On podcasting

9 June 2018

Some thoughts on pro­duc­ing audio broad­casts as The Physics Cap­sule pod­cast reaches its first series finale.

Around June last year I first began toying with the idea of start­ing a pod­cast. But I knew it would be demand­ing: think­ing up topics, script­ing (or at least having an agenda), research, plan­ning the pre­sen­ta­tion, record­ing, edit­ing, host­ing, man­ag­ing the show on mul­ti­ple pod­cast providers etc. The most obvi­ous choice was then to turn to Physics Cap­sule, the physics learn­ing plat­form I co-founded with my great friend and fellow physi­cist R. Sawhil four years ago. It offered a con­stant stream of ideas and co-host­ing a show would undoubt­edly be better than forc­ing people to listen to my voice alone. Need­less to say we were both thrilled about it and got down to work­ing on an iden­tity for the show.

We decided to call our show simply The Physics Cap­sule pod­cast, that way it would retain its link to Physics Cap­sule and embody the core ideas of our plat­form: to make aca­d­e­mic physics acces­si­ble to the layper­son both in terms of ease of under­stand­ing and in terms of the actual cost of access­ing the web­site. It would serve as the log­i­cal next step to an arti­cle-driven web­site but would be more than a regur­gi­ta­tion of what was already on Physics Cap­sule. It would serve to explore topics that we could not explore under the scope of our exist­ing plat­form so we turned our atten­tion towards dis­cussing the physics behind every­day phe­nom­ena and objects that few people ever think about.

We have just ended series one of our pod­cast and have learnt a few things along the way. It was only halfway through the show that we gained a proper foothold over how we can steer it. By then the show had already taken a per­sona of its own so any changes we made would have to be subtle enough to have an impact but not obvi­ous enough to become off-putting to our exist­ing lis­tener base. As far as our lis­ten­ers go we had many more than we expected; it was hum­bling. Our aver­age lis­tener count is in the ball­park of 10,000 lis­ten­ers a month. At 15 min an episode (another aver­age) we realised that three people are lis­ten­ing to our show at any given point through­out a month. That was reach unlike any­thing we had ever imag­ined.

The entire first series of The Physics Cap­sule pod­cast was about dis­cov­er­ing what we can do with the show and we are always look­ing for feed­back on what we can improve upon. 

For the curi­ous, we define a lis­tener as anyone who plays one of our episodes on their device(s) for 80% of the dura­tion of that episode via iTunes or other pod­cast providers. We count lis­tens only via our feed and do not count down­loads straight from our web­site, a number that rou­tinely hits 250 – 300 a month. We do not count this simply because once some­one down­loads an episode there is no way of telling if they actu­ally lis­tened to it.

Our first episodes were being recorded at the studio next to the physics depart­ment where we worked. We could no longer have free access to the studio by the time we reached the series finale so we had to think of alter­na­tive solu­tions. It was fun (we are physi­cists after all) to set up a room in our head­quar­ters that we had to make sound­proof using inno­v­a­tive means and find an apt loca­tion for our micro­phone and recorder that would reduce ambi­ent noise and improve the qual­ity of our record­ing. Although we lost the studio we were in no mood to let the change of venue affect our pro­duc­tion neg­a­tively.

We pro­cured a Marantz MPM-1000U car­dioid con­denser micro­phone with a 20 – 17,000 Hz fre­quency response range. I would highly rec­om­mend it for anyone look­ing to set up a simple record­ing sta­tion. We did not have a shock mount (and the MPM-1000U does not come with one, sadly) so we had to make do with a tripod and some Mac­Gyverism in the end. The results were pretty great.

One of my main take­aways from series one has been that we can never plan far enough ahead. That aside there are some subtle changes we would like to make for series two that would retain in full every­thing series one offered but do it better and more effi­ciently. The entire first series was about us dis­cov­er­ing what we can do with the pod­cast and we are con­stantly look­ing for feed­back on what we can improve upon. If you would like us to address spe­cific ques­tions in our upcom­ing episodes, let us know. If you would like us to incor­po­rate some changes, let us know and we will give it seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. The feed­back we have got so far has helped us through­out the first series and we want to begin pro­duc­tion for the second series with every­thing in place soon. We do not want to list out the changes that we will be making, though; we would rather you lis­tened to the new series and enjoyed it in the flow.

The Physics Cap­sule pod­cast is for every­one, and you cer­tainly need have no prior knowl­edge of physics to under­stand it, so please head to the web­site, sub­scribe today and listen to our entire first series while you wait for series two to begin this Sep­tem­ber.