Launching a podcast: Equipment, tutorials, techniques
By Diane Atwood
In 2011, I launched a health and wellness blog called Catching Health with Diane Atwood. It is a self-hosted WordPress blog; soon after launch it also became part of the Bangor Daily News blog network.
For the first few years, I focused entirely on growing the blog. As it became more widely known and garnered some awards, I was able to attract some major sponsors. Earning an income gave me the opportunity to build a more robust site and improve the look of my brand with new graphics.
The blog focuses primarily on health news, people’s personal health-related stories, nutrition/recipes and fitness. In 2016, I decided that a podcast would be a natural extension of the blog and something that, as a longtime on-air reporter, would be almost second nature to me. I had no idea how to set one up but I’d built the blog myself, so I knew I’d figure it out. I have to admit that it took me longer than it should have to go live because I procrastinated. After I finally hit the publish button on the first episode in November 2016, I couldn’t understand what I was so worried about!
I produced a monthly podcast until May 2018. At that point, I decided to take a break from podcasting. No particular reason, I just wanted a break. In February 2019 I relaunched the podcast as a special bi-weekly series. These tips will cover the steps I took to produce both podcasts.
Learning from others
Before I launched the first podcast in 2016, I did a ton of online research. The most helpful resource was John Lee Dumas, the founder and host of the podcast Entrepreneurs on Fire. He offers several podcast courses, paid and free. I relied on his free information.
In the years since, I have joined a couple of Facebook groups, including one in my home state of Maine which is local enough that I’ve met several other members in person. I highly recommend connecting with other podcasters because there is a lot of collective expertise. I especially appreciate a sense of belonging. If you want, you can also attend one of the growing numbers of podcast conferences happening across the county.
Podfest March 6-8, 2020, Orlando, Fla.
Answer these questions first
I’ve learned important things along the way and I’m still learning. I’ll begin with a few questions I suggest that you consider at the start.
What will your podcast be about and who is it for? There are hundreds and hundreds of podcasts out there, all competing for people’s ears and attention. What’s going to set yours apart? It’s important to put a lot of thought into the topic(s) you want to cover, the niche you expect to fill, and the audience you hope to attract.
For me, these questions were easy. With the first podcast that I launched in 2016, I already had a niche and a brand. For more than 20 years, I was the health reporter at Maine’s #1 television news station. I built my Catching Health blog around my already established brand in Maine. My blog’s tagline is "Health Reporting That Makes a Difference" and that is what I wanted the podcast to reflect as well. The difference would be that instead of writing stories/posts, I planned to interview health experts on a variety of topics.
Long before I thought of having a podcast, I attended a presentation at a New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCo) conference and learned about the concept of creating an avatar, aka persona. An avatar is your perfect follower or listener. For my avatar I created Cheryl McAllister, aged 53: a middle-class married woman with three grown children and two grandchildren. Her parents are older and she’s often concerned about their wellbeing. She’s employed full time in a fairly sedentary job and wants to improve her lifestyle, but needs inspiration and motivation. She has close friends and they love to share information, especially about health, wellness and getting older.
Yes, you should be that specific when you create an avatar. If Cheryl represents my target audience, I must always keep her in mind when I’m writing a blog post. The same is true with a podcast.
If I had been trying to target a different audience for the podcast, I would have created another avatar, but I wasn’t.
I keep track of my demographics and was comfortable with the audience I already had. It’s predominantly women age 35 and above, who live in Maine. My goal was simply to offer them another way to get up-to-date, accurate information. Of course, I wanted to attract more followers, but not necessarily outside the segment of the population I already had.
I confess that I am still figuring out the audience for the new podcast series I launched in February 2109. I call the series Conversations About Aging. In this AHCJ article, you’ll see that I was inspired by not only a conference on aging I attended, but also the realization that loneliness is a huge issue for many people who are living longer.
Initially, I felt compelled to do something that would not only help shine a light on aging issues but might also allow me to connect personally with individuals. Doing a podcast seemed like the perfect vehicle, so I decided I would travel the state of Maine and interview people 60 and older about their perspectives on aging. I contacted agencies around the state that provide aging resources and asked for recommendations on people I might interview. It has been extremely easy to find interested people.
I believed that I was in a good position with the audience I already had and have received enough positive feedback to know that to be true. I also thought that my audience might expand to include people/agencies providing aging resources and friends/families of the individuals I interviewed.
In some respects it has, but not as much as I thought it might or maybe not as quickly. The personal connections I’ve made are the most apparent and most rewarding. The lesson here is that sometimes you need to see where things will lead you and not be rigid about expectations and outcomes. I know this podcast is making a difference. I am still learning how.
What’s your format?
Another easy question for me. For the original podcast, I planned to interview health experts on specific topics, so it would be an interview format and I would be the lone host.
For instance, this is an interview I did with palliative care specialist Dr. Diane Meier: What is palliative care?
