Bob Bertsch is a Web Technology Specialist in Agriculture Communication at North Dakota State University. His Working Differently in Extension Podcast has highlighted innovative Extension programming as well as “movers and shakers” in the field for several years.
What motivated you to create podcasts?
I spent the first 6 years of my career in public radio, so I was familiar with audio production. When I started working with NDSU Extension in 2008, podcasts were still working their way into the mainstream. I thought it was, and still think it is, a delivery method that Extension should be using. Podcasting fits brilliantly into our busy lives. It’s ready made for multitasking; it’s hands-free, flexible and requires only moderate attention. So I thought, why not demonstrate this delivery method while sharing information about technology and innovation.
The first year of “Working Differently in Extension” featured my colleague Julie Kuehl and me talking about new technology tools and trends. When Julie left NDSU, I had to think about how to carry the podcast forward on my own. In the year since the podcast had launched, I had learned a lot about Cooperative Extension. I was starting to get more involved in eXtension at the time, and I was realizing there were a lot of people around the country who were approaching Extension work in a different way. I wanted to help bring those stories to the surface. A longer-form interview format seemed like the best way to go beyond highlighting the work and get to the story behind it. After 4 years of fits and starts, I’ve conducted 48 interviews. It’s been a struggle to find where innovative work is happening sometimes, but there are always more stories out there. That keeps me motivated.
How much time to you spend editing the audio?
From the beginning, I have recorded the interviews “as live.” Unless we have a major technical or human gaffe during the interview, I don’t edit it at all. I do it that way primarily because I want the podcasts to be a conversation. If I or guest was thinking of it as a typical media interview with the purpose of eliciting sound bites, I don’t think the conversation would flow. The other benefits of recording “as live” are transparency, I don’t cut out or rearrange anything the guest says, and time, editing can be very time consuming.
Once I have recorded an interview, I probably put another 30-60 minutes into it. I currently record the podcast as a Google Hangout On-Air, which allows me to broadcast the interview live and create an archive copy on YouTube. I have to go into the video manager on my YouTube channel to download an mp4 copy of the interview. That video file will import easily as an audio file into Audacity, the free tool I use for audio editing. In Audacity, I add my “intro” and “outro” theme music (“Noone’s Acid” by …and nobody cared, Creative Commons licensed music found on Jamendo) to the interview and export it as an mp3 file. That file needs to be uploaded to the web in a place that can generate a feed. I began adding the files to our NDSU Agriculture content management system, but recently I have switched to a SoundCloud pro account. Once the file is uploaded, I add a title and description. I check to make sure the episode appears in my podcast feed (I am using Google Feedburner to create that) and that the episode made it to iTunes. Getting your podcast episode to iTunes can be tricky. When I first started, it took me a while to figure out that our content management system does not include the extension of a file (e.g. .mp3, .wav, .docx etc.) in the URL created when that file is uploaded. ITunes will not accept a podcast episode without that file extension in the URL, so I had to edit that URL manually to get it to work.
Finally, I promote the podcast on Twitter, Google+ and sometimes on Facebook. The podcast has its own Twitter account, @WDinExt. I promote it on my personal G+ and Facebook profiles.
There is also quite a bit of time spent before the interview scheduling, researching, reading and making sure the guest is ready.
What are the upfront start-up costs in equipment for someone jumping into podcasting?
If you have a place on the web to upload your files, the cost can be pretty low to free. When I started doing the “Working Differently in Extension” interviews, I used the same USB headset I was using for web conferencing (I definitely recommend a USB headset. If your headset has 2 plugs at the end of the cord for microphone and headphones, throw it way now). I used Skype (free) to connect with my guests and a free tool called MP3 Skype Recorder to record the interview. Some guests did not have Skype or didn’t feel comfortable using it, so I bought credits ($10) to call their phone from Skype. I was able to upload the podcast files to our NDSU Ag content management system for free. Although some podcasters don’t like it, I use Google Feedburner (free) to create a podcast-friendly feed. You use that feed when you register your podcast with iTunes and other podcast directories. On occasion I’ve had to go into Feedburner to refresh the feed, but mostly it has worked well for me.
As the podcast progressed, I decided to upgrade my equipment. I invested in good USB microphone. I use the Blue Yeti ($129). I also invested in a pop filter. I went for the Blue pop filter ($54), but you could get one for as little as $15. I also bought a suspension arm and shock mount for my microphone. These help reduce noise and vibration from things like moving your mouse around on your desk or unconsciously tapping your fingers. Those items ran about $100 total.
I have also switched from Skype to Google Hangouts On-Air (free) to record the interviews. Hangouts On-Air allow me to broadcast the interviews live and get the audience involved in a way I can’t with the podcast alone. It also creates YouTube videos of the interviews which exposes the content to an audience who may not know about the podcast.
What are some small things that you should be doing, but are not, that would improve the quality of your podcast?
In terms of audio quality, you need to figure out where you want to be based on what you want to accomplish. I could have much better audio quality on my podcast if I had every guest meet me face-to-face and record audio only in a studio, but that does not fit with what I want to accomplish. Because I want to talk with people from all over the country, I need to use tools that might not offer the best audio quality.
Still there are things I could do to improve audio on my end. I record in my office near a window and below an air handling system. I’ve considered getting a piece of noise control material to stick in my window when I’m recording. Cutting a piece of cardboard to fit over the vent in my ceiling would help as well, although it might make me sweat on the Hangout On-Air.
It’s important to control your environment as much as you can. It might seem obvious but I unplug my phone from the wall, silence my smartphone and put a sign on my door asking people not to knock. I ask my guests to do the same things. It’s not really an audio quality issue, but an issue of the quality of the conversation. I don’t want interruptions and distractions, and I don’t want to have to edit them out.