Making a Podcast Happen

Published August 03, 2021 by Claire Curran

If you had asked me two years ago, ‘would you be able to edit and produce a weekly podcast?’, my answer would have been an emphatic ‘no’!

Early in 2019, Chris Smith, founder of Naked Scientists, the award-winning science podcast and science radio show, visited the Woolf Institute. He asked us for advice as to how his science programme could attract a wider audience and we decided to focus on the implications of latest scientific advances for wider society. The Woolf Institute had already created a podcast called Encounter but this only reached a small audience. We decided to combine our expertise and Naked Reflections was born.

Initially, there was a certain amount of quiet scepticism. Did we have the staff resource and expertise to sustain a weekly 30-minute podcast? Would our podcast succeed in combining two fairly opposing fields of science and religion? Could we attract a substantial audience?

Through determination, hard work (and not a little practice), the answer to each of these questions is yes. Now, Naked Reflections is the second most popular show on the platform after Naked Scientists.

Claire in the studio

Mastering the technical side posed a particularly steep learning curve not least navigating our state-of-the-art studio recording equipment and understanding sound levels, faders and intercom link ups in a relatively short timeframe. Then came post production and learning how to operate an alien-looking programme called Reaper (which, in my opinion, is probably the best software around for high quality audio editing!). Cutting out the mumbles, hesitations, deviations, repetitions, 'erms' and 'ahs' and the retakes of guests who like to 'just do that bit again'. The outcome is a crisp 27–30 minute episode, published each week, edited down from a 35–40 minute recording.

In our weekly brainstorming sessions, the podcast team discuss the schedule, topics and which high calibre panellists to invite. Presented by Ed Kessler, Founder President of the Woolf Institute, a leading interfaith thinker and a regular media commentator and researched by David Perry, the talented ex-BBC documentary producer, the team skilfully steer the weekly conversation, putting contributors at their ease.

Each week, authoritative thinkers discuss philosophical, religious and moral dimensions of a recent scientific discovery with presenter, Ed Kessler. Topics range from addiction to zoonosis and much in between including conflict resolution, artificial intelligence and the future of our planet. We are about to reach our 100th episode and as I look back to that conversation with Chris in 2019, we have come a long way. Our guests have now included Lady Hale, former Head of the Supreme Court, Baroness Warsi, Carlo Rovelli and Dr Giles Yeo, as well as contributions from our own researchers. Naked Reflections doesn't stop on British shores though, and we have attracted overseas interest from researchers in Australia, the US and Canada.

The podcast series also reflects on the Woolf Institute's research and outreach work such as antisemitism and islamophobia, end of life care, living in harmony and more recently, what it means to be Black and British.

So how do you make a podcast? My best advice, planning is key and be adaptable. Match the right topic with the right speaker, try to avoid type casting and don't be afraid to try out inexperienced speakers. Do your research, keep topical and, of course, keep your editing tight for easy listening.

If you have a particular topic you would like aired, do let us know. The Podcast team are always open to suggestions and ideas and up for a challenge.

As we say, "Join us next week, when we’ll be back with some more guests!"

Claire Curran is the Woolf Institute's Podcast Producer.

Check out the Naked Reflections podcast and subscribe to be the first to hear the latest episode!

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