Conversations About Aging would also be an interview format, only less formal. I’ll explain more about that later on.
This is a conversation with Mary Hamblen, 98.
Other format options include:
Radio show format
Once you know your niche, who your intended audience is, and how you want to share your message or information, you’ll need to get some equipment. This is the moment that I began to feel intimidated. Take a deep breath. You don’t need as much as you might think to get started.
Recording device and software
Computer or laptop
Maybe a mixer
How I recorded health expert interviews
For interviews with health experts, I used Skype. That meant my guest also had to be on Skype. For the most part, things went smoothly, but I learned that it’s important to make sure people are set up before you do your actual interview. My research showed that it’s possible to record a podcast with just your computer and a built-in mic but I was aiming for better audio quality, so I use a broadcast quality mic. It fits into an adjustable stand that is attached to the side of the desk in my home office. I can tuck it into the corner when I’m not using it and swing it over in front of me when I want to record something.
I generally did the Skype interviews audio-only, but occasionally, people felt more comfortable seeing my face, so I’d switch on video recording. I always wear headphones when I record a Skype interview. If I don’t, there is an annoying hollow-sounding echo. Whenever possible, my guests would also wear headphones or earbuds.
I have a Behringer mixer that once it was set up, I never changed. You don’t have to use a mixer but may want one to improve your sound quality. I’m fortunate because my husband owns a video production company and was able to help me select and set up my equipment.
I have a Mac, and to record interviews on Skype, I had to download ECamm recorder. (about $40). ECamm automatically records Skype audio and video calls to your Mac and you can set it up for split tracks (me, my guest). You can now record directly from Skype. The recording options are a bit limited – no split channel, and only one format type, but it's fairly simple to use.
Other ways to record interviews:
My health expert interviews were tightly scripted and ranged from 30 to 40 minutes long. I recorded opens and closes separately. For those, I used my mic and mixer but recorded directly into Audacity, which is a free, open-source, multi-track audio editor and recorder. I send the audio files and a script to my editor (my husband) and he uploads the edited podcast to my podcast host. I’ll explain that step below.
How I record Conversations About Aging interviews
For several reasons, I do my Conversations About Aging interviews in person. I’m trying to connect with people on a more informal, personal level. I’m asking them about their life stories and their perspectives on aging. I want us to be able to lean into each other, to look each other in the eye. The conversations are not tightly scripted. I have specific questions I always try to include, but mostly I let the tone of the conversation take it where it may. Each interview lasts from one to 1 ½ hours and is usually edited down to 30 minutes or less.
I record the in-person interviews on an Olympus digital recorder with my iPhone as a backup. I hold them both in my hand, sit close to the person and move them back and forth between us. This is not a method that is recommended in any of the research I’ve done, but I’m used to working a mic from years of being in the field, and I’m comfortable with the setup, at least for the time being.
I started off using two digital recorders with lavalier mics, one for me and the other for the guest. That way I’d be recording two tracks. Then one day one of the recorders suddenly quit and I ended up having to come back to redo the interview. Another time, I tried using a portable mixer and a microphone. Everything worked fine when I did the mic check, but when I listened to the recording after the interview, there was only a whisper. Thankfully, at the very last minute, I decided to use my iPhone as a backup. (Tip: always have a backup plan).
This proved to be a wise decision. With the current set up, the interview is recorded on one track rather than two. One benefit of recording on two separate tracks is that you have more control when you’re editing, but one track has been working fine for me so far.
I do not use headphones with in-person interviews. Maybe it would improve sound quality, but I think it would take away from the encounter, which is most important to me.
After the interview, I connect my digital recorder to my computer or laptop and download the audio file. I then use an online service called Temi.com that uses AI to transcribe the interview. It cost 10 cents a minute which, although the transcriptions are only about 80-85% accurate, has been well-worth the time savings. I am about to test another transcription service called Otter, which was recommended by a fellow podcaster.
I generally cut the aging interviews down to about 30 minutes. I also record an open and close the same way that I did narrations for my health expert podcast. The open changes according to how the conversation went, but I try to have some consistency — the music is the same, I say who I am, that this is Conversations About Aging, a Catching Health special podcast series, and I introduce my guest. Sometimes I start with a snippet from the interview and then roll the open, and a few times I’ve experimented with recording an open on location as I begin the interview.
In the close, I always remind people who/what they’ve been listening to, thank supporters, and invite people to go to the Catching Health blog to find pictures of the person I interviewed, a full written transcript, links to resources, if applicable, and to see what else Catching Health has to offer. I also invite people to contact me with questions, suggestions, etc.
I send all audio files and a script with time-codes to my husband/editor. I am beyond grateful to have a professional editor. He uses Final Cut Pro. If I had to do my own editing, I’d probably use Audacity.
