Powering Up Podcasts for a Different World

Humans are an extremely adaptable species, and the pandemic has reminded us how we can change our ways according to circumstance.

If anyone had suggested four months ago that every aspect of our lives would have changed so drastically and with such speed, we would have scoffed. But it has happened, and in doing so we have proved our flexibility. And in this, podcasters have been no exception. We were forced to confront real challenges with no time to prepare. How – for example – could you make a complicated podcast series when you are unable meet interviewees and presenters in person, cannot use remote studios and are confined to your home?

That was the situation I was confronted with as the executive producer for Centrica’s first podcast, ‘Power to the People’.

Fortunately, some of the work had taken place before the lockdown was implemented. Most of the face to face interviews had already been carried out, but the script had yet to be recorded by the presenter, Jon Tickle. This was a critical component in a complicated production. Jon was locked down in London and I was confined to home in Oxford. The quality of Jon’s links had to match what we had achieved pre-lockdown. Phone lines or recorded Zoom conversations were simply not good enough for what we needed.

A solution was found through a combination of new tech and some leg work. Richard Miron, Earshot Strategies’ director, found himself employed as courier for a digital recorder and a large pack of antiseptic wipes. He left the disinfected recorder outside Jon’s house in a plastic bag. I then connected to Jon using Zoom and monitored him as he recorded his links.

In his home, Jon had set up a makeshift recording booth with cushions and soft furnishings to ensure the right acoustic. Then following a crash course in recording techniques, Jon laid down his links and sent us the audio material in perfect quality. Later, he told me he was very grateful that the world was more silent than normal, as his house is directly under a flight path to Heathrow! Richard then retrieved the equipment (duly wiped down).

That experience has been followed by others, shaped by the circumstances of the lockdown. I am currently involved in another Earshot Strategies podcast – production with one presenter in the USA, one in Europe, and contributors spread throughout the world.

Using several hand-held recorders, lots of Zoom calls and a quantity of antiseptic wipes, we’ve refined the process. We have also experimented with attachable microphones for mobile phones and various types of software for differing circumstances.

This whole experience has clarified a couple of points for both podcast producers and listeners. The first is that the current situation is no barrier to making high-quality podcasts, and that the medium is able to thrive amidst the adversity of the pandemic.

The Centrica podcast, ‘Power to the People’ examines a more sustainable way for car travel. Similarly, our suddenly altered circumstances have forced us to embrace change. In podcast production that has meant that we have found new, innovative and safe ways of creating content. Ingenuity and technical innovation have allowed us to do many of things at a distance that we used to do in person. Adaptability has allowed us to take advantage of the possibilities of unanticipated change. The current situation may also have accelerated advances in podcast production that were going to happen anyway.

The title and content of Centrica’s ‘Power to the People’ couldn’t therefore be more apt, and it is heartening to see how during this time podcasts have continued their inexorable rise, capturing more and more listeners who crave what they offer.

This piece was written by Penny Boreham.