Oberlin Blogs

So You Want to Go into Public Radio

July 18, 2017

Samantha Smylie ’17

Fall semester of my sophomore year, during reading period, I discovered Public Radio. The first podcast I ever listened to was "Serial," hosted by Sarah Koenig. Ever since then I have been obsessed with podcasts. I love the stories that are told, whether they be non-fiction or fiction. I love the in-depth reporting. I love the way that words and sounds come together to create a powerful story; whenever I close my eyes I can imagine what is happening. I love the way that the host talks to you as if you are a part of the story and that the questions that you have about the story or issue are repeated by the reporter. Public Radio is such a personal experience and I love it. I love it so much that I became obsessed with trying to produce my own stories.

After hearing "Serial," I dropped my major in psychology and majored in History with a minor in Politics and decided that my career path would be journalism. Being a History major allowed flexibility in my schedule, and storytelling is very important in the field of history. In my second year, I started my journey at Oberlin to pursue radio. Trying to gain experience in radio at Oberlin seems extremely difficult. You can access print media at Oberlin, but you have to search for radio opportunities-- especially if you want to do a talk-show or storytelling. Nevertheless, radio opportunities are available. Don't be discouraged! There are many Obies who are in the Public Radio world who had their start at Oberlin by working at WOBC. Also, I'm sure there are many who tried their hand outside of Oberlin. Just to make this clear, Ben Calhoun is an Oberlin graduate who works for This American Life and worked at WBEZ Chicago. (Look him up!) Here is a list of podcasts produced by Obies. If they can do it, you can do it.

This article will include resources to begin your journey, networking opportunities, newsletters to keep up with what is happening in the industry, and some advice for pursuing radio at Oberlin based on my experiences. I hope this helps.

Resources- How to Train Your Audio Ear and How to Make a Good Story
NPR Training
This American Life: How to Make Radio

Audio Festivals/Conferences/Networking Events
Third Coast International Audio Festival
Public Radio Content Conference
Werk It Festival (WYNC)
Midroll Now Hear This Festival

Bello Collective
WNYC Newsletters
NPR Training
Hot Pod by Nick Quah

Social Media Groups to look into: (Facebook)
The New York Times Podcast Club
Public Media "Millennials"
Just History Podcasts
Here is a list of Facebook Groups to follow. (Bello Collective)

Apps to download:
Radio Public
Itunes Podcast app
You can find podcasts on Spotify!

Suggestions for While You Are at Oberlin:

  • Use winter term as a way to develop your podcast ideas and create a few episodes. It doesn't have to be 20-30 minutes long. Also, try different genres. The podcast world seems to be dominated by nonfiction storytelling, but you can make stories that are fiction.
  • Use your summers to get an internship at your local public radio station or a public radio station in another city (NPR and WNYC always have cool internships that pay).
  • You can buy your own microphone and use the audio software on your iPhone, mac, etc. or you can borrow the equipment. But if you are low on cash you can borrow microphones and recorders from the Audiovisual Department on the fourth floor of Mudd Library. You can go to computer labs throughout campus to use Garageband.
  • Whatever audio software you have, please play around with it as much as possible.
  • Take the practicum in journalism in the Rhetoric and Composition Department. I'm not sure if you can work with WOBC News for this class. If so, great. If not, I think you should still try it.
  • Work at WOBC News. You will create news segments and work on an hour-long show. I met some really cool people there my last semester-- I should have worked there earlier.
  • Take private readings and create radio stories! You will need a lot of help researching stories, writing scripts, finding the perfect music, interviewing people, and creating multiple drafts of an audio story. You should get credit for it! It is a lot of work.
  • You can find grants to fund your podcast-making efforts at Oberlin. Check out the Creativity and Leadership funding opportunities.
  • If you have time in your schedule, take classes in different departments that will help you develop your skills in audio. That could be Cinema Studies, Rhetoric and Composition, Creative Writing, English, etc.
  • Radio doesn't have to be a lonely experience! Find a friend who has the same interests as you.
  • Listen to or read interviews and bios about people who are in the podcast/public radio world. It could be useful.
  • Follow your dreams. You can make audio stories.

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