On the third day of the second annual Detroit Podcast Festival held in June, Jonathan Galloway closed out the Black As Podcast event at MusicTown with a live show of his podcast NWP.
Afterward, he brought out all of his podcasters on Audio Wave Network, which he founded, as well as the festival organizers to thank them. Standing next to his fellow podcasters and seeing the reaction of the crowd, tears filled his eyes, he recalls.
As he looked around him, he remembers thinking “we really did something tonight. This is the main day of the whole festival and we're closing it out right now.” To the audience, he said, “if you have podcasts and ambitions let's make it happen.”
Storyteller Shannon Cason, a Moth GrandSlam champion who has two podcasts, including one on Chicago’s WBEZ NPR station, was at the Black As Podcast event. As someone who has been a part of the public radio community for years, he says it was something he had never seen before ("this was not your Ira Glass-type of crowd," he says with a laugh). He was impressed by the youthful energy in the room and the fun vibe of young Detroiters coming together to celebrate local podcasting.
With the number of studios and high-quality podcasts in the area right now, Cason sees the city excelling when it comes to podcasts. While not as large a market as New York or L.A., Detroit is holding its own, which is not surprising given the general creative talent in the city, he says.
“Detroit just stands apart creatively,” Cason says.
Podcasters in Detroit range from rookie hosts starting their first podcast to seasoned radio hosts with multiple podcasts under their belt, and local podcasters and studio owners say the scene continues to grow.
One of the reasons for the growth is the increase in number of studios helping to incubate shows like Podcast Detroit, which has created a “great turnkey solution” for all levels of podcaster, says Seth Resler, co-host of “The D Brief” arts and entertainment podcast and a broadcast radio veteran. Aside from Podcast Detroit, there's Galloway's Audio Wave Network, Motor City Woman Studios, and various studio setups in nontraditional audio spaces like the Detroit Foundation Hotel and coworking spaces like Room Project.
“It took a lot of the technical hurdles out of (podcasting), which has made it really easy (for people to start podcasts),” Resler says, adding “there's also this bubbling of new talent and developing talent, and I think some (podcasts) will break out of there.”
He recently launched Michigan Podcast Productions as a spinoff of “The D Brief” after getting so many requests from guests who wanted to start their own podcast. The company works with aspiring podcasters from concept to execution of the podcast to marketing.
“Podcasting for us in the last 18 months exploded,” says Robin Kinnie, president and CEO of Motor City Woman, an internet-based radio station and podcast production studio in Southfield.
The studio started as a digital radio station a few years ago and when they started advertising that they produced podcasts, “it just caught on fire,” Kinnie says.
Motor City Woman Studios has about a dozen shows on their network or in preproduction and has seen listenership numbers soar past the six-figure mark in downloads, she says.
“A lot of people are in either need of digital content or they're creating digital content at a pace that I did not see a year ago,” she says.
‘A chance to tell our stories on our own terms’
As a young Black man from the east side of Detroit, Galloway started his podcast with his friend Brandon Goree after he didn’t see himself in the podcasts that he listened to. That made it seem like “the only people who podcast are from New York or L.A. and I wanted to change the narrative,” he says.
After NWP’s listenership grew over the years, Galloway began asking guests on the podcasts if they had ever thought about doing a podcast.
They would tell him the barriers to starting their own podcast, including difficulty finding studio space and the production costs. That gave him an idea.
“Why don’t I just start a network? … We'll do everything we need to do to make sure (aspiring podcasters) are having a good experience podcasting like (he and his friends) were having. So I want to duplicate that feeling and I want to give my community, people that look like me with voices in a platform,” he says.
He found space at Detroit Artists’ Test Lab on the east side where he converted two rooms into studios.
Since launching in November 2017, his network has grown to nearly 20 shows that are heard in 30 states and more than 15 countries. Now he has his eyes set on launching a Midwest network in the next couple of years.
Like Galloway, Yasmeen Kadouh and Rima Fadlallah from Dearborn often did not see themselves represented in stories about their community.
“It came down to outside audiences always coming in, if they were white reporters or reporters that had no idea of the feel of Dearborn or any sort of semblance to the reality of the city,” Kadouh says. “They basically came in and told us what was going on and it was never in the hands of us. So we never held the mic when our story was being told.”
That was one of the inspirations for launching “Dearborn Girl.” They recorded at the Detroit Foundation Hotel, and the easy access to the podcast studio was what prompted the two to go into podcasting. They launched in May and finished their first season. They recently won the WDET podcast pitch competition to launch a new show called “Typical Dearborn,” which is set to debut next year.
“Looking around the city and realizing how beautiful and wonderful and complex the stories of every single Dearborn girl is … we wanted to give the community a chance to tell our stories on our terms,” Kadouh says.
What's next in podcasting?
Resler says branded podcasts, where businesses use podcasts as a marketing tool, will grow.
At Motor City Woman Studios, Kinnie says the next level is incorporating video and live events into podcasts.
"I see a lot of live events now where you can have like a studio audience and people will be able to buy a ticket and just be part of the conversation," she says.
Kinnie is also working on helping future audio engineers hone their craft. Motor City Woman Studios is planning to open another location, this time in Midtown, where they will launch the Audio Engineers of Detroit initiative, a full curriculum for people who want to learn how to make music, produce audio content, work a live show, and more, Kinnie says.
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