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Joining the Pod Squad

Is anybody out there?

Kat Arney 23 December 2006

Into the ether: Kat Arney (photo credit - Matt Farrow)

The podcast has been downloaded a respectable 2,500 times. Though that might just be my mother.

In theory, I am no stranger to podcasting. As a co-presenter on the Naked Scientists, my witterings about science and technology are podcast around the world to hundreds of thousands of listeners. But in practice (at least until recently), wittering was all I did.

One chilly morning in January 2006, I woke up with the bright idea of making my own show. I work for Cancer Research UK, a charity that supports the work of more than 3,000 scientists, doctors and nurses around the country. What better way to communicate our progress in this New Media era than a podcast? Since that first flash of inspiration, it’s been a long, hard slog to make my idea a reality. For a start, because I work for a charity, anything I did had to be cost-effective, but sound as professional as possible. Another problem was the technology. I own an aging minidisc recorder and basic sound-editing software, and have dabbled in audio production before. But learning to use them to broadcast standard was a challenge, mostly overcome by iterative learning (i.e. trial and error – often more error than trial in my case).

I also had to decide on the content to cover. Should we just go for fluffy items about fundraising events and charity shops? Or should we hit the listeners hard with meaty stories about oncogenes and double-blind randomised trials? As a science communicator, I wanted to tell our supporters about all the fantastic research that’s going on. At the same time, non-science features can attract listeners who might be scared off by overtly “science-y” content. I like to think of it as a “Trojan Horse” approach to the task. Eventually, a pilot show was born and tested on unsuspecting staff. Luckily, the response was enthusiastic and we pressed on to make a podcast for public consumption. Thanks to the Herculean efforts of myself and my colleagues in the “Pod Squad”, the first official Cancer Research UK podcast was launched on an unsuspecting world in October 2006. Since then, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has been downloaded a respectable 2,500 times. Though that might just be my mother.

Of course, it’s not enough to make one show and run away. A new podcast is being released every month, and so far we’ve made two. I’m currently panicking about the January edition, having accidentally forgotten that Christmas is approaching. The podcast still has a few rough edges. We’re working on the content and the tone of voice to make the presentation as effective as possible at communicating the best that the charity has to offer. My technical skills are improving, and it’s sounding slicker every time. Hopefully we will build a regular audience, but I’m still terrified every time I get the latest web stats in case nobody is listening. But there’s a lot of support for the show: Cancer Research UK has embraced its latest, rather noisy, baby and agreed to support a six-month pilot series. So you haven’t heard the last of this…

Related links

Download or listen to the Cancer Research UK podcast here.

You can also catch Kat on the Naked Scientists on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 6pm most Sunday Nights, or download the podcast from the Naked Scientists. © 2006, Kat Arney