. Everytime she moved her head, my hand, and the microphone, followed.
The questions flowed from across the pond. The interviewer is talking to us live from Canada. Helen’s answers are as you would expect from a university lecturer: detailed and interesting. I’m enjoying the experience. Everything is going well.
After about 20 minutes the pins and needles appear in my left arm. I can feel my grip on the microphone loosening. Helen’s answer has been a long one. I’m hoping it will be coming to an end soon, providing a break long enough for me to change position. The interviewer interrupts suddenly. I jump at the chance to shift my weight and move the microphone into my right hand. This brings a whole new set of problems. I’m now leaning even closer to Helen. In any other situation this would be full on awkward. I try to avoid eye contact with Helen, instead concentrating on where the microphone is and the sound in my two pairs of headphones.
Another 20 minutes goes by and I’m starting to think the end must be coming. I’ve moved the microphone back into my left hand and resumed my original position. The interviewer is checking her notes to make sure she has all the content required. I’ve started to relax and dropped my left arm into my lap. Then, suddenly, without warning even, there’s a new question.
Helen starts to talk before I have the microphone in position…
Calmly I raise my hand. Helen falls silent and I request she starts her answer again. I can see the producer on the video chat smile briefly. I’ve done a good thing and provided further evidence that I can do the job. Helen restarts her question and about 10 minutes later the interview is over.
I let out a cough that has been building since I pressed record an hour ago. I end the video chat having been thanked by the producer one last time and record a further 60 seconds of room noise for the editor. As I pack away my equipment, I jokingly tell Helen about my fears that she may have been a killer.
A few minutes later I’m back in my car. I’m still connected to Helen’s wifi so I quickly copy the recording to my laptop and upload it to the Dropbox account I’ve been provided. I sit back in my car seat, relaxed for the first time since I left home. My first tape sync was complete and I’d received good feedback from both the interviewer and Helen.
On the drive home I listen to a podcast made by the production team who I’ve just worked for. It’s good.
Sometimes known as Double Enders, tape syncs are a well used production tool in both radio and podcasting. It allows a person to be recorded professionally anywhere in the world. In this example the podcaster was in North America and their guest in the UK. The podcaster records their audio on their own equipment whilst hiring me to record their guest.
To find out more about how to perform a tape sync you should read this article by Transom.
If you want to see how it shouldn’t be done, watch this great video by Andrew Norton.
In a way, I have my Dad to thank for my first podcast experience. It came back in the early 2000’s. I was preparing to head off to university and frantically ripping my entire CD collection to my computer and this new software program called iTunes. It was my Dad’s suggestion. My CD collection was huge and still fills five boxes that live on top of my wardrobe. I was moving out of my parents’ home for the first time and I was already taking an awful lot of stuff with me. My entire music library was not going to fit into my new single dorm room. It was a great decision. I still had my hi-fi system and a small selection of my favourite albums but the vast majority were now housed on my desktop computer.
A couple of years later and I received my first iPod for Christmas. I can’t be sure if I was already aware of podcasting at this point. It may have been during that initial iTunes to iPod sync that I noticed this new tab “Podcasts”. Either way, I was intrigued and began searching, finding and listening to more and more on demand audio content.
A Bit of Virtually Everything.
There is one podcast that I always refer to as my first. Just like my first love, I’ll never be able to forget it. Similarly just like that first girlfriend, it disappeared from my life a long time ago. A.B.O.V.E (A Bit of Virtually Everything) was a very simple podcast. Three friends from South Wales (Paul Saunders, Adam Court and Hannah Lewis) got together every week to talk about virtually anything they fancied. It was no wonder it became an instant hit for me. I loved the way Paul, Adam and Hannah sounded as though they could have been sat next to me in the pub or in my own living room.
The title was so on point as well. It literally was chat about virtually everything. The French, siamese twins and Salvador Dali all received the A.B.O.V.E treatment. Questions like “Why don’t my beer goggles work?” and “Where is Scandinavia” were answered with irreverence and discussions around online auctions (eBay may not have been as well known back then?) and how everyone breaks the law were commonplace.
Sadly, A.B.O.V.E is no longer available to stream or download in Apple Podcasts (iTunes). Even searching Google for it only brings up two results. I’ve tried to find out a bit more about Saunders, Court and Lewis but, apart from an old website for Saunders, I’ve come unstuck.
Listening back to old episodes on that first iPod and it’s clear that A.B.O.V.E was made by three very talented people. In all likelihood at least one of them was a professional radio presenter. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The commercial radio boom was coming to an end and presenters weren’t given an awful lot of room to be creative. It would be lazy to say that podcasting has moved on since then but it has. It doesn’t require any knowledge of the radio industry so anyone can do it. A.B.O.V.E was clearly made in a studio environment but it didn’t have to be.
Podcasts can be made by anyone, about anything. All you need is something to talk about and a microphone. There are even apps like Anchor.fm which turn your phone into a full on podcast studio. Go and give it a try. Maybe your podcast will become someone else’s first.
Looking to start a podcast but don’t know where to begin? Want someone to make your podcasting idea come to life? Need someone to edit your existing podcast and free up your time? I can help. Drop me an email through my CONTACT page. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Working in conjunction with the Northampton Town Football Club Community Trust, Vibrant Sound Media presents a special episode of the It's All Cobblers To Me podcast. Host Charles Commins meets well known Cobblers fan, Mustafa El-Bayati and finds out why the Community Trust are trying to raise over £5000 for him.