If you’re going to use any music, which we do in the open and close, make sure you have the legal right to do so. Same with any photos/artwork you may want to use. Using copywritten material without purchasing it is illegal and owners are constantly checking to see if their property is being used without proper licensing.
Where will your podcast live?
If you already listen to podcasts, you know there are a plethora of podcast directories. Before you can submit your podcast to any of them you need a media host. If you try to store your episodes on your website or blog, it could crash the site or slow down its speed dramatically.
I settled on SoundCloud as my host. I liked the media player and the ease of setting everything up, from the site itself to individual episodes. I have the Pro/Unlimited plan, which costs $135/year.
A few media host options:
Once a podcast episode has been edited, it is uploaded to my SoundCloud account as a private file. I give each episode a title, write a brief description, add tags, and upload an image of the person I interviewed. I always listen to the episode before it’s published to make sure there isn’t something I or the editor overlooked. It can happen.
After I had published a few episodes from my first podcast, I started submitting the feed to podcast directories. This gives people several options of where to listen and hopefully, subscribe. Again, it was more intimidating to contemplate than to actually do. I had to access the RSS feed from SoundCloud and submit to the particular directory. Once it's accepted by a directory, every time you publish an episode, it automatically shows up in the directory. Presently, the Catching Health podcast can be found on:
It may also be found in other directories. I tell people to search their favorite app.
Whatever host and directories you choose for your podcast, you’ll need professional-looking artwork, a description of the podcast and, of course, a title.
Ideally, your cover art should be 1400 x 1400 pixels, in JPG or PNG form, and under 500kb in size. This is mine:
When I switched from interviewing health experts to having conversations about aging, I revised my podcast description. This is the one I use on SoundCloud and the various directories.
Here’s something you’ll WANT to catch! Catching Health with Diane Atwood exposes you to useful, accurate information about being well and living fully your entire life. Conversations About Aging is a Catching Health podcast series produced and hosted by Diane, who is a former health reporter. She is traveling her home state of Maine interviewing people 60 about their perspectives on aging. Their stories are full of life and inspiration for people of all ages. For more stories, recipes, and everyday tips, check out Catching Health at CatchingHealth.com.
My podcast title remains Catching Health with Diane Atwood, the same as my blog. As I mentioned, for now I refer to Conversations About Aging as a Catching Health special series. At some point, I may decide to create a separate brand.
What about a website?
Having a website or a home base is important. My home base is my blog. Even though my podcast is available in several directories, my ultimate goal is to drive people to the blog. That is why I create a separate blog post for each episode. My blog has specific categories/tabs, including one for the podcast. The posts are available on my self-hosted site and my Bangor Daily News site.
I write an introduction, embed the audio player from SoundCloud so people can listen directly from the blog, provide links to each of the directories that also carry the podcast, and include a link to a written transcript of the entire interview. I have at least one picture of the person I interviewed, and often include more. I also provide links to resources or for more information about things that we may have discussed.
As soon as I publish any blog posts, I share the link on my Catching Health social media sites: Facebook (I have a Catching Health page and a Conversations About Aging group), Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Linkedin.
Using MailChimp, I also send out a weekly eNewsletter, in which I promote each episode when it comes out along with current blog posts.
I have also been creating audiograms using an app called Headliner. It’s pretty simple once you do it a few times. I created a template in Canva that shows a picture of the person I interviewed with his/her name and age. With each new episode, it only takes a minute to change the title and picture. I upload the new image and a short audio clip from the episode to Headliner, choose an audio waveform and captions. Headliner creates the audiogram, and I upload it to the sidebar of my self-hosted blog, Facebook and Instagram, along with a link and a call to action to listen to the entire podcast.
Hosting and producing a podcast adds up to a lot of work! And that’s on top of maintaining a blog. I am grateful to have some dedicated sponsors and am hoping to secure one or two more for Conversations About Aging. I plan to travel the entire state, which means some added expenses.
I have followers from around the world, but the majority are here in Maine, which has been my intention since the beginning. I am not trying to amass thousands upon thousands of followers or downloads. I am satisfied knowing that the followers I have are getting value from what I produce and that, in my own way, I am making a difference.
Transom.org has a wealth of information about podcasting, equipment, how-tos, and ideas from experienced producers and hosts.
AIR (Association of Independents in Radio) – an organization dedicated to all things audio. They connect independent producers, storytellers, creatives, and journalists.
Nine podcasts for journalists – any “best of” list is bound to be subjective, but these suggestions from the International Journalists Network (IJNET) is a good place to start.
How to be heard above the noise – a guide for journalists launching a podcast, from the Knight Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
PodcastGuests.com – find guest experts (or become one yourself); free to join.
NPR offers a free podcasting curriculum guide for teachers; download the lesson plans and learn something new.
Diane Atwood was a health reporter at WCSH for more than 20 years, and then marketing and public relations manager for Mercy Hospital in Portland. She is a full-time blogger and podcaster on health issues, with a focus on aging and isolation.